Friday 23 December 2016


Nigel Slater, the foodie, called his autobiography Toast because that made up such a large part of the Good Things about his growing up and none the less-good things, of which there were many. He's a little younger than me but his description of the grimness of eating in England in the 1960s resonates with a hummmmm. Who doesn't love toast?  It is the only way really to make a sliced white Chorleywood loaf of bread palatable. Any normal teenage boy should, if provided with a toaster and sufficient butter, be able to work his way through half an 800g loaf between the end of school and the start of the evening meal; which might well include beans and yet more toast.

Now my bread, which I know is real [flour, water salt, yeast] bread, doesn't toast. After a go through the toaster [which pops automatically when it decides the slice is done], my bread is dried out on the surface but doesn't get any colour.  Not really sure why the Maillard reaction - between the amino acids in the gluten and the sugars in the starch - doesn't occur here; but it's a bit disappointing. Then again, my bread is a meal in itself and doesn't need to be re-cooked to be appealing in itself or a grand vehicle for cheese, butter, jam or Marmite.

We had a family get-together down in Waterford this last weekend and I was tasked with bringing a long list of vital things away [sheets, towels, pillow-cases, a tea-pot, milk, all the side-plates and at least 8 mugs etc. etc.] from our mountainy home. The Beloved, Dau.I and Dau.II arrived at more or less 12 hour intervals from different places and I made two trips to meet buses in the nearest town. Of course, I forgot some things . . . and the sky did not fall. One of the more annoying leave-behinds was a fresh baked loaf of Bob's Famous Sourdough. I did remember a slab of Bob's Famous Flapjacks, so nobody cursed me out. We needed some bread however, so I threw together a loaf of reg'lar yeast bread the first evening so that it would be ready for breakfast the next day. But that wouldn't fill the bread-sized hole in the menu for that night and I bought Rowan Hill Bakery / 2 white baguettes / bake at home in 8-10 minutes, 300g for 59c. 178 calories.  How bad could they be? I asked, reflecting that they would at least have the virtue of being hot and crusty. They were okay.

But the next day I was faced with the last half one and decided to split it in half lengthwise and toast it. No more than my sourdough, this stuff doesn't toast either; it chars. Well before it was due to pop up, the cut face of the 'baguette' was covered in soot and the smoke-detector went off.  That's rather less satisfactory, in my book, than just drying out. And if this story is making you think about Goldilocks and the three porridge bowls, it must be the way I tell it. I am at a loss to explain why these things combust in a toaster because there is no gunpowder in the list of ingredients: Wheat flour, water, salt, dextrose; emulsifiers: mono- and di-acetyl tartaric acid esteres of mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids; acidity regulator  sodium acetate. The Wheat is in bold to remind the coeliacs that bread is made with flour.

I won't be buying Instant Gratification Baguettes again in a hurry because they're not: not instant, not gratifying and not baguettes. If I make another commissariat error in future and need bread now, I'll knock up some chapattis [flour, water, salt] in 8-10 minutes: same time, half the cost and something that is simple, honest and appealing. As Michael Pollan and his family noted, 'convenience food' is often a Bill of Goods. If I have 59c spare, I'll buy 300g of chocolate biscuits: nobody is going to make health or convenience claims for them, and no normal person can tell the diff from fancy choc.bix.

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