A quick report on my Kentwell baking experience:
Managing the Oven
This was an interesting experience as the oven had been cold since the August Bank Holiday, we fired it on the Friday evening but the whole body of the oven block only really started to warm up by the Wednesday. In addition the oven shares a chimney with the Brewhus copper which was not in use. This meant that the oven was temperamental when the wind was gusting in the wrong direction with the fire not burning evenly leading to hot spots on the oven floor and smoke coming back down the chimney - on Tuesday we good have produced some very good red herring.
As we were baking all the bread for the event we were baking with the oven door open and a split fire (the oven is not very big). On the Saturday and Sunday we were producing two common bakes, a manchet type loaf and a sweet bread. Monday to Wednesday we produced one common bake, one manchet and one sweet bread.
As so often with areas which are not in continuous use we had to scrub and disinfect all the equipment, i.e. ceramics, table, Flour bins, dough troughs, dough scrapers and dough knives. The Bakhus possesses a range of dough troughs in varying condition from which we selected two larger ones and two smaller ones. When these were dry we also oiled them, the process of scrubbing, scalding and oiling was repeated after every use in addition to washing up and a daily scrubbing and scalding of the table.
The flour provided was a Cotswold Organic Wholemeal which was for the common bake, we were also supposed to bolt sufficient to make a white flour. The common bake was made with a peck of flour (approx. 14lbs) and the manchet bake with a quarter peck (approx. 3.5 lbs) of boulted flour as it only went to the house not the outdoor workers. I provided the additional ingredients for the sweet breads as I was 'playing' and there was no obligation to make them (ground almonds, dried fruits, spices and seeds).
The Common Bake
Making the Dough
a) The leaven was made up using hand hot water, a scant handful of regular live yeast and a scant handful of sugar. After a couple of goes round I worked out exactly which two jugs would give me the amount of liquid required (with a little extra if needed).
b) A palm full of fat (solid vegetable fat due to vegetarians and vegans) and a two scant palm fulls of common salt were added to the flour and throughly mixed in.
c) The whole was gradually brought together in the trough until it was sufficiently coherent to turn out onto the table to kneed. The curved shape of the trough was very helpful for this as it helped me move the mass around without too much effort.
d) The mass was turned out onto the lightly floured table and kneaded until it was smooth and elastic. While I can do this by myself (much to the surprise of the visitors) when there were extra hands available I split the mass into sections with the dough knife and we passed them around until they were right and I then brought them back together (other people did try but had trouble with the weight of the dough).
e) The dough was returned to the trough, covered with a wet cloth and set in front of the fireplace to rise. On two evenings we made up the day for the following day's common bake in the evening of the day before and put it to bed well wrapped in a large canvas sheet such that no vermin could get in.
f) Every morning we took a large handful (breast) of dough and sent it up to the still room so they could seal their still up - IIRC correctly there were distilling mint oil, rosemary oil and lavender oil.
Shaping the Loaves
When the dough had doubled in size the dough was shaped into round loaves. This was done by tipping the dough onto a table sprinkled with bran (from the boulting of the manchet flour) and dividing it into sixteen approximately equal pieces with the dough knife and then shaping them very lightly so as not to knock too much air out of them. They were then covered with a damp cloth and left to double in size again. At this point we took the opportunity to explain to visitors that if we were selling bread we would have weighed the raw dough to ensure our cooked loaves would be of an allowed weight under the Assize of Bread (couldn't remember exactly so kept actual figures out of it).
Putting the Loaves in the Oven
This was the point when the trusty oven minder (my husband Peter) split the fire in the oven and brushed the centre floor to minimise the ash, this was done with a bundled of feathers on a stick. If we bake again I will organise a malkin/dweil which is a cloth ball on a stick which is used to wipe the oven floor down.
The top of the loaves was then slashed with a cross with one of my very sharp knives and peeled into the oven as quickly as possible. The oven door was then almost closed.
Managing the Bake
When the loaves looked about half baked the oven was opened and the loaves rotated to ensure that they didn't burn. As I said this did not always work as some were found to have burnt on the bottom before they were baked or to have caught the sun on one side. As I was not at home and couldn't cover them with baking paper or turn the oven down we took some of them out and then put them back after the other loaves were cooked and it seemed to do the trick and make them edible if not as good as I would have liked.
When the loaves were done we peeled them out, brushed any ash from the base with a clean coarse cloth and placed them in a single layer in a large basket to cool. The kitchen, reeves cot and outdoor workers cooks came and collected just before they served the midday meal (actually between 1.00 pm and 2.00 pm depending on the day). The remaining bread was used for supper and breakfast for the participants which are out of visiting hours.
Manchet and Sweetbreads to follow!
- For this message the author Sophia has received thanks: