Five minutes with…Pauline Beaumont, author of Bread Therapy
“There is something magical about the transformation of flour and water.”
Last week Pauline Beaumont published Bread Therapy, which examines our relationship and history behind making bread and also includes several recipes for different loaves.
High Life North spoke to Pauline about how she began her breadmaking journey, the pleasures you can derive from crafting dough and whether we’ll carry on kneading and folding as we move further away from the peak of lockdown. Pauline lives in Berwick and has six children and works as a therapist.
Photography by Sophie Davidson.
I haven’t always made bread. One of the things I mention in the introduction to the book was that in a growing up as a teenager at the beginning of the 1970s we had this really quite simple idea of feminism. It was as if you felt like had to choose between being a Stepford wife or being like Simone de Beauvoir. That was a powerful influence and suggested that if you were a feminist and wanted to be taken seriously at all you had to shun everything to do with domesticity. I grew up thinking I must avoid these sorts of things. There is something about cooking and baking now which is really cool, that would have been anathema when I was younger.
It took me a long time to open my eyes to the reality that actually I really liked messing around in the kitchen. As my family grew, I needed to be able to cook and at some point, I started making bread and I had no idea it was going to be as important as it has become in my life. I made my first loaf about 15 years ago. I was working full time and I spent a lot of time rushing around with racing thoughts in my mind and just recognised a desire to make something real, to make something with my hands. I started making bread and immediately I had this sense that there was a whole universe of knowledge to be gained, which is wonderful.
Mastering a craft is a bit like climbing a mountain you know you’ll never get to the top of. Breadmaking is a bit like that: I fully expect to go on learning new things until the day I die and that’s rather wonderful. There is something magical about the transformation of flour and water and it’s a lovely feeling to be able to create something from scratch to give to your family and friends but also it’s something that forces you to slow down because you have to respect the materials and the time taken for yeast to work or sourdough to rise. It’s very soothing and grounding, it’s such a basic thing and it helps us get out of our own heads.
I think some of the things people started doing in lockdown will persist. People have had a taste – literally and metaphorically – for doing things like baking their own bread. There will be a certain slipping back inevitably, especially if our work patterns go back to anything resembling the way they were before. Having more time available was a factor in people realising they could have a little vegetable patch or make their own bread. But I think there will be a carry over. Hopefully breadmaking is something that will go on.
I signed the deal with the publisher a year ago. The book was half-written, and I delivered the manuscript in February and then the editing process began. In some ways the timing was very good but less fortuitous is that my book was one of many others published in September!
There are only four ingredients in this unleavened bread that makes healthy wraps. You will need a mixing bowl, a small pan, a blender and a heavy-bottomed frying pan or cast-iron skillet. If you have a stick blender then use this with a measuring jug or beaker, otherwise use a regular blender. The mixture starts off being bright green but becomes less lurid when cooked.
The only equipment you will need to make this bread is a mixing bowl, a spoon and a baking sheet (lined with baking parchment to stop the bread sticking). Soda bread relies on the chemical reaction of acid (from the buttermilk) with bicarbonate of soda to produce the gas that raises the bread. This happens quickly, hence there’s no need to knead or prove the dough. In fact it is best to avoid hanging around and get this loaf into the oven as soon as you have mixed it.
This recipe is for a wholemeal version but feel free to substitute plain or strong white flour for some or all of the brown if you prefer a lighter loaf. You could bake it in a loaf tin but the traditional (Irish) way is to form a round loaf and to make a deep, cross-shaped cut in the dough. Apart from any symbolic significance, this helps the bread bake through thoroughly.
Makes 1 loaf
Reflect on how, in under an hour, you have produced a wholesome loaf of bread, an honest loaf, a rustic beauty, to share with people you care about.
There are hundreds of recipes for soda bread. Some recipes include a tablespoonful of treacle or honey, so try them out and see what you prefer. A lovely, savoury version results from the addition of 125g of grated, hard cheese. A teatime, sweeter variation is to add 1 teaspoon of mixed spice, 100g of demerara sugar and 150g of whatever dried fruit you have in the cupboard (you could use raisins, currants, sultanas, chopped dates, chopped dried apricots or mixed peel).
This is a bread to make on impulse or when unexpected visitors arrive; it provides almost instant gratification. Why not invite a friend to enjoy it with you? Soda bread is best eaten on the day it is baked so enjoy it while it is fresh. Soda bread goes wonderfully with butter and jam or marmalade but also with cheese or soups or stews (especially Irish stew).
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