Le pain quotidien….give us this day our daily pain. The spinning signs on the pavements emblazoned with PAIN in fluorescent lettering still bring a smile to my face. It would indeed be a pain to be denied my daily bread and I relish the custom of this country, indeed the law of the land, that bread should always be readily available to its citizens and visitors on each and every day of the year. I’m sure that the same is true of each and every country wealthy enough to undertake such a promise to its inhabitants for which I’m sure we’re all truly grateful. However, my mind’s eye is focused on the customer leaving the boulangerie with a warm, crusty baguette the centre of which is wrapped in a neckerchief of white paper leaving the ends exposed to be be broken off and eaten on the way home. That is the bread for which I am daily grateful for it is more than bread; it is an ideal. Our nearest boulangerie sells bread. It sells four or five different “pains” and a typical range of baguettes, pains longues and ficelles. There is also a gesture of patisserie and, on occasions, good chocolates. The point is that is sells bread and not rows of fucking panini and other cellophane wrapped sterilised lumps of dough filled with whatever the zeitgeist demands. It gives me my daily bread, which I will take home and eat with stuff that I have, like and trust, and not my daily game of listeria Russian roulette.
Which broadside at sandwich shops and their ilk segues neatly into “the day we found we had run out of bread and the shops were shut”. I take great pleasure in baking but I’ve never baked bread. The precision of bread making, which is made to look so imprecise and free style by good bread makers, is what has put me off as well as the fear of making really awful bread. The moment that the lack of bread became real was Damascene. In the dazzling light of the moment there appeared a packet with a strange device “Pain Blanc – Mélange de Farines Boulangeres” and the die was cast. I must have bought this packet of very ordinary supermarket proprietary brand bread flour as some sort of insurance against starvation as I would no more buy artisan bread flour than I would expensive green gumboots.
The recipe was printed on the side of the packet which I followed religiously…..on reflection, quite the opposite of religiously as that would require blind faith which is not recommended as an adjunct to successful baking however well it works for martyrdom. And it worked miraculously well….I hope that salves the wound I have inflicted on the religious among those who might read this.
The recipe is as follows:
500gms flour ( whichever white bread flour you are using)
300ml warm water
2 sachets of bakers yeast
2 soup spoons of sugar which gives colour to the crust .
Mix the salt, the yeast, the sugar and the flour in a bowl. Make a well in the middle and pour in the warm water.. Mix vigorously with a wooden spoon and then work the dough on a floured board for a good 8 minutes. Cover the bowl and leave in a warm place for 30 mins. Flour the board generously and flatten the dough on the board and form it into a square, with 20cms edges. Fold the four points into the middle and do the same with new 4 points. Turn the dough over and form into a round shape ( a boule). Put the boule on a lightly oiled baking tray, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for 40 mis. Turn on the oven 15mins before the end of rising and set to 210C. When the rising time has elapsed put the baking tray with the boule in the oven, with as small bowl of water on the baking tray. Leave to cook for 40 -50 mins.
I should point out that I have no idea whether the recipe works with any bread flour or if it has been created specifically for Super U Pain Blanc. I’m averse to writing technical recipes as I’m not a recipe tester but someone who loves cooking. It s also a reason why I feel nothing but sympathy for those who decide to write cookery books as it must be particular circle of hell into which I do not wish to enter.