September 15, 2013

Book club: English Bread & Yeast Cookery

When it comes to fantasy dinner party guest lists Elizabeth David is right up there on mine. A tremendously influential cookery writer of the 20th century, she brought the flavours of the Mediterranean into the homes of middle-class Britain, and inspired a generation of everyday cooks to transform their family's eating habits by simply doing better with whatever they had. As a modern-day reader the pleasure you get from devouring her works is two-fold. Not only do you learn the history and finer details of the subject at hand, but her passion and emphasis on food being one of life's greatest pleasures is truly infectious.

Because her volume on English Bread and Yeast Cookery is filled with an absolute plethora of great British classics selecting which recipe to try can be decidedly difficult, and so the two recipes I eventually settled on for today's baking were chosen for reasons that were entirely frivolous. The first came out of curiosity as I was keen to try her recipe for rice bread, which, despite being blatantly self-explanatory, for me contained the rather unusual ingredient of whole rice. 

One of the things I like about old recipes is that they always give you a good dose of perspective. Rice bread wasn't designed to be adventurous or different, it simply came about because rice was cheaper, and often more available than flour, and it produced a moist loaf that kept well, which is important if you can only afford to fire up the oven once a week. For me they are also a nice reminder to use your brain as many will, rather than give detailed instructions, simply direct you to make things "in the usual way".

The dough itself was reasonably straightforward and while the loaf that resulted was indeed moist, it was also extraordinarily bland.

It did have a nice crunch when toasted, and I imagine would have been the perfect filler for when rations were scarce, but as someone free to live in more comfortable times I was certainly grateful to be topping it with some far more adventurous flavours.

The second, shooting cake, I selected purely for its name. An interesting cross between scones, cake and soda bread it was light yet rich, and the perfect afternoon accompaniment to a strong cup of tea. 

But despite its classic pairings and truly excellent name, what I enjoyed most about this cake was the idea of being tucked away in a country house kitchen in the remote wilds of the Scottish Highlands, baking fortifying snacks for the company as they gathered the hounds and sallied forth on their daily hunt.

Tally ho!

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