The art of baking bread

It's no secret that I'd much rather bake a cake than bake bread.
I could blame my sweet tooth. I could say that bread seems boring in comparison with the wide variety of cake/icing/filling combinations. But in truth, I'd be lying; the real reason I prefer to bake cakes is because I lack patience.

Patience is, as we all know, a virtue. (It also happens to be a fruit of the Spirit!) And it's something that I don't have a lot of.  Particularly in this day and age, when we have instant access to almost everything at the touch of a button - bank accounts, world news, etc - I feel that we've lost the ability to just be still and wait. Even one of Jamie Oliver's recent cookbooks, "15-minute meals" reveals our desire for instant gratification.

Just to be clear, I'm not knocking 15 minute meals. Sometimes there's nothing better than a quick bowl of hot pasta dressed with a dollop of pesto and a sprinkling of cheese. But at the same time, I think we need to recognise the value of slow cooking. I'll admit that I have often skipped past a recipe because it supposedly requires more than one hour to make, but it's an aspect of myself that I'm trying to change, because sometimes the slow cooked meals are the most rewarding ones.

Have a think about it: baking bread, making risotto, slow roasting a joint of pork; all of these things require patience in abundance. Yes, they also require forward planning, but once you get down to it, they're surprisingly simple. There's something so magical about slow cooking, too, and how a jelly-like piece of pork transforms into a melting soft mouthful of tender meat, and how an uninspiring lump of dough doubles in size - not once, but twice.

In fact, making bread doesn't actually require that much effort; the only thing it really needs is time. Twenty minutes to mix it all together and kneed it for a bit, followed by an hour to prove, then five minutes to knock it back, another half hour to prove, then thirty minutes to an hour in the oven.... In fact, bread could be seen as the perfect thing to bake because it requires minimal supervision.

I feel inspired every year after Bread Week on the Great British Bake Off, so this month I decided to make a loaf myself. As much as I wanted to try some of the crazy flavour combinations floating around on my tv screen, I picked a simple wholemeal loaf because my bread-making experience is somewhat limited.

So, I woke up nice and early one morning and trotted downstairs to make some bread before breakfast. We had some tomato soup in the fridge which I knew would be the perfect lunchtime accompaniment. (Fresh bread for breakfast would have been ideal, but it would have meant waking up at some unearthly hour and I wasn't that keen.)
After twenty minutes of therapeutic stirring and kneeding, I was back at the kitchen table, bowl of Weetabix in hand, slowly flicking through cookery books looking for birthday cake inspiration. But an hour later, the dough still hadn't risen. Quel desastre! My fresh bread for lunch schedule was getting tighter by the minute.

(Luckily, this has happened to me before, so I knew how to fix it. Mix a bit of yeast with some warm water and leave to sit for ten minutes or so until it forms a frothy head, then mix into the dough. You'll need to add some flour to absorb some of the water. Then kneed as normal and proceed with the recipe.)

Three and a half hours after I had begun to make the bread, and ten minutes before we were due to have lunch, I took it out of the oven. It was perfectly fine.

Baking bread, therefore, isn't just a nice ritual that makes me feel like a farmer's wife; it's a life lesson. Sometimes the best things come to (s)he who waits.

This isn't the exact bread recipe I used, but it should be pretty reliable if you want to have a go yourself. Or better still, leave me your favourite bread recipe in the comments so I can attempt to improve my bread-making skills!