Last Updated on May 26, 2022
Breadsong (Bloomsbury) is a most unusual cookbook. The book title derives from the cracking and hissing sounds that bread makes when emerging from the oven, and it is a rather beautiful word. Written by father and daughter, Kitty and Al Tait, Breadsong tells the story of how they came to open a bakery when Kitty was 14. It is a long story, 146 pages in fact. Then come the recipes, 141 pages of these. This is a substantial book with much to delve into and a delicious medley of baked goods to explore, enabling readers to make music in their own kitchens. You may even be inspired to open a bakery of your own.
Kitty and Al each narrate their own memories of the time when Kitty began to suffer overwhelming mental health challenges and left school. Her parents and siblings all tried to support her recovery but Kitty was very withdrawn and anxious. Her father, Al, engaged Kitty briefly in a range of activities and when bread-making was introduced, something ignited in her and she began slowly to recover. Reading the two narratives side by side in the book is very moving and although not all readers of Breadsong will be interested in this part of the book, I thought it could be very helpful to people who may find themselves in a position of such emotional distress that they stop functioning. It gives hope to carers too. I have several times come across people who have opened bakeries, who have written about their mental health struggles and how baking bread was the therapeutic act that opened their path to recovery. Kitty describes with such clarity how, once she had established her sourdough starter named Ferdinand, she simply had to turn up to feed it and take care of it, eventually taking to sleeping in the kitchen with it. This provided a simple structure to her day, a scaffolding on which she could build as her recovery progressed. Breadsong is not only a book about human suffering and recovery and the place of bread making in this process, but it is also a tribute to the support of Kitty’s family, especially her father who accompanied her on this journey.
After much reading, I finally reached the recipe section. I am not much of a baker, to say the least but I did think I might have some success with what looks like the easiest bread-making ever. The miracle overnight white loaf was as easy as it could possibly be. All it takes is time. Having mixed and proved the dough, it baked easily and came out a golden colour and had a terrific hollow tapping sound underneath which I have read is the sound you want when bread baking.
It was very tasty and although I rarely eat white bread, was quite delicious. I had a slice with butter, melting into the hot bread – no, I could not wait for it to cool! Then another couple of slices with avocado. The only problem of course is that it is so easy to eat the whole loaf. The crust was excellent, the crumb was good and I will be making it next time with 50% wholemeal flour as is suggested as an alternative. Next, I am going to try the pitta. They look pillowy and fluffy and if my bread success is anything to go by, these should be good too. There are also a number of sourdough recipes – I keep that for my fabulous local bakery, but you may wish to have a go – as well as a wonderful selection of sweet dough bakes and a section of cookies and cakes. Breadsong will keep you happily baking all summer and beyond.
Miracle overnight white loaf
- 1 casserole dish with lid
- 500 grams strong white flour
- 10 grams fine sea salt
- 3 grams instant dried yeast
- 330 ml lukewarm water
- SIft the flour into a large bowl and add the salt and the yeast. Mix well together with hands or a large spoon.
- Slowly add the water until you have a shaggy dough.
- Leave the dough in the bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Leave to prove in a warm place for 12-16 hours.
- Tip dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently shape into a ball.
- Placed the shaped dough onto a sheet of baking parchment and cover with a damp tea towel. Leave in a warm place for one hour.
- Halfway through this resting time, turn your oven on to 230 C/210 fan/gas 9. Place a large cast-iron casserole dish with its lid on into the oven to heat.
- When this second half hour is up, remove the casserole from the oven - it will be very hot at this point. Remove the tea towel from the dough and lower it, still on the baking parchment, into the hot casserole. Using a sharp knife, make a slash across the top. Pour a couple of tablespoons of water around the dough.
- Replace the casserole lid and return it to the oven for 30 minutes. Now remove the lid and continue baking for 10 - 15 minutes until it is golden brown.
- Remove and place the bread on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes, during which time it will continue to cook.