It’s early. I’m up before the sun and the air in the cottage is cold after a night below zero. There is a frost on the ground and through the kitchen window all looks still, bar the occasional blackbird flitting around on the gravel path.
The sky still looks grey so it’s difficult to tell what kind of day it’s going to be. I don’t always get on with grey days in the middle of winter. I’m sure I’m not alone. I once asked my mother how she felt on days like these and her response was one from another generation. She shrugged and said that when the weather is miserable she looks outside and feels thankful for the warmth of the house, for central heating and modern appliances. On days like these she said, she likes to bake.
I put the kettle on to boil water for tea and reach down into the cupboard for the large mixing bowl. I fetch the scales and two bags of flour, one granary and one strong white and measure out a combined 500g into the mixing bowl. This is my standard recipe and I vary the flour depending how I feel. One of my favourite mixtures is 80% spelt flour to 20% rye but neither are easy to find round here so I make do with what I have.
I set the bowl aside and gather together yeast, sugar and salt. One teaspoon of sugar and one of salt go into a small jug to which I add 100ml of hot water from the kettle, making myself a cup of tea at the same time. When the sugar and salt have dissolved I add another 200ml of cold water from the tap and pour a sachet of dried yeast over the top, giving it a stir and leaving it for a few minutes. I use fresh yeast when I can get it on account of the smell but the dried seems to work just as well.
Making my tea, I look outside to see a squirrel dart across the yard and up into one of the cedar trees. Quick, slight movements. They’re fast, these little red squirrels with their tufted ears and fat fluffy tails.
I take a sip of tea and plunge my left hand into the mound of flour feeling the cool softness against my skin. I make a well with my fist and pour in the liquid, stirring with a metal spoon. Just as the dough is coming together I add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, pausing to watch the green oil seep into the mixture. I use the spoon to push the dough around the bowl, collecting every last speck of flour. I love it when I can turn the dough out of an almost clean bowl.
The dough plops out onto the floured worktop with a satisfying thud and I start to knead. This is the part I love the most, losing myself in thought as I work the dough into a lovely smooth, silky ball.
I think about my mother baking in her kitchen in the middle of winter with the rain lashing the windowpanes. Turning out trays of scones, loaves of bread, biscuits for the grandchildren. And I think of my grandmother before her doing the same. Recipes passed down. My grandmother baked without ever using scales. Just a spoon and a good eye for measuring. My mother, my grandmother and all the women before them doing exactly what I am doing now, kneading dough to bake bread to feed their families. It’s a nice thought that connects me to my past.
After five to ten minutes the dough is ready and I shape it into a fat sausage and place it in a loaf tin which I have greased with butter. I always use butter for greasing. I sprinkle the top with flour and cover with a damp tea towel. I sit it near the heater to rise and put the kettle on for another cup of tea.
I take my tea to my computer to do some writing while I wait for the bread. I love these mornings. The simple act of baking bread brings me home to myself, nourishes something deep inside, sets me up for the day. By the time everyone else is up and around I’m already settled into my day.
I put the oven on to warm up and set the temperature to 200c. After half an hour the bread is ready to go in. I take a knife, place a couple of slits in the top of the loaf to let it vent, and pop it in the oven, setting the timer for 40 minutes. I go back to my writing.
Forty minutes later I remove the loaf from the oven, tip it out of the tin and give it a gentle knock on the bottom. It sounds firm and hollow so is ready. I set it down to cool and enjoy the smell as it wafts around the cottage. I’m looking forward to fresh bread and coffee for breakfast.
I glance outside again. It’s still early but I can see that the sky is turning a deep shade of blue. Maybe it’s going to be a good day after all ♥