We can get most anything here in Zambia — fresh non-GMO foods, grass-fed beef, local cheeses and cereals. There’s even an American commissary that contains homeland favorites, and what they don’t have you can order.
However, one thing that is sorely lacking here is good bread. Oh, what I would give for Zingerman’s pecan-raisin bread, even if it is $8.99 a loaf. Or, even a good thick, crusty bread with a chewy and flavorful (preferably sourdough) crumb.
I’ve tried a variety of breads from six different stores here and despite promising labels of “Italian Pugliese” or “Olive Ciabatta” or “Health Bread” they all taste the same — fluffy crumbly slightly sugary bread (think white Wonder bread). I asked around and everyone lamented that that’s the one thing you can’t find here — that all of the bakeries are pretty much the same Wonder-bread-type bread.
Here is a photo of Zambian bread labeled Italian Pugliese. If you slice it it just crumbles away.
So, the neighbors and I got together and tried a recipe from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, a very detailed and thorough presentation of baking the perfect loaf.
We followed the instructions perfectly (T. on the left and our landlady’s mom Y. on the right).
Here was our dough in the cloche.
And here was the fruit of our labor. The crumb was pretty good but the crust was a little soft. We gave the bread a 5 or 6 for taste on a 10-point scale, with the local bread being a 0 or 1.
Then, the stars aligned and coincidentally a Danish woman at the local American school decided to offer a healthy bread-making class — one for parents and one for housekeepers. The parents class was full but she had room for me if I didn’t mind joining the housekeepers only class. I’m a housekeeper, I thought, so today I went to her 4-hour class where we made a 100% whole wheat loaf and a multi-grain oat loaf.
Here were my fellow classmates. The main advantage to taking the housekeeper only class is that everyone had a working knowledge of cooking AND we all got to choose an apron and keep it. I guess the teacher thought those rich housewives could buy their own aprons.
First we mixed our dry ingredients. The teacher had a source for organic whole wheat and she ground the whole wheat into flour on the spot for us.
Then we learned how to knead the bread properly.
While we let the dough rise and proof, we learned about the different types of grain flours (rice, spelt, oat, potato, etc.), how to grind our own flours, and where to get whole grains in Lusaka.
After the final proofing we shaped our dough and learned how to make fancy-looking loaves. It was incredibly easy!
Finally, we transfered our finished products to baking sheet and baked the loaves. (The teacher had arranged to use the ovens of five other neighbors in her condo complex so we could all bake simultaneously.)
The finished products came out fantastic! Zingerman’s quality! I had to go for an extra long run tonight to justify all of the tasting.
I learned so much about baking in humidity/dryness, hot/cold weather, and at high altitudes (we’re at about 4200 feet here in Lusaka).
I’m constantly amazed at how the universe responds when you have a genuine desire to learn or do something!