Bread and Roses
Finally, this post is coming together! It has been a long time in the making, and in the meantime it’s “all-change” here at TFL. The re-vamped site looks great Floyd, and I am about to experiment with all the new upload options now made available. I gather I should be able to embed my own videos; well, let’s just see how I get on shall we?
Ok, well, I’ve entitled this post “Spring”, but in truth, we haven’t really got going with this most beautiful of seasons in the UK, especially here in “The North”. Current estimates are that the natural environment is lagging 6 to 8 weeks behind where we could reasonably expect it to be. Many of the big old trees in our village have no buds on them whatsoever. And it has been cold; very cold indeed. It is now windy, but there is some warmth when the sun is out properly. I start off with this whinge because it drove many Brits to choose to escape to Southern Europe at Easter-time, fed up as the coldest March on record was finally drawing to a close. Alison and I were part of this exodus, although we had decided to take a 2 week break at Easter some time ago, when we found cheap flights with EasyJet from London’s Gatwick Airport. We are going to Scotland with family this July, so hit on the idea of exploring our favourite island of Crete in the Springtime; what a fantastic ideas that turned out to be too. We are used to Crete appearing baked; little water, no grass, limited flowers to say the least. It can be a trifle windy, but ordinarily it is HOT. Of course our visit this time brought very different weather, and a landscape very unfamiliar to us, and very beautiful indeed.
I made notes of our early days in Crete, and reflected largely on baking, given I made bread in the wood-fired brick oven attached to the lovely “Anatolika” Beach House where we were staying. I will write up the notes below. There is also a video slideshow to watch, with photos of my baking, of the amazing landscape we enjoyed, and acknowledgement of our feline companions through the fortnight.
“Anatolika” – The Beach House; Easter 2013
Alison loves Crete – she has been coming on holiday to this island for close on 25 years. She brought me to Crete for our extended honeymoon back in 2007, and I too fell in love with the place.
Since then we have stayed in various places around the island; all very beautiful. But this is the best of all and we have been so excited about coming back here since we first secured the booking back in late 2012. We stayed here in the heat of July and August 2010; you can read about our adventures on that trip here: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/19167/anotolika-beach-house
Setting the scene: we are on the South Coast, around 40km due South of Rethymnon – Crete’s third largest city. The road west is unfit to use to drive in our grotty hire car and the road east meanders for a few kilometres around shore and mountainside before it peters out. To the south is the Libyan Sea, with the tiny island of Gavdos some 4 hours away by boat. After that, next stop Africa! So the north is our access point, over hills rising close to 1000m, with the town of Spili as our base for buying supplies.
We re-visited our favourite greengrocer and stocked up on aubergines, peppers, courgettes and other vegetables, as well as some fabulous local strawberries. The shopkeeper also sells loose dried beans and pulses, so we bought fava and gigantes too, and we also found some local speciality pasta. Last, and definitely not least, we bought local honey, plus the gentleman’s own olive oil [truly top class], and raki, which was sufficiently smooth that Alison was quite happy to down a tipple in one when offered a sample in the shop!
At the other end of the town car park is the INCA supermarket where we bought other provisions, including a good range of flour….milled in Crete. I bought a beautiful coarse wholemeal with protein of 14.4%, a strong white flour for bread at 11.8%, and what must be close to a US All Purpose flour at 11.2% - although I expect it to have been milled from predominantly Mediterranean-grown wheat and, as such, that the protein quality and water absorption would be lower than its US counterpart. I have included photos of the flour bags in the slideshow. All the flours were produced by the same milling company. We followed one of the company lorries on our way back to the airport as it made its way from its base in Souda, near Chania, to one of the plant bakeries in the capital city, Heraklion.
The labels are headed ΜΥɅΟΙ ΚΡΗΤΗΣ, which I suspect translates as “Cretan Mills”. The Greek word for flour is αλεύρι.
I don’t lay claim to the flour being any local speciality flour like the Gilchesters’ which I use in the UK; anything but! They are clearly industrially-produced flours with consistent specifications. But, they are milled at Souda, the port which serves the second city, Chania, in the west of the island.
I do not know where the Greeks source bread-making wheat, but have these inclines. Thessalonikii in the north of the mainland is noted for agri-business, and one suspects the shortfall is made up from wheat from the other EU nations, France being a most likely source.
I arrived in Crete to bake, armed with a red plastic scraper, 40g of levain stashed in a plastic container, and a neat mini-scale which I have photographed in the slideshow. The scale weighs upto 300g, in 0.1g denominations, although a level scoop only provides about 30g of flour, so weighing out accurately can be a bit of a pain. Still, it’s a good balance; I avoided “winging it”, but managed to keep things as simple as possible for me to enjoy the pleasures of baking in our wonderful seaside abode.
We arrived on Friday afternoon. I had driven overnight from home to London [350 miles/560km] before the flight to Crete, plus a 120km journey from Heraklion airport, so, yes, I was tired. We shopped on Saturday, and I built up the levain. Alison and I sourced some wood from the roadside and the beach, and the owners of Anatolika supplied more besides. The sun shone and it was hot for the first few days.
On the Sunday, I baked a large Miche, which was a little over-ambitious at 1.5kg of dough, as my makeshift banneton was too small to allow full proof, meaning the crumb in the centre areas of the bread ended up just a little tight. I also made 2 small cobs of Toasted Almond and Prune Bread which served well for breakfasts over the next few days. The pick of the breads was undoubtedly a large wholemeal cob, which I topped with a few sesame seeds. I think a white crusty bâtard, or maybe a small but chunky baguette, with a scattering of sesame seeds is typical of everyday Greek bread. But, we like wholemeal flour better, and I had a couple of plastic round bowls to use and some linen tea towels to improvise as bannetons…so these loaves became our bread of choice for our lunchtime sandwiches this holiday.
In the early part of the second week of the holiday I baked once more. This time I made a pizza, which baked in just 2 minutes in the red hot oven, just after extinguishing the fire. A courgette focaccia followed, taking just 5 minutes to bake through! I made more wholemeal bread plus some spicy buns. The buns tasted good, but the levain was somewhat over-ripe by the time I came to make them, and my supply of bread flour running very short. Yet again, the wholemeal loaves were just great; I reckon hydration in these loaves was in excess of 80%, and they stayed fresh for days.
Of course, we really did not want to come home. Here is the slideshow of photographs from the holiday.
Nigel covered the Hexham Farmers’ Market on 13th April allowing Alison and I to catch up with my family on the way back home from London. I then had to travel back up to Dunbar for nightshift work on Sunday night for 4 nights. We had friends for dinner the following Saturday and I worked just one Sunday night back up in Scotland. After that I baked all week on my wood-fired oven at home in preparation for the Alnwick Farmers’ Market on 26th April. You can see my baking effort on the slideshow below. The weather was rubbish that day, but sales were ok considering. I attended Hexham Farmers’ Market the next day, and sold out of everything very quickly, including the small amount of excess from the day before which went on special offer.
After a brief rest on Sunday, Alison and I caught an early train South on Monday morning [29th April] and were joined by my parents at York en route to London. We went to the Barbican Centre in the heart of the City of London for my Graduation Ceremony with City University. Yes, finally I have successfully completed an MSc in Food Policy. There are a few photographs at the end of the slideshow below.
Nigel and I had a large baking session on Thursday this week. We attended the Newcastle Farmers’ Market for the first time on Friday 3rd May, and all-but-sold-out of bread. Given tough competition, minimal publicity, and a first attempt, 130 loaves sold seems a good result to us. We wait to see whether we are invited back for June and July.
I’m looking forward to the Summer. I have a few day courses booked in, plus the Farmers’ Markets and the Powburn Show. BUT, I soooooo need a bakery; that is the real goal I have to work for.
Happy Baking Everyone!