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Daily Bread

At school and at Sunday-school I closed my eyes, clasped my hands together and prayed in English and Welsh: Give us this day our daily bread: Dyro i ni heddiw ein bara beunyddiol, words I repeated by rote that meant nothing to me.

It came to us in a van that toured the estate, street by street, whose back doors opened to slatted shelves and the smell of flour, where I gazed at the plump Cottage loaves and imagined carrying one home in my arms like a baby. But I always parted with the half-crown piece for the disappointingly smooth, pale crust of a Sandwich Loaf that my mother would cut with a silver knife.

At mealtimes, unless there was gravy on our plates, it sat in the middle of the table – bread and butter, bara menyn – thin slices, cut in half, which we were expected to eat, out of habit, tradition, a memory of hunger.

For years I bought it, threw so much away, dry and forgotten, riddled with mould. But now I live in the kingdom of bread: baguette, ficelle, couronne, pain au restaurant, de campagne, de seigle, au levain. Its scent drifts from every corner. It comes wrapped in twists of paper. I carry it along the street, arrive home with crumbs between my teeth. The power and the glory; yr nerth a’r gogoniant.

Hungry Writing Prompt: Write a poem in praise of an ordinary thing.

Kanwar’s Perfect Baguette Test

According to my nephew, the perfect baguette has a sound like the first soft cracklings of a log fire, or the crinkle of thin silver paper, the type I remember from old cigarette packets, when you hold it to your ear and squeeze it, gently, between your thumb and fingers. And after all the bacon baguettes he has eaten from his tuck-shop at King’s School in Rochester he is something of an authority on the subject.

I’ve yet to run the test in the UK but here in France I choose a baguette that’s pas trop cuit, not too cooked, one whose crust is lightly golden rather than caramel. But unless I’ve managed to synchronise my purchase with the moment the bread leaves the bakery oven it’s unlikely to meet with Kanwar’s approval.

So preheat the oven to 200° C for around 10 minutes and pop in your baguette for 2 minutes, no more. If you have the fatter pain au restaurant (the French bread you generally buy in British supermarkets) it’ll need 3 to 4 minutes.

And, squeeze.

Home-made croutons

Cut day old bread into roughly ½ to ¾ inch cubes, removing any crusts that are too hard.

Mix olive oil with crushed garlic (or minced or powdered dried garlic if that’s all you have), dried herbs and salt to taste and toss the bread in this mixture. It should be slightly damp on the outside rather than saturated. Cook on a baking tray at the bottom of  the oven, on a low heat, about 125 to 140° C for 10 minutes. Shake and turn and cook for another 10 minutes until they are crisp throughout.

Lovely on leafy salads or home-made soup.

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