For about a year now I have been volunteering at a local community centre through attending their bread making workshop. Before joining this group I knew very little about making bread. I had tried my hand at some pizza dough and even attempted pita bread hoping for that elusive “perfect puff”, but I was never brave enough to attempt your basic sandwich loaf. However, now that I have been kneading with my friends at the community centre for the past thirteen months not only have I nearly mastered the simple sandwich loaf, but I have also learned the great value of a simple cup of tea with a stranger.
The thing about making a sandwich loaf is that it really only takes 30 minutes of hands on time, but the workshop I’m in lasts for 2 hours. That extra hour an half of proving and baking time allows our group to get down to what I now know is the real business of our workshop- having a nice cup of tea together. However, when I started in the group, tea time was the scariest bit of the whole experience! First off, as they say, I’m not from around here. I’m an American living in Edinburgh and the community centre that I’m at is full of locals with some mighty thick accents. In the early days of being in the group I struggled to understand my fellow bread-makers and it took most of them months to correctly pronounce my name. Slowly but surely, I began to expand my Scottish vocabulary as I learned to blether with the best of them and I think they are now quite endeared to the sound of a yankee in their midst.
If it weren’t for this group, I would probably never have met the people who I’m making bread with because our life circumstances have been so very different. This particular community centre that I volunteer at is geared towards providing a safe space where vulnerable adults can come learn practical life skills but more importantly can learn the often harder to attain social skills that will enable them to succeed as they work towards a more self-sufficient life. My fellow bread makers have been though some struggles that I hope to never face. Even to this day, it can be hard to find common ground to chat about, but after a year’s worth of bread kneading and cups of tea, I can genuinely say that these are some of the people whom I count as dearest to me in my new home town.
So, if you are looking for a great way to bond with some people whom you might not normally have much to chat about, might I suggest you assemble to following ingredients and locate a kitchen. A shared, practical experience like bread-making is a wonderful way to stimulate the blethering spirit in just about anybody.
Simple Sandwich Loaf in Eight Easy Steps
500g of your choice of flour (plain white, wholemeal or even half white half wholemeal)
1.5 teaspoons of salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons oil
300 ml warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
(You can also add in seeds, nuts, herbs or dried fruit if you’d like)
1. Mix dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, yeast) in a large bowl. At the community centre, we really do use teaspoons and tablespoons to measure with- not the official measuring kind, but just whatever you use at home to stir your tea or eat your soup will do.
2. Add the water and oil to the dry ingredients and stir together until the dough begins to form and you can turn it out onto a work surface to begin to knead. Note: wholemeal flour may require a bit more water, add a spoonful at a time until the dough is workable.
3. Knead your dough for 10-15 minutes. No big secret here, use the balls of your hands to press the dough down into the work surface, then stretch it out, then press it together, then stretch it out….. At the centre we say this is by far one of the best stress busters out there! The dough may start off a bit sticky, but as you work with it the water will incorporate into the flour and the dough will come off your hands. Note: wholemeal dough is more difficult to knead, it isn’t you! Also, this is the time to add in your seeds, nuts, herbs etc.
4. After 10 minutes your dough should have smooth surface texture and if you press your finger into it, the dough will spring back. Using your hands, roll the dough into a slightly wide baguette loaf shape.
5. Generously Oil a bread tin and place your loaf into the tin. No need to press it into the tin, it will rise and fill up the space.
6. Place the tin in a warm spot and cover with a tea towel. Let it rise for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 200 C. Now it’s time for a spot of tea!
7. Once dough has doubled in size, place it in the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until browned on top. When you remove it from the oven you can take it out of the tin and tap the bottom of the loaf to check for doneness- if it sounds hollow it is done.
8. Let cool for a few minutes before serving. If you aren’t going to eat it right away (or within a day or two) you can freeze the bread for up to 3 months.
Guest Blog by Ansley