Daily Bread

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 30, Spring 2004

‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ that homely phrase in the Lord’s Prayer that’s tucked in neatly between the hopeful bit about ‘thy will be done’ and the ‘must do better’ part about trespasses and protection against evil, a little mental tea break in the serious prayer business. It’s a nice thought, our daily bread, even in these days when bread gets such bad press, what with low-carb diets and all.

Well, I’ve been baking my family most of their daily bread for just about a whole year now. It’s a pretty big commitment, originally taken on as part of a whole raft of cost-saving measures brought about when I quit regular employment in preparation for the birth of my third, and our sixth, child. I figured, having done the baby-and-career thing in the late 1970s and again in the 1990s, I’d done my dash (and it was a dash indeed, out of the house, off to the crèche, off to work, collect the baby, quick whip past the supermarket, rush home to throw it all together… oh no, I don’t even want to think about it!). Okay, where was I? I’d done my dash, and here I was a first-time housewife in my… yeah, okay, bite the bullet, well into my 40s. And I decided to slow things down in a big way. I tried a friend’s breadmaker for a month when she was overseas but there is something enormously satisfying in engaging in a craft that is so old, and developing a skill that has been forgotten by so many. I like holding my hands out in front of me and being able to say ‘These are my breadmakers!’

I don’t have to tell you, though, that our culture is completely opposed to slowing down the pace of the consumption machine. I’m working on it, and the garden is out there looking reasonably potager-ish, the tins are usually there with something baked, the wetback is keeping the water hot… and I’m experiencing something of the commitment of giving them each day their daily bread.

It takes less time than you’d imagine, once you get a routine going, but bread does like you to stick around – a few minutes to soften the yeast, a little time to mix the few simple ingredients, a bit of time to knead the bread, wait for it to rise, visit it once or twice to knock the air out of it, shape it into rolls or loaves, wait again, and then bake it in the oven. So it likes company and commitment, but it gives much pleasure in return. Nowadays when I ask God yet again to give us our daily bread, I find I am metaphorically sniffing the air in anticipation for what wonderful experience may be in store this time.

Kathleen asked me to share this recipe with you for a bread that I have been making quite often, which breaks most of the rules just described. It’s quick and easy to mix up and takes maybe an hour and a half to two hours, depending on the warmth of the room the bread’s rising in. It’s a recipe from Alison Holst’s Dollars and Sense Cookbook, which you may just find on a cook’s bookshelf or at your library. It’s well worth locating a copy.

No-knead brown bread

1-1½ tsp active dried yeast, 2 cups lukewarm water, 1 tbsp golden syrup, 2 tbsp oil or butter, 4 cups wholemeal flour, 1½ tsp salt.

Put the yeast, lukewarm water, and golden syrup into a big bowl and stir to mix in the syrup. Cover the bowl and stand it in a sink of warm water or in the sun for about 20 minutes until you can see little bubbles bursting on the top.

Add the oil or butter, flour, and salt, stir it all together, and beat the mixture with a wooden spoon (this helps the bread to rise). Butter or oil the tin you are using (use a loaf tin that will hold 8 cups or two large fruit cans). (I have cut and formed one of those non-stick baking sheets to fit my loaf tin and it works really well.) Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the top with the back of a wet spoon. Cover the tin loosely with a plastic bag and stand it in a sink of warm water. Leave to rise until twice its original size. Bake at 200°C for about 45 minutes. If it browns too much on top turn the heat down a little. Tip the loaf out and tap its bottom – it should sound hollow when it’s cooked. If it needs a little longer just put the loaf back into the oven.

This loaf keeps for about four days and is easiest to slice when it has stood for a few hours, and this particular daily bread makes heavenly toast.

—Barbara Corcoran

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