Grr. Or even GRRRRR.
I’ve been really busy with work – which is good when you’re a freelancer – and I haven’t had time to do things I normally would. Things like researching a historical post for here, weeding the garden and chasing Next Door’s Cat away from the bird table (she’s sitting on it as I type, pretending to be invisible).
Or baking bread.
I bake all my bread. I’m not a paragon of right-on virtue, I do not knit my own yoghurt, drive a 2CV, or chant anything. I stay away from tie-dyes by and large and do not own an old copy of The Whole Earth Catalog. I’m no hippie. But I am a foodie.
I bake bread because I once read the ingredients on a loaf of shop-bought, tightly packaged bread and decided I would rather do without. I mentioned this to a very good friend (he sadly died this year, far too young), and he said ‘bake your own, then’. I explained I was crap at breadmaking, made a very good brick but a lousy loaf, and he said – in those irritating, reasonable, slightly incredulous tones which always induce fury in me when employed by a bloke, any bloke, and which are usually deliberately adopted to achieve just that effect – that he baked all their bread, had done for years and that it was easy. A challenge if ever there was one.
I did it. I got the hang of basic wholemeal, basic white, rolls and loaves. I moved on to baguettes, flavoured breads and found my true love, sourdoughs. And specifically pain de campagne. I think I must be chanelling my grandmother.
I love pain de campagne. I love the flavour of it, the texture, the way it makes wonderful bruschetta and goes so well with oeufs sur plat, a.k.a fried eggs. I remember huge loaves of it in rural France and surprisingly in Parisian markets, loaves where you’d buy a half or a quarter rather than the whole thing (I specifically remember one which seemed to be almost as big as me; I may have been about four at the time). Now mine are smaller but they are raised in proper bannetons in true Froggie fashion, after I discovered that you can buy bannetons quite easily – in supermarkets – in France. They are made with a proper starter and proved over a long time; they take a day to rise the two times that are needed.
And that’s why I haven’t had time to make any.
I always bake several and freeze them, and I discovered to my horror that I’d eaten the freezer during this busy period. So there I was in Tesco, by the bakery, and I saw it – pain de campagne, it said on the label. It wasn’t large, and it didn’t look quite like it should, but I knew Tesco had been trying to ‘improve their bread offer’ and I thought they might have done it. After all, French supermarkets sell an acceptable pain de campagne, so maybe Tesco had cracked it.
What I have bought looks vaguely like a pain de campagne on the outside. Inside, it’s pap. Actually, I’m not sure it’s even that good. Bland, soft white bread that squeezes down to nothing, sticks your teeth together, gives off huge amounts of moisture when you toast it and which tastes of diddley-squat when you eat it, but which has a rather strange after-taste. Don’t get me wrong – white bread like this (well, not quite like this) has its uses: bacon sandwiches, for instance, especially from a proper caff or greasy spoon, are just perfect on soft white bread.
But that doesn’t pretend to be what it isn’t. This loaf does. Grrrrrrr. I just hope people don’t assume that it’s pain de campagne. It’s pain de Tesco, and that’s all. To get back on topic, briefly, it’s like a squeaky acrylic yarn masquerading as 100% wool.
Time to get out those raw materials. Normal service will be resumed as soon as I’ve got the dough out of my fingernails!