Thursday, May 14, 2009

Xhosa-inspired Bread

People all over the world have ingenious ways to make bread without an evenly-baking oven--tortillas, naan, cornbread in a skillet, to name a few. The Xhosa have two kinds of bread made in a pot over a fire or over a paraffin heater.

One is a bread baked in a covered cooking pot and flipped part way through cooking. I absolutely cannot make this bread without burning the outside and leaving a doughy centre. But done right it has a soft centre and a beautifully chewy crust.

The other common kind of bread is steam bread. The risen bread dough is put in a plastic bag (traditionally in tightly wrapped banana leaves or a clay bowl) and placed in a covered pot over a few inches of boiling water. There it is steamed for about an hour. The end product is a moist, chewy bread with a soft crust.

But the revolutionary thing about Xhosa bread-making for me is the consistency of the dough. I was taught to make bread with just enough water to bind it but dry enough to turn it out and knead it. If it began to stick during the kneading, I added more flour. The Xhosa make a very, very watery dough. Kneading is done in the mixing bowl and leaves the hands very sticky.

This change in process has made the difference for me between making bread twice a year and making all of our bread. The dough is easier to knead and requires less of it. It also uses less yeast and rises really well. There is no salt used and I am afraid to try adding it as I am afraid it would reduce the excessive rising. Here is my attempt at a recipe, adding ingredients like oatmeal which the Xhosa would not use and baked in bread pans in the oven. Times and numbers are very approximate but I find that this bread is hard to mess up.

8 c. whole wheat flour
5 c. white flour
2 c. oatmeal
1/4 c. sugar
1T. yeast

Mix all ingredients. Pour several cups of water over and mix with a wooden spoon. Add more water and keep mixing. Add more water and move to mixing with hands. Stop adding water when dough is a medium thick paste. Knead (squish around in bowl with your hands) for several minutes. Pour into a large, greased bucket or pot to rise. Dough will triple so be sure your receptacle is big enough.

Rise for 1 - 2 hours. Punch down and pour into well greased bread pans, 2/3rds filled. Let rise while oven heats to 350F/180C degrees. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

If you want to try steaming the bread--follow directions up to the point of putting in bread pans. Instead, find a plastic grocery bag with no holes (put in some water to test). Pour dough into bag and tie top tightly. Boil 3 inches of water in a pot large enough to hold your grocery bag. Put a plate or baking pan in the bottom of the pot to keep the bread off the heat. When water boils, place bag in the pot with bottom down. Turn heat down to a simmer and leave for 45 minutes - one hour. Open pot a few times and add water if level drops below an inch.

Test bread by opening and looking for non-doughiness on outside. This indicates doneness. This method is really hard to mess up as oversteaming is not a big deal and does not leave bread dry or burned. When in doubt, keep steaming.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you! I'm going to try it. I'm into all things homemade and natural these days. I haven't used shampoo on my hair for 4 days now. I'll let you know how that turns out later in our blog.