Have you ever eaten something so delicious that you think ‘I have GOT to learn how to make this’?
I mean, there are some things that you know you’ll never be able to replicate (such as the Eton Mess from Cleaver East in Dublin), because there were so many flavours and it was so amazingly plated that you know your best won’t be ever good enough, so you hold it in the back of your mind like a fond memory that still dances on your tastebuds…
Then there are things (such as the black and white cookies from New York) that you know you can make.
Not to toot my own horn, but I’m a pretty darn good baker. I know what I’m doing, and if a recipe doesn’t turn out right I can usually tell what went wrong – too much flour, too little water, more coconut flavouring, etc. I found a recipe for black and white cookies and, after making it once, tweaked it so that the cookies were smaller and flatter, and the white icing wasn’t as runny. Honestly, do all of your baking with a pencil nearby. The first attempt might not be the best, but you will be way more prepared for the second.
But this bread… Oh, this bread…
It was in Northern Ireland. Mom, Sis and I had just come from the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge. Our tour guide drove us to a small restaurant/bar/inn for lunch (The Fullerton Arms), where Mom & I had the Irish Stew with bread. Now the stew itself wasn’t remarkable (the broth was thin; the vegetables hearty) but the bread…
I would have eaten an entire loaf of it. Seriously. I savoured every bite. The waitress said that it was called Wheaten Bread and that they have someone there especially to make it. Regrettably, I did not have time to come up with an elaborate plot to sneak into the kitchen and pilfer the recipe.
So I thought – I can make this! Sure I’ve never actually made bread before, but I’ve made biscotti once and I’ve made tea biscuits a few times. It doesn’t need to prove and it’s quick – how hard could it be? I found a good looking recipe on the internet and got about making it.
Attempt #1 looked okay, but it wasn’t cooked all the way through. So I tried again. And again, and again, and again. Any free time I could find in my already way-too-busy schedule was devoted to figuring out the mystery of this bread. It may have driven me a bit mental…
In the back of my mind I could hear Paul Hollywood saying how I’d done it wrong, and how he’d expected more for my signature bake (after all, the signature bake is supposed to be your best). But I wasn’t on The Great British Bake-Off, and Paul wasn’t there to tell me what I’d done wrong. I was on my own.
So I researched. I tried more kneading, less kneading, more oats, less oats, a lower oven temperature, a longer cooking time, turning it upside down half-way through… This bread was infuriatingly difficult to get right.
Thankfully the trial and error has started going in the right direction. Once I have some free time I feel like I’m finally going to kick this recipe’s butt! (…hopefully.)
[Note: as I was googling ‘farls’ to figure out the proper way to spell it I realized that cutting 4 farls means cutting it into 4 pieces and not just scoring 4 marks in the top. Perhaps this is why it wasn’t cooking all the way through – because it was too bloody thick! Seriously – how can one recipe be THIS difficult for me to understand? Bread bakers of the world, I tip my hat to you.]