It should come as no surprise that along with the smell of coffee brewing, real estate agents class freshly baked bread as a top smell to have when your house is on the market. It’s not just for the nostalgia these smells arouse either. Not too many of us had Mums or Dads who home-baked, but somehow a wealth of homey feelings are roused when yeast is doing its thing. The smell of rising bread is incomparable, but even without baking, the plethora of good bakeries means we’ll always be looked after.
Jesus was onto a good thing too. Okay, so he had fishes as well, but never underestimate the power of bread to go that extra mile at a party. For barbecues a good selection of baguettes and their ilk won’t break the budget. While one might want to feed the man meat, it’s equally important to stuff ’em with bread. Moreover, fresh baked bread is the perfect foil to salads and barbecued meats, seafood and vegetables.
If you want to make your own, you can do no better than a bread machine. Purists may sniff but they can’t be beaten for ease of preparation. Supermarkets sell special bread machine flour, the machines come with great recipes plus variations, and it’s very set and forget. You can snaffle yourself a breadmaker for under $200 at any department store, chuck the makings in the night before, and the next day, the smells wafting through the house as your bread proves and bakes will raise your house value by $40,000 -¦ or thereabouts.
Then again, you can always make your bread, brioche or hot cross buns totally from scratch. The kneading is a bitch, but at least you’ll give your biceps a workout.
When making bread, be sure to purchase bread-making flour. Supermarkets sell bread machine flour and baker’s flour as well as other selections like buckwheat and wholemeal, so there’s no excuse if you want to do it correctly. Moreover, yeast -“ especially when compressed or fresh -“ always has a use-by date. If, like Bite, you only venture into the bread zone once or twice a year, make a point of buying new yeast every time. Packet yeast is more than adequate, but even in its foil package, it tends to go off fairly quickly.
You may have guessed that I’m a store-bought aficionado, knowing that the industrial strength of the local bakery is saving me both time and money.
What Bite really likes about bread is its adaptability. It’s the perfect plate for cocktail nibbles and grilled cheese, the sop for French onion soup and casserole gravy, and, together with butter, a happy marriage.
Bread, when punched with a cookie cutter, makes a great hors d’oeuvres platter. Punch large slices of bread into rounds with the desired cutter, slick with melted butter (use a pastry brush) on each side and pop onto an oven tray for 10 minutes maximum at 180C. Crispy on the outside, spongy on the inside, it’s perfect for smoked salmon, luscious dips, sliced beef and hollandaise, roasted capsicum and goats cheese and more.
Bread also has longevity. It can be frozen when fresh and refreshed in a hot oven for five minutes. If stale, you can make it go the further mile by spritzing water onto the loaf until damp. Place in a preheated hot oven for five to 10 minutes, carve and then serve. This method works for all breads, including Turkish.
To make your own sweet bread (somewhat akin to brioche), heat a cup of water with half a cup of sugar over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Glaze a bread loaf with this sugar syrup. Bake for five to 10 minutes on 180C. Serve with jams and cream, smoked ham and mustard or with best-quality butter.
And bread isn’t that fattening. It’s filling, certainly, and very high in carbos, but it truly goes with everything.