Experiences | Aug 2021

In the kitchen: Baking bread

What is it about bread? Created to sustain and nourish, in its simplest form it consists of four humble ingredients – flour, salt, water and yeast – yet nothing evokes a more emotional response in food lovers than the aroma of freshly baked bread. Many a diet has been dashed on the rocks of good intentions by succumbing to a fresh slice of bread, spread thickly with butter, or a crusty chunk dipped into olive oil.

Good bread takes time, patience and a passion for making magic with very little. It also takes an almost meditational focus, and an intimate understanding of every step of the process. As executive chef Marnus Scholly puts it: ‘Being served fresh, well-made bread at the start of a meal is an indication that the kitchen team is ready for you.’

Marnus’s love for baking bread started in his teens when he worked in a bakery over weekends. ‘The first time you make a few dozen loaves of bread, and you get it right, you are hooked for life,’ he says. ‘Learning to make proper bread is a desire to understand the core of baking. When you treat a few simple ingredients with respect, you will be humbled by the amplified return on investment.’

In its simplest form, bread consists of four humble ingredients – flour, salt, water and yeast. Potbrood is no different.

Needless to say, bread is taken seriously in Tswalu’s kitchens. Half a dozen loaves are baked before breakfast in anticipation of what guests may feel like tucking into after a morning game drive. A favourite is the warm corn bread topped with poached eggs and springbok carpaccio. Later in the day, when lunch is served, the rustic theme continues with flatbreads, seed loaves and special buns for the burger that is a staple on the menu. In the evenings, depending on where dinner is served, the pastry chefs produce elegant dinner rolls or a South African speciality, potbrood. All in all, at least 10 different types of bread are baked every day at the Motse.

Served at boma and dune dinners, potbrood (literally ‘pot bread’ in Afrikaans) is a firm favourite with guests. It is a deceptively simple bread to make, even if you are familiar with fire cooking. Potbrood is baked in a traditional cast-iron pot, or ‘potjie’, which is immersed in hot coals. This bread can also be baked in the oven, at 180°C (350°F) for about 30 to 45 minutes.

POTBROOD RECIPE

  • 1kg bread flour
  • 10g yeast
  • 40g granulated sugar
  • 30g salt
  • 100g melted butter
  • 680ml lukewarm or tepid water
  • 10ml sunflower oil to coat the pot

Once the dough has been knocked back and kneaded, portion it into equal-sized balls.

METHOD

  • Before you begin, thoroughly oil the inside of the pot using a pastry brush.
  • Mix all the dry ingredients together – flour, yeast, sugar and salt.
  • Add the melted butter to the water.
  • Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly until the dough is smooth.
  • Rest the dough until it doubles in size (proofing stage).
  • Knock the dough back, then knead and portion into balls (about 40g each).
  • Place the dough balls in the well-oiled pot, put the lid on and leave to proof for a second time until they double in size.
  • Immerse the pot into moderately hot coals, and place some extra coals on top of the lid.
  • Constantly check the temperature of the coals so that the bread does not burn before it is cooked.
  • Baking time is anything between 25 and 40 minutes, depending on the heat.
  • When cooked, the bread should pull away from the sides of the pot (similar to a cake).
  • The bread should be golden brown with a crisp crust and soft, fluffy interior.

DELICIOUS ADDITIONS TO THE BASIC DOUGH INCLUDE:

  • * Chopped, fresh herbs, like rosemary, thyme or parsley
  • * Finely chopped, fresh garlic, caramelised onions, and chopped chives
  • * Grated cheddar cheese or feta cubes
  • * Biltong powder, or chopped, fried bacon, and peppadews

Tswalu’s pastry sous chef, Craig Jacobs, is as passionate about bread as he is about creating his signature bon bons.

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