Things to do before I die – Update 1

I’ve managed to tick off a couple of things on the list of stuff to do before I die.

Fairly soon after I made the list I was able to complete my first wild solo camping trip. I thought it would be really lonely and a little daunting but I really enjoyed it and would love to do some more solo trips.

Following a trip to France I was then inspired to have a go at making my own bread. Considering that I’d seen this as magic or at least alchemy, the four batches I’ve produced so far have all been great.

War and Peace
War and Peace

I also thought that I’d give a start to reading ‘War and Peace’ as I know it will take a while. So far (up to page 300 of 1440) it has been very readable and I’m quite into it. I did listen to an abridged radio version a few years ago so I have an idea of the overall plot. I’ve ticked it off as I’m fairly confident that now I’ve started that I’ll finish.

I wasn’t able to get in the London to Brighton this year so I can’t quite tick that off. It doesn’t quite count but I did cycle the London to Cambridge last weekend without too much difficulty.

The updated list:

  • Sail across an ocean
  • Write a book or magazine article and get published (nationally)
  • Visit every continent (might not need to do Antarctica)
  • Public display or exhibition of my photography*
  • Solo wild camping trip*
  • Olympic distance triathlon*
  • Get a tattoo*
  • Climb a 5000m+ mountain
  • Watch England play live at Football, Rugby and Cricket and go to Wimbldon
  • Own a bespoke suit
  • Take part in ‘Tough Guy’ race*
  • Go to a Music Festival (Glasto?)
  • Learn to make amazing bread*
  • See an Opera at Glyndebourne
  • Try surfing
  • Learn a foreign language
  • Go skinny dipping
  • Read ‘War and Peace’*
  • Watch every Martin Scorsese film*
  • Learn at least three magic tricks*
  • Be on Radio 4
  • Cycle London to Brighton (and get up Ditchling beacon without stopping)*
  • Go to the Hay Literary Festival
  • Go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
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Bread diary No.4 – Mint Loaf

Things have so far gone suspiciously well with my new endeavor into bread making and I didn’t want to muck it up now.

I felt that last week’s Alsace Rye Bread was nice but not something to have in the morning for breakfast. I did consider making brioche but in the end went for a compromise of a ‘milk bread’. I found a recipe for ‘Mint and Orange Loaf’ in a book called ‘Dough‘ which looked like the thing I was after.

Mint loaf, fresh out of the oven!
Mint loaf, fresh out of the oven!

It looked like a fairly standard milk bread but with the milk being pre-infused with fresh mint (of which we have tons from the garden). In the process of making this recipe I actually forgot to add the orange zest so it ended up just ‘mint’ flavoured.

In the end I didn’t really cry over missing out the orange as the mint flavouring was quite gentle and subtle and I think that the orange could have drowned it out. The bread turned out to be delicious and I will definitely be making it again. In a way, however, it was disappointing to break the ‘purity rule’ of just 4 ingredients – water, flour, yeast and salt.

Sliced Mint loaf
Sliced Mint loaf

Up to now I have been using dried yeast but quite fancy trying out some fresh to see if it makes much difference. I have also ordered a silicon bowl scoop as this seems to be a very handy tool.

Bread diary No.3 – Alsace Rye Loaf

So far I’ve had a go and so far I have at least one reliable tasty bread ‘in the bag’.

This time I thought I’d up the stakes and go for something a little more ambitious – an Alsace Rye Loaf. I got the recipe from Dan Leppard’s ‘The Handmade Loaf’, a present I’d bought for Deborah a few years ago and now shamelessly using myself.

The recipe calls for white flour (60%), rye wholemeal flour (40%) plus some whole rye grains. At the point I decided to do this recipe I never thought I would have such difficulty getting hold of the rye grains. It turned into something akin to the quest for the holy grail. In the end I finally found the ‘grail’ in a health food store well off my usual beaten tracks.

Making the bread required all the normal proving, leaving, kneading and then leaving some more etc. this time I added the rye grains that I’d cooked the night before and then soaked in some white wine. Instead of loaves I decided to go for batons on this one which I was quite pleased with.

'Proving'
'Proving'

I do kind of have to sort out how I place things in the oven as, for the second time now, the bread on the top shelf is slightly too high and burns a smidgen. I’ll adjust things for the next batch.

The result
I was panicking that I’d under-cooked the bread but it turns out that once it cooled that it was fine. We had the bread with our lunch and with just a bit of butter it was delicious and flavoursome. With a bit of boursin it was even better. The perfect food for this style of bread is probably something like soup or a stew. The bread would soak up the soup nicely while adding a nice chewyness from the rye grains.

The finished loaves cooling on the rack
The finished loaves cooling on the rack

This recipe was a trifle more complicated than the last ones but good to see if I could do. I would definitely make this bread again but I would probably reduce the ratio of whole rye grains as, for me, they didn’t leave quite enough room for the bread itself.

Bread diary No.2 – Crusty white yeast bread (again)

My first effort at bread making turned out surprisingly well. So much so in fact that I was a bit worried that it was all a bit of a fluke. I decided therefore to make the same bread as last week – A white yeast bread.

Again, two delicious loaves of bread, it wasn’t just beginners luck! This time though, I felt a bit more organised and got into the rhythm a lot better. I now feel that this crusty white loaf is my benchmark and that I can move on from here and try something less basic. I have also realised that this recipe requires me to be around for a total of 3 hours (although with lots of gaps) which is good to know.

I was interested in working out the economics of self baking, but it is quite difficult to be very precise. 1.5kg of strong white flour (90p) makes almost 4 decent sized loaves of bread which would make 22.5p per loaf. I bought some amazing sea salt in France (a 1.5kg bag for E1.50) and have so far used dry yeast (46p for 125g) which makes these costs fairly negligible. It’s then only the oven cost for 50 minutes on a high heat which I have no idea. Artisan bread at Borough Market costs £3-4 so regardless of how I add up the variables, it makes quite a saving!

Can’t wait to try a new recipe next week!

Bread diary No. 1 – Crusty white yeast bread

The yeast dough
The yeast dough

I have done a little bit of travelling and it never quite fails to amaze me that almost every country in the world seems to make better bread than the UK. It is a fundamental basic of food and yet I feel badly served by the majority of loaves on offer in my own country. Yes I can go to a specialist bakery (and pay a fortune) but in somewhere like France the basic baguette is usually good if not excellent. I have also been to places with no electricity and little running water and had some of the best bread of my life.

I have therefore decided to give a go to making my own bread in the hope that I can end up making something half decent.

Ready for the oven
Ready for the oven

For my first attempt I’ve had a go at a ‘Country sourdough-yeast bread‘ that looked fairly nice and is definitely the kind of bread I love to eat. I learnt several things in the making of this bread. Firstly, don’t let your 2 year old (and very inquisitive) daughter try to ‘help’ you. Secondly I found that while the whole process took a couple of hours, there were huge intervals of ‘proving’, ‘rising’ and baking that all allow you to go off and do other things.

With some trepidation I took my two loafs from the oven, gave them a bit of a tap and was relieved to find a nice crust and a vaguely hollow sound. I waited agonisedly for the bread to cool down a bit before I cut myself a slice off the end, spread a little butter and had a taste. Not bad, in fact actually quite good. It’s possible that this was beginners luck but my first attempt seems to be a winner – a lovely crusty soft white loaf. Yay!

The finished loafs
The finished loafs