The Bread Diaries

Isn’t bread wonderful? Wholesome and delicious, simple and scrummy, you really can’t go wrong with a bit of bread. Whenever I have a food craving it’s either chocolate or bread. But not that pappy stuff that’s mostly additives. I crave real bread with an actual crust and soft, fluffy crumb. Don’t get me wrong, I still eat shop-bought loaves. I have to, thanks to the restraints on my time and my purse. But they don’t come close to real yummy bread.

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(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie. Random photo, I know, it’s cinnamon and blackberry cake, it’s good…)

I’ve only made bread a couple of times in my life. The first time was at school, and it went surprisingly well. Especially when you compare it to my all-butter sponge cakes that lacked, um, butter and my boiled scones (that one was the teacher’s fault, she made me do it). The bread was pretty damn good. But I didn’t make any again for a good ten years. Until mum and I tackled a loaf together. Unfortunately we buggered off to the gym during the second prove, so it proved far, far too long. The goo monster we returned home to was less than pleased…though the bread itself was still yumtastic once baked.

So I decided to have another go. I couldn’t let bread defeat me! I thought I’d start simple with a cottage loaf, Mary Berry’s cottage loaf to be exact (seriously, if you don’t own her Baking Bible, go and buy it now. You can thank me later. Go. Shoo!)

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(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie. Here’s a photo of some bakewell tarts for you to come back to, yummy right? Good, I’m glad we agree)

As you may have learned by now, I am the Official Queen of the Slapdash and I didn’t check my recipe before going to the shop. My recipe asked for fast-action yeast. I bought dried active yeast. The recipe said shove it in ­- my kinda style. The tin said activate it in water first. I vacillated between recipe and tin for a few minutes before deciding activated yeast was better than inert yeast. So I soaked it in water, made all the beer-smelling froth and chucked in the extra wet ingredient.

My dough was soggy. I mean really soggy, I could have made prosthetic plague out of it. Add more flour, I thought. Accessing flour with dough-caked  fingers is an interesting exercise that involves lots of elbows, spoons and swearing, but I got there. I never achieved what Mary describes as “a fairly sticky, soft dough” though. I had a very sticky, sticky, dough. I shoved it in the oiled bowl anyway and covered it with cling film to prove. Then I had a chat with mum. Why do I always ask her AFTER I do silly things? She revealed to me that I needn’t have activated my yeast and could have saved myself all the bother. So…at least I learnt something there.

The first prove

(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie. Mmm oily and gooey, how on earth did our ancestors work out this was a good thing?)

An hour and a half later I knocked back my dough. There were lots of little air bubbles, it had a smooth consistency and it was pliable to knead…things were looking up! I shaped it all up, plonked a little ball on top for that iconic cottage look and eventually managed to poke a wooden spoon through without completely mangling my work. Wrapped up once more for a second prove it looked all snuggly and cosy. It wasn’t the prettiest looking loaf when I peeled back the cling film. The top ball had migrated for a rather jaunty affect, but hey, people need to be sure I made the thing, right? Beaten egg was brushed on (any excuse to play with a pastry brush is fine by me) and into the preheated oven it went – with an unintentional good luck kiss from the wire rack above (of course) narrowly missing dough annihilation.

The second prove

(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie. Mary says to put it in a bag, may I just ask, who has a bag that big?)

The recipe states that bread is done once golden and hollow-sounding when tapped on the base. I don’t know if you have ever been faced with a freshly baked piping hot loaf of bread but it isn’t instantly clear how to access the bottom. I tapped the top, it sounded hollow, was that good enough?

Fresh from the oven

(Photo by Thoroughly Modern Lizzie. Looks alright dunnit?)

For my first solo attempt at bread, it wasn’t bad. It smelled good, really good, even if it did look a bit deformed. It actually tasted alright as well, but as soon as I cut into it, I knew it hadn’t baked for long enough. Pressing on the crumb, it didn’t spring back and the crust had little strength or structure. It was pappy but tasty so I’d call that half a win. At any rate, it’s a start, and next time, I will do better. Focaccia’s here I come!

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The Hen Do that my Ladies Made

I’ve always liked the saying “Life is what you make of it”. Partly for the actual sentiment of seeing your life however you want to, but mostly for the crafty pun in there. Making stuff (food, knitwear, drawings) is how I make my life. When it came to my Hen Do, it wasn’t just what I made of it, it was what all my ladies made of it.

Now I wasn’t your typical Hen. I didn’t fancy a big night out with ‘L’ plates and willy-shaped paraphernalia. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I can see the funny side of a willy straw, I mean, who can’t? They’re funny from every angle!  I just wanted something else. Luckily I had the world’s best Maid of Honour ever in the history of life, weddings and bridesmaids, who got exactly what I wanted and planned the best Hen Do for me with all my ladies.

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(Photo taken by Lucie Nash)

We made fascinators! That’s right, I had a crafty Hen Do, boo-yah! A lady came to the house with all the things you need to make pretty little head adornments and we were on fire. It was great seeing my friends from all the different parts of my life all getting on so well. And we made some fantastic fascinators. But that’s not all, I spent the afternoon surrounded by all kinds of food, copious amounts of baked goods and my favourite girls. It was epic. It was a feat of co-ordination, communication and cake-ination. We had chocolate cake, mini cupcakes to dip in icing and toppings, shortbread, flapjack, madeleines, cupcakes, glittery scones, rice crispy cakes, blinis and posh sandwiches and a huge cake of light and creamy loveliness from Patisserie Valerie (and I’ve probably missed some bits along the way too).

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(Photo taken by Jan Smith)

That’s still not all. How do you decorate such an affair? How about giant paper pom poms (perfect to be used at the wedding as well), paper bunting, tiny crackers and tea caddies sporting white roses? Sounds perfect right? It was. It was exactly the mix of classy and cute that I’d had my heart set on, and it was what Anna and all my ladies made. So thank you, every last one of you, for baking, making and being involved in my wonderful Hen Do. It pays to think outside the box.

Of course it descended into drunken ramblings, but if the bride isn’t drunk on her Hen Do, something’s gone terribly wrong. The icing on the cake (see what I did there?) for me, was seeing the fascinators on the day itself, don’t they look stunning?

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(Photo taken by Amy Bride)

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(Photo courtesy of Louise Smith)

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(Photo taken by Amy Bride)

It really was the Hen Do that we made of it, and I loved it.