Daily Bread 2.0

I’ve had a bit of a bread epiphany recently. You know that Stephanie Alexander bread I posted about a while back, the one that’s become our daily bread? I’ve improved it. Or maybe it’s improved me. Anyway, I’ve slightly changed the way I make it, which has made a world of difference. It was good before, but now I’m consistently getting lovely, light, airy loaves that seem to stay fresher for longer (even though we are now eating them quicker).

The original post is here, but this is what I do now:

Daily Bread 2.0
The major changes are that I mix the dough a little differently, use a little less flour and handle it in a more gentle fashion. I’ve recently read Bake! by Nick Malgieri, which has opened my eyes to a whole swag of new (to me) methods. More about him another time…

700g unbleached strong flour (I use half Italian 00 and half ‘high grade’)
200g wholemeal strong flour
1Tbsp instant dried yeast
1Tbsp fine salt
2Tbsp olive oil
600ml lukewarm water
polenta or semolina for baking

Put the lukewarm water into the bowl of an electric mixer with a dough hook, then sprinkle over the yeast. Leave for a minute or two, then stir in the wholemeal flour and olive oil with a spatula. Add half of the white flour and stir well, then add the rest and the salt. Give it a good stir, then mix on low speed until you have a smooth but not sticky dough (about five minutes). If you don’t have a mixer, prepare to knead for about 15 minutes.
Divide dough in half (I weigh it to be sure) and put each half into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with tea towels and leave until doubled, about one hour.
Knock back by tipping each piece out onto a clean bench and pressing gently into a rectangle. Fold it over itself until you get a little bundle of dough, then shape into a ball again and return to the bowls to let rise again for about 30 minutes, covered with tea towels.
Gently form each piece into a loaf – I do this by tipping the dough out, pressing it into a rectangle shape again (but very gently) and rolling up into a fat cigar – and place on a piece of baking paper sprinkled with semolina or polenta. Allow to rise for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220C, with a heavy baking tray inside. Carefully lift the baking paper and loaves onto the hot tray and bake for about 20 minutes, then turn over and bake for another five minutes (you can remove the baking paper at this point). The base of each loaf should sound hollow when tapped. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.

Have you reinvented any of your daily recipes lately? What have you done?

Amazin’ raisin polenta bread

Did you ever wonder where all the bread baking geeks hang out? I think I’ve found them. In the weekend I followed a trail of flour-dusted fingerprints to The Fresh Loaf, which is an amazing resource of bread recipes and advice. Most of the time the ‘artisan bread enthusiasts’ are speaking in a language I find quite tricky to decipher, but it’s addictive all the same. After my first visit I looked at my loaves and felt woefully inadequate. After the second, I made this raisin-studded loaf for breakfast. I’m not sure that it turned out as perfectly as a proper bread geek’s one would, but I was pretty happy with it all the same.

It’s probably best that you go here for the recipe, though it might be helpful to know that I played around with it a bit, using instant polenta instead of cornmeal, brown sugar instead of honey, and adding a tiny bit of allspice (but not too much, as cinnamon does bad things to yeast). I also soaked the raisins for a bit in hot water before adding them (and accidentally tipped the extra water in as well). If you have even the slightest bit of interest in bread, you’ve got to check this site out. Then come back and tell me what you made…

Our daily bread

It’s the third week of 2011 and I have stopped buying bread. Well, I do have an emergency loaf in the freezer, but I am no longer a prisoner to the over-priced and not-that-great French bakery around the corner and I can smugly avoid the bread aisle at the supermarket. I haven’t gotten around to growing the sourdough starter yet (sorry Dom!), but definitely feel back in the swing of breadmaking.

These robust loaves have become our daily bread. They’re quick to make, have a good crust, a nice crumb and turn into excellent toast. The recipe comes from Stephanie Alexander’s The Cooks Companion, one of my most-used books for both recipe and reference purposes.

Country-style Crusty Bread
I have to thank my sister Marion for the baking paper technique described below – much easier than fluffing about with flour-covered teatowels and the like. This makes two loaves, so you have one to eat today and one to freeze.

800g unbleached strong flour
200g wholemeal strong flour
1Tbsp instant dried yeast
1Tbsp fine salt
2Tbsp olive oil
600ml lukewarm water

Put everything into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and mix on low speed until you have a smooth but not sticky dough (about 8 minutes). If you don’t have a mixer, prepare to knead for about 15-20 minutes.
Divide dough in half (I weigh it to be sure) and put each half into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with tea towels and leave until doubled, about one hour.
Knock back and knead each piece for a couple of minutes, then return to bowls and let rise again for about 30 minutes, covered with tea towels again.
Gently form each piece into a loaf (“like a fat cigar,” Stephanie says) and place on a liberally floured piece of baking paper. Allow to rise for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220C, with a heavy baking tray inside. Carefully lift the baking paper and loaves onto the hot tray and bake for about 20 minutes, then turn over and bake for another five minutes (you can remove the baking paper at this point). The base of each loaf should sound hollow when tapped. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.

The delights of Turkish bread

The bread marathon continues apace – with a few disasters along the way. My in-laws, who mostly only eat white death from the supermarket, came to stay for the weekend and I dragged out an old favourite recipe for Turkish bread, which they seemed to love (or at least eat a lot of).

I tore this recipe out of a newspaper years ago and used to make it by hand, which is satisfying but quite messy. Now I use a mixer to do the trick and gain immense satisfaction from not having to scrape dough remnants off the work surface. The best thing about this bread, apart from its spongey texture, is that you can decide to make it at morning tea time and it’ll be ready for lunch.

Turkish Bread
These instructions are for making the bread by hand. If you’re making it in a mixer with a dough hook, use low speed and mix for a couple of minutes, then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat two or three times until you have a stretchy but still slightly sticky dough.

500g strong flour
2tsp sugar
2tsp salt
1 sachet dried yeast (or 1 1/2 tsp)
1 1/4 Tbsp olive oil
360ml warm water

egg wash (1 egg beaten with 3 1/2 Tbsp water)
3Tbsp sesame, cumin and/or nigella seeds (also known as kalonji or onion seeds)

Place the flour, salt, sugar, olive oil and yeast in a large bowl. Slowly add the water and mix well by hand. Drop onto a clean bench and begin kneading. The dough will be very wet but do not be tempted to add more flour.
Knead for five minutes, rest for 30 seconds, then repeat this process twice (so you’re kneading for a total of 15 minutes. By the end of this process the dough should be stretchy like a large rubber band (and your arms will be like jelly).
Rinse out your original bowl and dry, then oil it lightly. Place the dough in the bowl, turn to coat it with oil and cover the bowl with clingfilm. Leave in a warm place for an hour, until the dough has doubled in size.
Tip the dough gently onto a floured work surface and cut into three pieces. Gently pick up each piece of dough and tuck the edges underneath to form a tight oblong shape. Put each piece back on the floured bench and cover with a tea towel. Leave for 20 minutes.
Turn your oven to 250C. Uncover the dough and gently stretch each piece into an oblong shape, nearly the full length of a baking tray. Place on a lined baking tray. Brush each piece with the egg wash, then dimple them with your fingertips. Sprinkle with the seeds. Leave to rest for 15 minutes, then bake in the very hot oven for about eight minutes, until they are risen and lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Give us today our daily bread…

Chief among my New Year resolutions is the one to make bread. About 10 years ago I had a sourdough starter on the go all the time and made bread a lot, partly because I was living in big shared flats and there were always lots of willing eaters. I’ve decided that 2011 is the year to get back in the saddle and am challenging myself to make bread of some sort at least once a week.

But because I wasn’t organised enough to have a sourdough starter on the go for January 1 (that was the old me, so 2010!), I used Hugh F-W’s recipe for a ‘cheaty yeasty sponge loaf’. This is brilliant, no-stress breadmaking – especially if you employ a mixer to do all the kneading. I do love kneading but I think I love being able to do other things while the mixer is doing all the work even more. I haven’t quite got it nailed yet, but for once time is on my side.

Cheat’s Sourdough (from River Cottage Everyday)
These instructions assume a working knowledge of basic breadmaking – if you can’t follow them, then you can definitely find far more experienced advice elsewhere on the interweb!

500g strong bread flour (I used some Italian 00 flour lurking in the pantry)
5g dried yeast (about 1 1/2 tsp)
2tsp fine sea salt
325ml warm water

The night before you want your bread to be ready, combine 250g of the flour with the yeast and water. Beat to form a thick batter, then cover with cling film and leave overnight.
In the morning, beat in the remaining flour and salt, then knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth and silky. It will be fairly sticky and wet to start with. (I use the dough hook in my freestanding mixer so I can have a cup of tea and check my emails while the bread is doing its thing).
Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise for an hour or two, until  doubled in size. Knock back (deflate) the dough and shape, then cover loosely and let rise until doubled in size again.
Preheat the oven to 250C. About five minutes before you want to put the loaf in the oven, put a baking tray in the oven to heat up. Take the hot baking sheet from the oven, dust it with flour, and carefully transfer the risen dough to it by tipping it out of the proving basket/bowl, upside down, on to the sheet. Slash the top of the loaf a few times with a very sharp knife or pair of scissors.
Put the loaf into the hot oven and give a few squirts of water from a clean spray bottle over and around it. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 200C, give the oven another spray, and bake for a further 30 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when you tap its base. Leave to cool completely, on a rack (or wait at least 20 minutes) before slicing.

Do you have any foodie New Year resolutions? Better still, do you have a great bread recipe for me to try?