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  • phildunn641

Baking with the biddies

Updated: Feb 24, 2021

It is a feature of these haverings, and my life, that friends of Muswell Wife dictate what I do. One (let’s call her B) had the clever idea, on seeing my baking exploits on Instagram, that I could run a bread workshop for some of the residents of the care home where she is activities manager.

I’m inclined to believe that most people reviewing their qualifications for such a venture, and seeing they had none, would conclude that this was an insane idea. But… new experiences, stretching myself, not saying no… that’s what I’m all about these days. So I agreed, of course I would do it... what could possibly go wrong.

Having had a meeting with B to discuss what was feasible, I decided it would have to be one long session, or two sessions on consecutive days with dough resting in a fridge overnight. However, a subsequent review of the care home’s manic festive activities diary meant it would have to be done just in a couple of hours in one day.

What sort of bread could I have them make in that time. I tossed around a few ideas - a seasonal stollen, scottish morning rolls, a hipster sourdough and in the end settled for an unseasonal, but really easy and quick focaccia. This met the brief really well as there are lots of tactile elements and some decorative bits (if you can call scattering rosemary and cherry tomatoes that).

I did a practice bake and soon realised the quantities I was using would be too much. It’s really quite hard work to mix a dough with 500g of flour and my workshop participants would probably not have very strong hands. So I adapted my recipe to be based on 300g of flour and tried again working to a timetable that would get it all done except the baking in 2.5 hours. As with all bread making, there is rather more waiting than there is hands on activity. So I had to try and keep the waiting to a minimum and this is where the warmth of the care home really helped - I could be sure that the bread would start to rise easily within 30 minutes. So the new recipe and timetable seemed feasible.

Panic set in a few days before… why was I doing this, how was B getting on with getting the kitchen to order the ingredients. Did the kitchen have baking bowls, jugs, other measuring containers we could use? I was trying to find a time when I could pop into the home to establish all this, but with the madness of the season - other events at the care home and just doing things myself in preparation of Christmas, I did not manage in until late in the afternoon on the day before my session. It was at this point I discovered that the kitchen had not ordered anything and they really did not have any of the sort of equipment I needed. So it was off to Sainsbury’s to buy the flour, yeast, olive oil etc. and back home to rummage around for enough mixing bowls. Thankfully B was able to provide some bowls, some scales and was also able to forage a good few sprigs of rosemary from her neighbour’s garden (the less said about that, the better).

I was good to go for the day of the bake... all except an apron. All the aprons at home went when we got the kitchen done. All except one that a daughter made at school, so grabbing my metrosexuality with both hands I got the sewing kit out and adjusted it to my needs. So now really good to go.

In the end the session went as well, or even better that could have been hoped. B had engaged a couple of regular volunteers to help and with their support we managed to get nine loaves prepared. I do not have much experience of working with the very elderly, infirm and generally very sleepy, so I had to rapidly adjust my expectations once faced with my class. However, they were amazing and really got stuck into the mixing and kneading - so enthusiastically indeed that it was an effort to get them to stop and just let the dough rest. In the end my biggest worry was that a latex glove (which we all had to wear for hygiene reasons) would come off and be left in the dough of one of the loaves - reminding of the battered baby’s nappy in Roddy Doyle’s The Van. Thankfully this did not happen.

Me, nattily attired, giving the demonstration

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