Bread is the staff of life, so it is said, a staple food to sustain on life’s rollercoaster road. For too many years this staff has been demeaned until little more than a crack-filler that clags up the mouth, and lies heavy in the stomach. But signs are now discernable that humble bread is making a comeback. Some eating places now even flaunt the importance of their bread and feature the types, textures, and flavours they offer as an integral part of a satisfying eating experience.
I have to confess to a bias in the bread area, as I have a husband who bakes bread for our table. His grandfather owned bakery shops in Aberdeen, so perhaps the impetus comes from there. Perhaps also husband’s rather gung-ho attitude to ingredients, a pucklie of this, a pucklie of that, and only read the recipe if all else fails, comes from a sense of inherited knowledge and understanding of the bread-making process. Whatever conditions his stance, we revel in regular loaves of bread that boast different tastes and textures. Husband likes to be adventurous in his bread-making, so he experiments with a variety of flours and combinations, and throws in seeds and berries to see what happens. Perhaps his grandfather from some floury heaven guides his hand, as his loaves are invariably wonderful. The only occasion when they fail to reach the nadir of success is when he forgets he has a loaf baking in the oven and it turns out… over crusty. The purchase of a timer will hopefully help here.
Bread, olives and sardine pate served as a pre-starter are one of the palate-remembered memories of a recent holiday in the eastern Algarve. Simple ingredients that satisfy and feed anticipation of the culinary pleasures to come. Now as we pop a sun fed olive into mouth the taste conjures up a storybook of warm memories.
Many years ago, we enjoyed rye bread from a Polish delicatessen in the Morningside area of Edinburgh. Ever since, I have judged all others by the standard of these remembered loaves. Great when eaten new, but when toasted and spread with butter all the mouth-smooching, sweet and sour flavours were released. Recently, after a visit to a coffee house and bakery in Gullane, East Lothian, I have been able to relive that heady-bready experience.
The coffee house owner is a konditormeister, a highly trained German master pastry chef whose creations are made according to strict rules laid down in law. His cakes are scrumptious, creamy cream creations, but his coffee house and shop also offer a mouth-watering selection of traditional German bread, baked daily on the premises. I couldn’t leave without buying Golferbrot, a multigrain bread with a slightly chewy texture and a wonderful malty, nutty taste. Roggenmischbrot, a medium rye, also was wrapped in paper for me. A lighter rye, Bauernbrot, is available, but I craved the hit of strong rye (bread of course!).
I was fascinated to learn that the rye sourdough raising agent used for his rye breads is considered a member of the family. It’s over 100 years old, and Heinrich is its name. Every day, whether working day, high day or holiday, the culture has to be refreshed to keep it active. The demise of Heinrich would mean the demise of the bread-making side of the business. Heinrich’s existence appealed to me as a foodie. Heinrich was proof the staff of life still exists. Its life history continues to enrich the lives of those who enjoy the products it raises. Good traditional, richly satisfying bread.