The Clearing is a vision of the future in the grounds of Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park

Workshop report

21 May 2017

The Clearing

Workshop 7 - Our Daily Bread Part Two

Previously on The Clearing, we’d built a cob oven to bake bread in the future. This workshop showed us how to make something to put in it.

The workshop was led by Jess, of Bread For Life, in Leamington. It was attended by 20 people: 9 women, 6 men, 5 children. Some people had brought aprons as instructed.

We began with a discussion of how we make bread today – the Chorleywood method. This is the industrial method of making sliced white bread – all in machines, super fast, and adding tonnes of stuff that shouldn’t be there (fat, preservatives, e-numbers, enzymes) to make it last longer in the plastic bags. Oh, and bleached flour to make it white. As this article puts it, this bread is the embodiment of the modern age. Which begs the questions: how will we make bread once this age is over?

Jess informed us that, to make bread, all we need is actually need is flour, water, yeast and salt.

Our flour was from Charlecote Mill, a working water-powered mill about three miles up the road, which uses wheat grown in a five mile radius, and which is powered by the water in the same river that flows past The Clearing. It’s unbleached. A big bag of it lasts 6 months. Our yeast was the last block of chemically made yeast on Earth. (We’ll talk about how to make our own yeast in a little while). Our salt will come from Cheshire. Water, we’ve been through already.

Jess demonstrated first, like a post-industrial Blue Peter.

Our recipe was:
- 500g flour.
- 10g fresh yeast.
- 320ml water.
- 1 tsp salt (add salt at end, once the yeast has been mixed in).

Here’s how to do it:
- Add the water slowly.
- Mix it with your hands.
- It’s super sticky, so flour the surface.
- Knead it with the heel of your hand.
- Push it forwards and backwards until it gets soft and smooth.
- Knock the air out of it.

When it's soft and smooth, and springs back up when you poke it, it's done.

Cover it with a tea-towel (no cling film in the future) and leave it to prove for an hour.

Our turn. A veritable production line. The digital scales were useless (analogue all the way). Everyone got to work.

The point of kneading is to build a structure within the dough. After it’s proved, you can see through it (this is called the gluten window). When you can see through it, it’s ready to bake. Here’s Anne demonstrating.

And here she is again measuring out some water. Some strong catalogue poses here.

Here’s our bread before lunch.

And here it is after. Ta da!

Matt had been drying out the oven all day. So the first bread was ready to go in. The oven runs hotter than the Smeg in your kitchen, between 300 and 400 degrees, and the bread rose in front of our eyes like a magic trick. It was quite dramatic.

The bread was broken and passed around. It tasted amazing: fluffy and chewy and simple.

Soon there was a queue to use the oven.

Whilst this was going on, we learnt how to make a sour-dough starter. Once industrial society breaks down, you won't be able to find yeast in the baking section anymore. Sourdough is the answer: it’s basically flour and water, mixed together and left open to the air, and natural yeast in the air that’s fallen in. In effect, this means every sourdough starter is completely determined by its environment.

As long as you keep feeding them, starters last for years. People get quite attached (Jess’ starter is called Maddie). One participant told us about a bakery in France whose starter is 100 years old.

You can find a recipe here.

The afternoon wore on. It was sunny. The bread was cooking. The queue went down until, finally, everyone had baked their loaf. Loaves of the day definitely tied between these two.

I got a lift back to Leamington in a car with Jess, and got the train to Marylebone station, back to the real world, back to today.