Things are not well in the world these days. As I write this it's only a week since unspeakably evil terrorists killed hundreds of innocent people in France.
And each day you're aware of millions of refugees leaving their countries and descending on developed countries, causing chaos and mayhem in a reflection of what they believe they have endured for years.
A few years ago I used to travel extensively. I loved it. Now travel is not much fun. It doesn't seem to matter where you are, you know you're never safe. At this time of year my heart and mind go to the beautiful tiny island of Gozo, in the Mediterranean. Gozo belongs to Malta, another small island. Many refugees seem to end up on Malta. I wonder if things have changed since I was there, when Libya was beginning the pain of destroying Gadhaffi?
Join me as I take you to the most interesting and divine bakery in the village of Qala on my beloved Gozo.
Laid Back Days on The Island of Gozo
To most tourists the village is so laid back that it is scarcely worthwhile to explore.
Most activities take place around the village square, dominated by beautiful San Guizzeppi church.
Each day we would walk briskly, avoiding fast moving traffic, occasionally seeking shelter in alcoves along the narrow streets. On this day I was on a quest to find the best bread in Qala, (Aa- lah).
The Mediterranean island of Gozo
Nevertheless, there is something quite beautiful about walking on tiles that have probably been there for going on a hundred years.
In typical Gozitan fashion, each homeowner also seems to claim the sidewalk outside their home as their private space, and decorate it accordingly. This leads to a fascinating patchwork of different textures as you walk along.
At last - finding the bakery!
She walked a few more steps with me, chattering . I couldn't understand. I looked up, and saw an ancient, blackened chimney, extending up from the flat roof, and surrounded by equally blackened hunks of logs.
Pleased to Meet You! Finding the Oven
There are many of these cats all over Gozo. The ancient and dustinctive rubble walls provide multiple little harbours for pests, and the cats are responsible for keeping the mouse and rat populations under control.
I gingerly pulled back the curtain, and saw there were some old steps leading down into what could only be described as a dark pit. Through the gloom I saw two women and a man sitting on a very rustic, make-do bench. They looked at me silently, perhaps a little suspiciously, to be quite honest.
Then I saw it. On the wall opposite them was a huge old stone oven, tightly closed. This was what I had come for.
"Bongorr,"( Hello) I said, with a huge smile of delight. "you have some bread for me?"
Making the Bread
My new friends seemed to grasp my interest. They explained that the oven would open soon, because it was almost 11 a.m. That would be the first bread of the day. I sat on the rough bench with them, and we chatted a little. It turned out they could speak English quite well, once my ear became attuned to their pronunciation.
Opening the Oven
Then one woman picked up an enormous long-handled peel, while the other opened the door. A waft of the the most incredible perfume of fresh-baked bread filled the space we stood in. Inside the glowing light of the oven were several of the most beautiful rustic loaves I had ever seen. This was part of the heritage of Malta that was right in front of my awestruck eyes.
Gozo Bread - Out of This World
Throughout Malta bread is revered. I'm not talking about supermarket bread, which in pretty well all countries has become just something to be endured and used to make sandwiches. I am talking about real bread, with a thick crunchy crust, and a satisfying chewiness, with an indefinable natural flavour in each solid yet custardy bite. That is Gozitan bread. It is so good that visitors take it home as a souvenir.
A Family Heritage
The old stone bakery has been in the family for generations. Today two women are the bakers there. Their great grandfather started the bakery many years ago, in this place, and nothing has changed too much over the years. the present bakers are women from a family of 14 children, and have had many challenges in their lives.
How They Make It
The Ancient Equipment
I could never do justice to a description the breads that come out of that oven! Besides the daily Hobz, there are wonderful aniseed flavoured rings that can be picked up hot from the oven, and munched happily walking down to the bar just the other side of the village square, where you can obtain a steaming cup of cappucino for €1. The rings are just the perfect accompaniment.
Take Out Ftira (pizza)
No boxes for these creations, they are just packed one on top of the other with greaseproof paper sandwiched in between. Incredibly delicious, they have only two varieties, one with tuna, olives and tomato, and the other has egg and potato topping.
Now Try the Aniseed Rings
Cook time: 14 min
Ready in: 14 min
Yields: approx 25 rings
Qaghaq tal Hmira (aniseed sesame rolls)
3 tsp yeast, instant
1 1/2 cups water, tepid
2 cups flour, all-purpose
1/2 cup sugar, berry or castor
31/2 oz (100gms) butter
2 tsp aniseeds
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 whole lemon lemon zest
1 egg, beaten with 1Tbs water
1. Mix first 3 ingredients together. I use my stand mixer for this. It is a really sloppy mixture called a sponge.
2. Leave to stand for a minimum of 2 hours. it should bubble up, and then start to sink.
3. Rub the butter into the next quantity of flour, add to this the sugar, aniseeds, cloves and grated lemon zest
4. Add this mixture to the sponge, mix until the bowl is clean. cover the dough, with either clingfilm or a damp cloth. leave to stand for several hours until well risen.
5. Divide the dough into portions the size of a hen's egg. Roll out into long thin tubes. place a a dab of water on each end and join firmly into a ring.
6. Place on baking sheet allowing room to double in size. Brush with egg wash, and sprinkle sesame seeds on top (optional)
7. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until brown and glossy. They should never bake more than 15 minutes.
Waiting Then Eating
Although the recipe seems to take a long time it really isn't that much work. the waiting is what takes time! when in Malta/Gozo, you learn that waiting is a necessary and healthy part of life. the need to hurry is probably why most of us feel such stress in our lives today.
A last note: it is almost impossible to just eat one of these little bread treasures! hope you enjoy them as much as I do!