I’ve been making, what is, for me, quite a lot of bread in the month since Harry died. Probably, in an ideal world, where both Phil and I weren’t either almost constantly watching our weight, or actively trying to lose it, I would bake something every day, and more often than not, that thing would be bread. There’s just something about making a loaf of bread I find immensely comforting and reassuring.
In this very sad and busy time for us, I’ve been turning to quick breads frequently. I love proper yeasted breads, but quick breads have many obvious virtues, not the least of which is found in the name itself; they’re quick. No rising, no kneading, and in my experience, they’re forgiving little things, which take to freestyle adaptation happily enough. As long as you basically get the ratio of dry ingredients to wet right, and don’t stuff up the leavening, you’re golden. If you’re using self-raising flour, you’re set for the alkaline part of the leavening reaction without needing to find the measuring spoons. Yogurt, buttermilk, sour milk, beer, etc., will all take care of the acid. Then it’s just flavour as desired.
Mostly, I’ve just been making soda bread. I’ve always got yogurt, buttermilk, or, alas, milk that’s gone sour hanging about in the fridge, and if I’m not just going with my handy, ever-present little sack of self-raising flour, there’s always baking soda and/or baking powder in the pantry. Salt and honey in the house are givens. I’m never more than a couple of minutes of gathering the ingredients and mixing up the dough away from having a loaf of soda bread in the oven. I’ve been adding in rolled oats and playing with the flour mix from time to time, because both Phil and I prefer hearty, chewy, wholegrain bread, but you can always sweeten it up by mixing in some dried fruit — currants are particularly nice for this. You get something that tastes a bit like a rather austere scone.
This morning I realised that having a small loaf around for the rest of the weekend,would be useful, which brings me to another of quick bread’s chief virtues: you can make a pretty small loaf. If you’re using little packets of dried yeast, one is usually the right amount for a full-sized loaf, but if you have neither the time, nor the need, for a full-on 2lb sized loaf, this is where a savoury or plain quick bread will serve you well. I didn’t want to make soda bread yet again; I wanted something a bit savoury, and as I happened to have a single, lonely, bottle of Peroni taking up space in the pantry fridge, and most of a small bag of self-raising flour around, it seemed like a good time to make an old favourite: beer bread. I also had a nice-sized wedge of mature Lancashire cheese that wasn’t going to be used if we didn’t actually have bread to use it with, so I grated about a very loosely-packed cup of that into my dry ingredients, ground a bunch of black pepper in after that, then whisked about a teaspoon of honey and a tablespoon of melted butter into the beer, mixed it all together (do not overwork the quick breads, for they are like muffins, and benefit from lumpy batter!) and dumped it into a greased 1lb loaf pan. Pop it into a 180º C oven, and one gorgeously fragrant hour later, there’s my loaf of bread to see out the weekend.