Harvest Bread...

 

You'd be forgiven for believing that breadmaking is a chancy business, impossible to do well at home without an expensive machine...

 

It isn't. It's very easy, actually, you just need to be staying put for a few hours. What better activity to share with your children on a rainy autumn day? And what could symbolise our relationship with the land and the seasons better than the act of turning ground-up plant seeds into something sublime? Harvest Bread

 

I've basically adapted a recipe from John Seymour's 1970's classic "Self-Sufficiency", because it's the simplest and best recipe I've ever come across. You will need:

 

Exact amounts are NOT important! Dissolve the sugar in the warm milk & water, then crumble the yeast into the liquid and stir vigorously until there are no big lumps floating. Leave in a warm spot for about 15 minutes until a slight froth begins to appear (this may take longer on cold days).

Meanwhile, mix the oil into the flour and salt - or rub in the butter if that's what you're using. When the yeast mixture is frothing, tip most of it into the bread and stir, adding more until a sticky dough is formed that pulls away from the sides of the bowl and seems to want to stay together! Then flour your hands and start to knead, pull and stretch the bread, first in the bowl, then as it becomes less sticky and more pliable, on a floured surface. Children generally love doing this! There comes a point where it stops being sticky and starts to feel almost silky; it may also start to squeak slightly as you knead, which means it's ready.

Oil a big bowl and press the dough down into the bottom. Then leave it in a warm place (my oven has an "economy" setting that's perfect with the door open) to rise for at least an hour. It should at least double in size.

Dough rolls

The Before...

Cooked rolls

...and the After!

Once it's well-risen, tip it out onto your floured surface and punch it - it should collapse spectacularly! Another bit the kids usually enjoy... Then divide it into three equal portions and shape into rolls and loaves as you please; each piece will make about one 1lb loaf or divide into 10-12 rolls. You can knead in some extra ingredients at this stage if you like; I can't resist adding grated cheddar and chopped walnut to at least one loaf out of every batch.

To make old-fashioned cottage-loaf rolls, split a piece of dough into two pieces, one roughly twice as big as the other. Roll both pieces into balls, then flatten. Dab a drop of water onto the top of the larger piece, then push the smaller piece firmly down onto it.

For a plaited shape, roll a piece of dough into a sausage. Slice into three with a sharp knife, pinch one end together and plait tightly. Pinch the other ends together when you reach the end, and tuck under slightly for neatness.

Dough rolls Cooked rolls

To make the knots, just roll some dough into a sausage, wrap one end round the other and push it up through. When each roll or loaf is formed, place on a greased, floured baking tray and brush with egg white. You can sprinkle poppy or sesame seeds on them at this stage, then leave in a warm place to rise for half an hour while the oven is heating to Gas Mark 7/425F/220C.

Dough rolls Cooked rolls

Cook at Mark 7 for 5 minutes, then reduce the temperature to Mark 5/375F/190C. You will smell when they're done - about 20 minutes for rolls, 30-40 for loaves. To tell for sure, knock on the bottom of the tray; cooked bread makes a satisfyingly hollow sound.

I made the harvest stook by cutting lots of narrow strips of dough. I bunched most of them loosely together, then wrapped one strip around them about one-third of the way up. Then I rolled the last few strips into thin sausages & plaited them, cut these into 3 cm strips and placed them at the top of the "stalks" to form the ears. I scattered sesame seeds on the top after brushing with egg-white - it's not as perfectly-formed as the ones in traditional baker's shop windows, but it's edible! If I wanted to keep it as a decoration, I'd dry it in a low oven overnight, then varnish it. But I think it's gone already...

Harvest Stook


 

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