Monday, October 20, 2008
Gone are the days when every tea Bara Bungalow had a cook who would bake all the bread its occupants needed. Even so, we had dear old Baruah baking all our bread for us less than fifteen years ago. Baruah and his contemporaries are no more, but I do know of some chai memsaabs who turn out very good bread at parties or club 'do's. I've tried many times, with fresh yeast, dried yeast, and ready to use powdered yeast. And realised that bread making was great, but it was not for me.
When my younger daughter started saying she wouldn't eat any refined flour (or Maida, as we call it in any number of Indian languages), I had to start substituting it with wholemeal, or atta. We can't get brown bread anywhere in the Dooars, and we can only find it once in a while in Siliguri. Even then, it isn’t convincingly brown - it looks as if it's been coloured!
I started turning out simple breads from 'The Good Housekeeping Cookbook' and 'Woman's Weekly Magazine' recipes to fulfil this new demand for brown bread. Here I should make something very clear. I'm not a very industrious or self-sacrificing person. A recipe has to be quick and simple if I'm to try it out. No one ever tells my family how lucky they are to have this earth-mother-goddess turning out amazing food for them all the time. And there is no danger of it ever happening either. Wholemeal scone rounds and wholemeal picnic lunch loaves have simple, two-step recipes. I wouldn’t touch them if they didn't. The breads are all baked with baking powder as the leavening agent, and though delicious (if the recipe is followed correctly), they tend to be a little heavier than yeast breads.
And then Jayati, a friend who is much younger than me, said they'd been baking their own brown bread, with fresh yeast bought in small quantities from the bakery in Hamiltonganj, a town close to their garden. Her enthusiasm infected me. Should I try, just one more time? I bought 100 grams of fresh yeast from the bakery in Banarhat town, and opened the 'Good Housekeeping Cookbook' again. I found a wholemeal bread recipe that doesn't call for the dough being 'proved', or allowed to rise, twice. It is all done in one shot. Mix, knead, prove, rest, and bake. Hmm. Right up my street - and there's even a 'rest' thrown in there. So I went at it with great energy. Kneading and pumelling the dough was a fantastic stress buster. To my delight, we got lovely, soft, delicious brown loaves. See the picture? The husband said that he would no longer worry about what to do if the tea industry came upon bad times - he could run his wife's bakery shop.