I’ve really been cranking up the baking over the last week or two. The milder weather always does this to me – I want great cakes and breads and I want them right now, so the best way to do that is to make them myself.
In my experience, nothing can make people love you faster than when you offer them home-made bread. Most of us just love the warm, yeasty smell, the crunch of a good crust and the actual flavour of home cooked bread – as opposed to the spongy texture and absolutely nothing flavour of commercially produced bread.
I used to think that there was a bit of mystique about hand baking bread. The magic of yeast and the actual process – all that time-consuming kneading and rising – seemed to me to be something that other cooks did, not shortcut-happy, lazy me. That is, until a friend introduced me to the mysteries of dried yeast and showed me how simple the whole thing really is. I discovered that my stand mixer could do the kneading if I was short of time or enthusiasm and I almost instantly began baking all of our family loaves, sending the kids off to school with chunky, thick, inexpertly sliced sandwiches.
Aspiring to more authenticity as a baker, I eventually began to explore the joys of sourdough baking, a process that takes much more time, but rewards with loaves of even better flavour than home-made yeast based baked goods. My kitchen benches became cluttered with bowls of flour and water mixes as I tried to “capture” the wild yeasts that were floating around my kitchen and the fridge shelves groaned under the weight of various starter cultures resting in it’s cool, darkened interior. Ultimately, I became somewhat adept at producing flavoursome, if a little mis-shapen, sourdough breads, although nowhere near as adept as my very clever friend Celia over at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. Her bread is simply amazing.
Of course, old habits die hard, and at heart I’m still quite a lazy creature so will often opt for the quick way to get to being on the business end of a slice of warm, buttery home-made bread. Because of that, I regularly drag out my trusty, very old bread machine and I’m also a big fan of the wonderful no-knead method of producing an artisan-like loaf of bread. However, there is yet another, even faster, method of producing fresh, warm, crusty carbs, but one that we don’t seem to make much use of here in Australia – batter bread.
Probably originating in North America, batter bread is a super-convenient, super-quick way to enjoy a home-made loaf. This style of bread requires no kneading and only one proof, and results in breads that rise quickly and have a texture somewhere between cake and bread. They tend not to keep as long as ordinary bread, although that has never really been an issue in my house.
Batter breads take on the shape of whatever you bake them in and I usually use an old Pyrex casserole when I bake this particular recipe. Take care to make sure to grease whatever you bake them in very well, unlike me when I made this loaf. It looks great, but was completely stuck, unfortunately.
The gluten in this type of bread is developed by vigorously beating the batter, rather than by kneading it. You can use a wooden spoon for this, but I left the hard work to the fabulous new KitchenAid Artisan 9 Speed Hand Mixer which was sent to me last week. Typical of KitchenAid appliances, this convenient and well-designed work-horse is strong enough to cope with working what is a pretty stiff batter for at least 2 minutes. (And also comes with dough hooks so you can use it to mix up proper yeast doughs!) Warming up the liquid ingredients before adding them speeds up the proofing time, so you need to keep an eye on this to avoid over-rising. This really is a very speedy bread!