Bread to beat the new year blues


Bread to beat the new year blues

It's the one food that can bring calm during its preparation, writes EMILIA SMUTS, who shares a delicious recipe.


SO we sail into a shiny new, gloomy year. The planning, buying, preparing and enjoying the festive days are far behind us — or at least, that's how it feels to me.

I feel a little down in January. I rehash the year that has passed, reflect on the joys, blessings, sorrows and regrets I remember and the insights I came to. And I know I should look forward with firm intention, but despite my best efforts, other people just don't want to do as I want them to. Neither does my waist.

I am one who finds my comfort in food. Don't say, “sorry to hear about your trouble". I don't mean it in the way you think. I don't mean just in eating the food, but in looking for it and making it and in the smells and textures.

It helps me to regain my inner balance when I feel the mountain is too steep. My heart calms down when my hands are busier than my head. Which doesn't mean I'm like the woman I met years ago who got up at night and baked bread when she couldn't sleep. One morning she arrived at work with a dozen loaves of bread. Which made me wonder where she found so much flour in the middle of the night.

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But she was right about bread being the one type of food that can bring calm with its preparation. My friend Carina never uses her electric mixer to mix bread dough because she believes the tactile mixing of the ingredients has everything to do with the quality of the end product. I strongly suspect Carina also needs the calm.

But yeast, which makes the dough rise, is of course a fungus, part of the mushroom family, and alive, although you will mostly find it dried in packets. And who knows, maybe your energy (or your skin oils) will talk to its energy when you work with it, or something like that: Carina might have a point. In any case, it fits in with my view that you should know where your daily bread comes from.

Now I know what you're thinking about where this column is headed. Because baking bread is one of those wonderful, earthy, primordial things, like walking barefoot on the beach and sitting around a barbecue fire in the dry Karoo, which you do once in a blue moon and then promise yourself you'll do more often. Until the next blue moon comes along.

But as my aunt Kat said to her English friend about learning to speak Afrikaans, “it’s not that difficult, you know”. 

Like a new year's resolution that is repeated every year and eventually becomes a habit, lately I have managed to make a flatbread (something like a focaccia) regularly. In addition to a firm intention, you really only need a nice recipe, a dough that mixes easily and quickly, that rests patiently in the fridge until you need a loaf, bakes quickly and can be tuned for variation. A lot of time is not an ingredient.

My flatbread goes well with soup, cold meat, cheese and salad. But for me it tastes best with wild pesto, made from ingredients from your garden or fridge. Wild garlic (Tulbaghia sp.) leaves and bulbs give your pesto (and your breath) an outdoorsy flavour.


Wild pesto


  • a large handful of soft, green herbs or leaves to taste — think chives, garlic chives, Tulbaghia leaves, parsley, basil, mint, coriander, kale, dill, oregano, rosemary or spinach
  • a wild garlic bulb, cleaned (if you plan to kiss someone, you can leave it out, unless your kissing partner is also eating … but now we're teetering on the edge of too much information)
  • 50-100 ml olive oil
  • 15 ml lemon juice or wine vinegar
  • 50 g nuts (or pumpkin seeds or peanuts)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 50 g hard cheese (you can leave this out too, but why would you want to?)

In a food processor, blend everything together to a purée. Taste and season if necessary and add another splash of oil if you prefer a thinner pesto. The pesto freezes well for later use and is also delicious over pasta and vegetables. 


Because we have baked this bread so often in the last weeks, I mix the dough in a 2 l plastic ice cream container that just rests in the fridge. I keep the used container in the fridge for the next time, serving as a reminder and meaning I don't have to wash it every time.

Dissolve the following ingredients in a container with a lid:

  • 385 ml lukewarm water
  • 10 g salt
  • 10 g olive oil
  • 10 g honey (or brown sugar)
  • ½ generous t dry yeast 


  • 400 g white bread flour


Mix thoroughly until well combined. Stretch and fold the dough from side to side in the bowl by picking it up with a dough scraper and folding it over to the opposite side. Put the lid on and allow to rest for 40 minutes. Stretch and fold all four sides of the dough again and rest again for 40 minutes. Stretch and fold one last time, put the lid back on and place the container in the fridge.

Let the dough rest at least overnight, or up to 48 hours or even longer — one of my attempts lasted 72 hours. The resting time improves the flavour and texture of the bread, but if you are experiencing a bread emergency you can double the yeast in the recipe, eliminate the resting time in the refrigerator and go directly to the next step.

Spray an oven pan with baking spray, then grease generously with olive oil and fill it with the dough. The dough is soft enough that it will spread itself in the pan, but you can nudge it a bit with your fingertips.

Leave the pan at room temperature for 3 hours (or in a warm place if it needs to rise quickly) until the dough is wobbly and full of beautiful air bubbles.

Meanwhile, heat your oven to its highest temperature (takes about 20-30 minutes). Drizzle enough olive oil over the dough and make dimples in it with oiled fingertips (and drizzle spoonfuls of wild pesto over as well if you like). Bake the dough for 7 minutes, turn the heat down to 200º and bake for another 7-10 minutes until golden brown and crispy. Yummy.

That wonderful poet Sheila Cussons wrote:

“Hulle wat brood eet, nie brood metafories
nie, maar brood met olie en sout op,
is nooit soos dan so heel nie, volkome,
soos die vingers wat die brok hou,
die kundige edel vingers van die hand
wat die sweet van die aanskyn wegvee.”

Selah, Sheila.



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