Making breakfast from scratch
We are often told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and yet it is the meal that we rarely spend much time preparing. Busy work schedules mean that for most people it’s a quick slice of toast or bowl of cereal and a cup of eye opening coffee and then we’re out of the house. We don’t often think to be grateful at how easy all that is. Breakfast isn’t usually what people are thinking of when they refer to a difference between pre-packaged fast food ready meals and food that requires actual preparation, but for most of us wanting a piece of toast and a cup of coffee our bread comes already baked and sliced, our coffee is roast, ground and, in some cases, instant. This week, instead of eating a pre-prepared breakfast like every other day, I decided to make my own breakfast from scratch and see if it made any difference and how long it took.
You may remember last year when I tried making my own chocolate. At that point I wondered about the line between home made and shop bought food. For most people home made chocolates would probably mean that you bought a bar of cooking chocolate and turned that into something else, but there are a number of processes that go before that, roasting, grinding and refining the chocolate. Even so, I obviously could not go right back to the start in my own kitchen and begin with a cacao pod or even a seed to grow one (the climate here isn’t right for one thing). So, no matter how “home made” your cooking is, there is always a level further back in the chain you could take it. In this case, for example, I considered the practicalities of grinding wheat to make flour in my own kitchen, but felt that the level of specialist equipment required for this one off would not be worthwhile, so I had to start a little further along in the process.
When making my breakfast I also had to consider things that could conceivably be done in a morning. I wasn’t going to make a full English breakfast from scratch as there is no way to cure a side of bacon in one morning. In practical terms, then, I was looking at something simpler, more everyday. So, I decided I would make toast, butter, jam, coffee and orange juice starting with the ingredients in the picture on the left.
I got up at around 8:30 and began with the toast, knowing that that was the thing that would take the longest. Even though I had decided not to take grain and grind it to flour, there was a lot to get on with in order to get toast from starting with flour. No matter how fast you work, fresh bread takes hours to make if you’re going to give it an adequate amount of time to prove. Traditionally, of course, this is just what people did every morning: got up early enough to bake fresh bread before they could have a proper breakfast. As you may recall from way back when I made horse burgers, I enjoy making my own bread and like to do so at any opportunity. At this time of the morning, though, it felt like a lot of effort mixing and kneading before I got on with anything else.
As I put my dough aside to prove, I had time to move on to some of the other elements of my breakfast. The next thing to make was the jam. I decided on raspberry jam as it’s a classic example of a breakfast jam and tends to be quite an easy jam to set despite its reputation as a fruit that’s low in pectin, the thing that helps jam to set.
Making jam is a simple case of cooking fruit down into a liquid, dissolving sugar in it and boiling it until it reaches the setting point. It’s just getting that last part right that is the potentially tricky bit and the key to making good jam. Not letting the jam reach this point and it can end up failing to set properly and turning out runny. Leaving it boiling too long means a jam that could set solid. Making a small amount of jam makes it particularly hard to tell if this setting point has been reached, so I decided to use 200g of raspberries and make the better part of a jar.
As my bread dough rose, I mashed up my raspberries into a pulp, sieving the seeds out of half of them, and stirred in some preserving sugar (this type of sugar has larger crystals and dissolves slower and so means there is less likelihood of scum forming or the sugar burning, it differs from gelling sugar, also used for jam, in that it has no additional pectin). For my jam I added a little lemon juice (a pectin rich fruit) to help it set and then brought it to the boil. There are a few ways to see whether a jam has reached its setting point, the most popular of which involves putting a saucer in the fridge and then a little jam onto the cold saucer to see if it wrinkles when poked. This I did, but I have found it to be a little inexact and also requires you to take the jam off the boil while you test it, otherwise it’s likely to go over its setting point anyway. A more useful test is simply checking with a thermometer. Jam reaches its setting point at 104ºC, so I just measured up to that point and hoped for the best.
By now it was 9:30 and I still had a little while left of giving my bread dough a chance to rise, so I decided to put my jam in its jar and make some butter. Butter is simply churned cream, but you don’t need a heavy wooden butter churn to make it in your own kitchen. You can simply whisk it. Using thick double cream and a low setting on the whisk you can gradually bring the cream through its stage of being whipped into peaks and begins to separate into butter and buttermilk as the air in the whipped cream collapses. The challenge here once again is in reaching just the right point in which butter is formed. Too little churning and you still have a cream and with buttermilk still in the mix it is likely to go rancid quickly, too much and it can go beyond being butter any more.
I whisked my cream until it started to look like butter, it was a lot yellower and the buttermilk was gathering in a pool at the bottom of the bowl (it’s really important to have a very clean, sterile bowl for this). Then I tasted it, it still tasted more like cream than butter, so I continued to whisk it some more until I was satisfied and then had to wash it to clear it of all the buttercream, filling the bowl with water and kneading and pressing the remaining cream from the butter until the water was clear. Then I could mix in some salt and my butter was ready to use.
It was 10:00 now and I was ready to return to my bread dough that had risen considerably in the previous hour and was now ready for knocking back (this is where the bread is kneaded briefly for a second time to make sure the rise is even and uniform, which also makes the bread easier to shape). I put my dough mix into a bread tin and put it aside once again to prove for a second time before I put it in the oven. While that was happening, I could turn my attention to making some coffee.
Some of us take our coffee in dissolvable instant granules, some of us consider that to not really be proper coffee and prefer a cafetiere full of ground coffee beans, some even take it a step further and like to buy their beans, run them through their own coffee grinder and brew them up. All of these options can be bought fairly easily from a local supermarket. Far fewer people ever use, or even see, the raw coffee beans. In order to commit properly to making breakfast from scratch, though, I thought I’d have to start with the raw coffee beans and go from there. So, I bought a bag of raw Colombian Supremo coffee beans from the York Coffee Emporium and decided to work with them.
As with churning the butter, I felt like roasting coffee at home doesn’t really need any fancy roasting equipment, I was just going to do it in a frying pan. The important thing with roasting coffee is to make sure you get an even roast and, therefore, keep the coffee moving. That’s all that a fancy roaster would do, keep the beans rotating, so all I did was keep stirring the beans as they roast in the pan. It doesn’t give a completely even roast, but it’s certainly close enough.
Roasting coffee is all about the cracking. As it gradually heats up the slightly slimy looking raw green beans start to make a cracking sound. This is the first cracking. It is after this point that they start to brown, right up until they make their sound again with a second cracking that shows the beans are pretty much roast to the point they need to be, making it very easy to tell how the roasting is going. As for grinding the beans, you may remember that the coffee grinder I tried to use for the chocolate making didn’t function very well at that, but it worked perfectly for the job for which it was intended, giving me freshly roast and ground coffee beans to brew.
I would save that part for later, though, as by 10:30 my bread had risen in its tin and was ready to bake. The bread grew far more than I’d anticipated. I had really made too much dough for the tin, giving me a loaf that spread a lot above the top of the tin and ended up baking well on the outside, but right in the middle of the loaf the dough wasn’t quite done. Nevertheless, slices from closer to the end would make a fine piece of toast once I’d allowed the bread to cool.
As I waited for the final stage, for the bread to cool (it was after 11:00 by now), I squeezed myself some fresh orange juice from three oranges and brewed my freshly roast and ground coffee in the cafetiere and then, after the best part of three hours of breakfast preparation, I was ready to eat the crucial first meal of the day.
And was it worth all the preparation? Or did I just spend hours making something barely noticeably any different from a normal breakfast? Well, yes, it was pretty similar to an every day breakfast and not something I would do on a normal day (especially if I had to go to work), but I feel I learnt a little about where all our breakfast foods come from and in being home made every element was that little bit nicer, that little bit fresher. You can’t beat fresh bread and freshly squeezed orange juice, good quality coffee and toast and raspberry jam felt almost like being on holiday. Plus there’s plenty of homemade jam left over, which is always nice!
Professor Plum in the Dining Room: So I came home to this about an hour and a half after it was finished, which shows how long it took (and meant I didn’t get any orange juice). The bread was a little undercooked in the middle, and the jam thickened up a lot as it cooled, but the butter was beautiful and the coffee was really rich without being too bitter. I think it would be fun to try a cooked breakfast with baked beans and hash browns and sausages from scratch next. Or crumpets – crump monsieurs! If they can make crumpets of Junior Bake Off, we can too.