Monday, January 23, 2017

Flour, Water, Fire, and Polly Jane

Today I have the pleasure of introducing to Souped-up Garden's readership, Botany Bakehouse, whose twitter stream has inspired and comforted me for many a month. Her joyous interface with life, food, and words is contagious. If that was not enough, she also pairs chilli jam with sourdough pumpkin bagels.

How do you do, this is Botany Bakehouse. Michelle has kindly asked me to write a piece for this lovely blog. I’m honoured! I run a tiny, tiny bakery in a small village deep in the mountains that are in the background of all those tourist photos of Alhambra. My business constitutes three staff. Me, the baker, the bread slinger, and Polly Jane.
Before Polly came into my life, a bake off took all night. The electric wiring in our house is too capricious (not to mention the danger of taking the whole village out) which meant that getting a commercial oven with a massive appetite was too impractical. Gas is very expensive here too.  The maximum I could fit in a domestic oven was two 500g loaves at a given time. I was exhausted! I even contemplated becoming a cookie business, or a novelty cake maker. I drew the line at cup cakes. But I love baking bread.

Spelt and rye boule tied in raffia

And luckily for me, many villagers on this mountain and the next accepted my bread with open arms. One day my bread slinger decided enough is enough and contacted a local stonemason. Painstakingly, layer after layer of brick, concrete, insulation, and more concrete was formed into a vaulted arch oven perfect for making bread. Polly Jane was born.

First food!

But she was a feeble child. The bread slinger and I would feed her log after log of the best olive wood we could find but she remained cold. Then suddenly she became an angry, young woman. Burning everything inside. I would shed tears over the charred loaves while the bread slinger conducted desperate searches online for answers on how to control temperature on new, wood-fired ovens. That was all last month. She is more than fine now. We have an understanding. Her teenage years aremostlybehind her.
  1. I heat Polly Jane the night before to the point of inferno.
  2. The bread slinger gets pizza for supper.
  3. Before sunrise Polly Jane starts baking boule.
  4. Then she bakes Viennoiseries. 
  5. The bread slinger sets off. 
After washing up, I pop some simple ingredients in a clay pot and leave it to slowly cook in Polly Jane so that when my bread slinger gets back we can have a slow and lazy lunch after all the excitement.

Rabbit and butterbean stew

Even as the heat dies off the following day, you’ll find me and Polly Jane experimenting with slow infusions of herbs in the olive oil we have produced, drying herbs, or just making sure the logs for the next bake are bone dry.

I love Polly Jane to bits. When I was working for a busy café bakery in a big, big city I took the heat generated and used up for granted. Too many other matters to worry about. Energy is precious here, and Polly Jane channels it beautifully.