Peasant bread

At the start of all the pandemic stockpiling madness I was very superior about other people’s supermarket meltdowns. I had just received my regular delivery of 48 toilet paper rolls from Who Gives a Crap,  a supply which lasts for over 3 months. My toilet paper situation was well under control so the videos of people exchanging blows over toilet paper in the supermarket aisles left me feeling very smug and detached.  The clearing of the rice and pasta was the same, I had five kilos of rice and pasta and there was still tonnes of rice and pasta available in small Indian and Italian food markets.

It was the run on flour that broke me, who were these people who had suddenly discovered baking. I went to buy some flour for pizza and there was NO flour, apart from one lonely, rather battered packet of self raising flour, which looked like it had been kicked and trodden on in the great supermarket flour stampede.

All was not lost though,  my local fruit barn was selling pallet loads of 12.5 kilo bags of Gem of the West flour. I bought a bag of flour, thinking 12.5 kilos really isn’t that much flour.  After all I planned to do  quite a bit of baking in lock down.  I would get through that flour in no time –  cakes, biscuits, pizza! Apart from one batch of Anzac biscuits (leftovers are still lurking in a tin somewhere) and a failed attempt at making lamingtons ( cake is now in freezer waiting to be made into trifle) I haven’t done any baking of sweets. There is only so much eating of sweet baked goods you can do in a lockdown with a small family.

I discovered you want to get through a lot of flour before the weevils get to it you need to bake bread and hanging around the house during a great pandemic is the optimal lifestyle for making bread. I made flat bread, foccacia, Lebanese za’rter bread and I was just about to crack open my long neglected bread tins when I discovered this peasant bread from Alexandra’s Kitchen. This is the easiest bread you will ever make – It’s no knead, uses instant yeast ( handy because that was the yeast I had on hand and there was NO yeast at the shops) and it’s baked in a glass Pyrex baking dish so you don’t need special bread tins. If you’re hanging around the house it is less effort than it takes to traipse to the shops and buy generic tasting bakery bread.

The thing I love most about this bread is that it tastes completely homemade. It takes me back to the bread my Mum used to make in the seventies. When I was a kid the fact that my Mum’s bread tasted so homemade wasn’t considered necessarily a good thing but now the smell and taste of homemade bread is an instant nostalgic bliss bomb. This bread is still good the next day, toasted (or just dunked in soup) but served fresh with lashings of butter and jam it makes the best afternoon tea.

The original recipe for this uses two, 1 litre Pyrex bowls to bake the bread which makes nice high round loaves. I’ve only got two 1.5 litre Pyrex casseroles so my loaves turn out a bit flatter. I have cut the dough down to three cups and just made 1 larger loaf which works well too. You could experiment adding different flours (Rye, spelt etc) I have not yet done this because I still have a significant amount of Gem of the West flour work through. (Shout out though to Gem of the West flour, it is a beautiful flour, excellent for bread and pizza dough).

This is is a very rough and ready looking dough. It’s cragginess gives the crust a a nice rough edge on top and the greasing of the baking pans gives the crust a lovely buttery flavour. I use Maldon salt flakes and they don’t dissolve completely so they make nice little spikes of saltiness in the finished bread which is delicious.

Peasant/ Pandemic bread

Adapted from Alexandra’s Kitchen

  • 4 cups of flour
  • 2 teaspoons of instant yeast
  • 2 teaspoons of caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of salt flakes
  •  2 tablespoons of room temperature butter
  • 2 cups of lukewarm water (half a cup of boiling water and 1 1/2 cups water)
  1. Whisk yeast, sugar, salt and flour together in a large bowl.
  2. Add water and mix until all water is incorporated and you have a rough and craggy looking dough. Cover dough with a tea towel or plastic wrap. Place in a warm spot and let rise for 1-2 hours until dough is doubled.
  3. Generously butter two glass Pyrex bowls or casseroles with butter. Deflate dough by spiking it with a fork making sure the dough is well collapsed.
  4. Roughly divide the dough in two with the fork and place the dough in two separate baking bowls. Leave Pyrex bowls in a warm spot, uncovered and allow to rise until doubled in size. This can take between 30 minutes and an hour. It’s a pretty forgiving dough.
  5. Bake in a very hot (200C fan forced) preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes until loaves are crusty and golden.
  6. Turn out onto a cooling rack. If you haven’t buttered your Pyrex bowls generously enough you may have to get a knife and wangle the loaf out bit. Let bread rest ten minutes before eating.



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