When I was little, there were many occasions when I was sent to buy bread, got distracted along the way and turned up at the bakery too late. There were only chifle left in the bread baskets. It wasn’t that we didn’t like them… but they were perfect for sandwiches and less perfect for dinners. The worst thing to happen was to only find chifle fără sare, buns without salt, which everybody avoided. There is nothing more blunt and disheartening than unsalted bread. Try it. You’ll see.
The other day, I found an old book with Romanian stories for children. As I turned page after page, remembering how my grandfather was reading them to me, I came across a story that made more sense than ever before. ‘The salt in our food’ by Petre Ispirescu.
Once upon a time, a king had three daughters and one day he decided to test their love for him. He called all three and asked this question: ‘What is your love for me made of?’ The eldest daughter answered: “It’s made of honey, the sweetest of all sweets’, the middle sister said ‘My love for you is as precious as sugar’, and their little sister answered timidly ‘You are as important to me as the salt in our food’. It didn’t sound very good, did it?
Since my cooking journey has started, I cook every day, I practice, I test recipes and I research. I often look to cut down sugar in the dishes I make, or put less butter, use less salt and only a few eggs. They are more or less successful, because of course we need to train our taste buds too. I’ve come to the conclusion that the only ingredient that makes a huge difference to a dish is salt. Bread, stews, pilafs, stocks, ragus, dressings, even desserts…if you feel that something is missing when you make them, add salt. You’ll go wow.
This bread recipe is a combination of plain flour with wholemeal and rye. It’s full of flavour especially because it uses 11g of salt. This is my basic dough for a few variations: I add walnuts or chopped hazelnuts, I sometimes add chopped olives or sun-dried tomatoes. The reason I make buns and not a loaf is that I can wrap them individually and put them in the freezer, then my husband takes one out every now and then for his lunch. It’s a good way to keep an eye on the portion size, too.
- 250g plain flour
- 150g wholemeal flour
- 100g rye flour
- 350ml whole milk, lukewarm
- 50g butter – melted
- 7g dry yeast
- 11g salt
Combine all the ingredients together apart from the salt and knead by machine for 10-12 minutes. If you knead by hand, you’d probably do it for 20 minutes or so. In this situation, a trick is to knead by hand for 10 minutes, allow it to rest for another 10, then knead again for a further 10 minutes, in this way you won’t feel exhausted. Add the salt in the last few minutes of this process. Cover the bowl and leave in a warm place for 1.5 – 2 hours, until well risen.
Gently put the dough on your work surface and divide the dough into 8 balls. Place them closely together in a baking tray then cover and proof for 45 minutes.
In the meantime, preheat the oven to 220C and place a little overproof dish with water in the oven. When the breads are ready, bake them for 30 minutes, taking the dish of water out in the last 10.
Leave to cool on a rack, which never quite works for me because I love warm, freshly baked bread.