Monday 27 July 2015

Egyptians put bread in the tombs

Bread was once nourishing. Jesus was a fan, Thoreau too. Sandwiches were invented and families were brought up on the stuff. During the war, flour was bulked out with sawdust. Then we got Wonder Bread, which, for anyone not familiar with the concept of artificial bread, is artificial bread. It doesn’t mould. It doesn’t live, practically sawdust. Bread is chemically leavened, chemically preserved, “more the product of the embalmer’s art than the baker’s”. All of a sudden gluten was bad for us and everyone knew that it was especially bad for them, personally. You can find recipes for making pancakes… with cauliflower… Dieticians tell us to eat fat and protein. Others, only to eat things that are green. They tell us to go back to the forager’s diet, to a beginning full of nuts and seeds. They tell us to look over a major step in our evolution; that it’s no big deal that finally, with things like the bread made from our first experiments in farming grains 10,000 years ago, we had a constant source of calories, something we could store throughout the winter. No big deal that with bread, we evolved from hoping we’d find a deer to kill to masters of our own dinners.

Then I found the breads made by restaurant As. Great bread, alive, organic, hearty, chewy. Something you can keep using for a month. Add a bit of water, put it in the oven and it’s back to fluffy. Back to crusty. And the baguettes of Le Fournil deserve poems but for the fact they'll be old by lunch time. 

But these breads are exceptions. Much of the rest you find in Amsterdam will go un-reversibly stale within days. It’ll likely only be ¾ baked too, and flavourless. What to do with all those lemons in life? Make lemonade.

Two recipes for your leftover bread and a special mention.

1. Pappa al pomodoro

Italians also have bad bread, which is probably why they have so many recipes for re-using it. This is the soup version of bruschetta, a tomato soupy-stew made with a lot of garlic, olive oil and bread.

Fry 3 thinly sliced garlic cloves in some oil until it begins to brown. Add 1kg chopped dark-red tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 40 mins until oil rises to surface.

Add 800 ml of water to tomatoes and bring to boil.

Take pan off fire and stir in 200g stale bread, torn into chunks. Stop stirring once the bread is immersed so it doesn’t break up. Leave soup to cool so only just warm and chop in some basil. Top with some fruity olive oil and serve.

2. Kale, leek and ricotta bread pudding

This is a recipe that I’ve made 3 times in as many months as I’ve owned Claire Ptak’s book, The Violet Bakery Cookbook. If you have it, flip to page 78 and make it. If you don’t, buy it.

3. Chocolate bread pudding

Easy and gooey.

Preheat oven to 160 degrees C and butter your medium baking dish. Arrange thickly sliced pieces of old bread (about a loaf) so that they overlap, filling the dish.

To make chocolate mixture, heat 3 cups whole milk, 280g chopped chocolate, ½ cup sugar and ½ tsp salt in a heatproof bowl placed over pan of simmering water. Stir whilst the chocolate melts. Remove from heat before completely melted to prevent burning and continue to stir. Cool.

Crack 6 large eggs, one at a time, into the chocolate, whisking after each crack. Pour the mixture over the bread and let sit at room temperature for about an hour until the bread is saturated.

Cook for about 30 minutes, or until pudding is just set (as in, not totally wiggly. Some wiggle is good). Let cool slightly and eat.

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