Thursday, 15 November 2012
A Winter Day on the Dingle Peninsula
Preheat the oven to c230/ gas 8. Scatter flour thickly on a large, heavy baking tray. Sieve twelve ounces of plain, white, unbleached flour and a level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl. Hold the sieve as high as you dare, to incorporate plenty of air. Add a large pinch of salt if you want to. I never do. Then sieve four ounces of wholemeal flour into the bowl as well, tip the residue of bran in after it, and throw in a handful of linseed or sunflower seeds, and maybe a fistful of oats.
Tap the bowl on the table to bring everything to the bottom. Then combine the lot with a swirl of your hand in one direction and a turn of the bowl in the other.
Next make a well in the centre of the mixture and add 350ml of buttermilk all in one go. (I know I've mixed metric and imperial measures, that's the way my mind works. And anyway I just use the full of a big glass for the buttermilk.)
Then, using one hand and turning the bowl with the other, draw the flour into the buttermilk, combining them.
Work from the sides to the centre; it shouldn't take more than a minute. The ball of dough you end up with should be soft, but not wet or sticky. If you need to, add a bit more flour or buttermilk. You'll know you're right if the dough comes together quickly, and it leaves the bowl perfectly clean.
Throw some flour on your table and turn out the dough. Wash and dry your hands. Knead your bread from the sides to the centre for just a few seconds, turning it, to make a round loaf.
Flip it over onto the baking tray. Pat it down with a floury hand. You want it about two and a half centimetres thick. Then cut a deep cross through the loaf, almost dividing it into triangles. It'll come together as it rises.
Bake for fifteen minutes in the hot oven, then reduce the heat to c200/ gas 6 for another twenty. Keep an eye on it for the last ten minutes. You can turn it upside down if it's getting too brown.
It's done when the bottom sounds hollow when you tap it with your knuckle.
Cool the bread on a wire rack. Eat it on the day you bake it - hot, with butter and honey. Or with blackcurrant jam.