Dough Quandaries: Too much Water?

I have decided to begin a series of posts called ‘Dough Quandaries’ as I often find myself in them, not knowing what on earth to do and worse, not knowing what has gone wrong! Although I’m sure it would amuse some to know the frequency and severity of my dough disasters, that is not what I have planned for this particular series of posts. Sometimes I have an epiphany moment (OK, epiphany might be a little hyperbolic), when a whole series of experiments seems to pay off and it feels like I have cracked some long and torturous crime mystery. Again, this analogy may sound over the top, but don’t underestimate the frustration, the disappointment, the anguish of much cared for dough ending up in the bin; a waste of ingredients, time and effort, I’m sure you’d agree! So, ‘Dough Quandaries’ aims to address some of the culprits that cause these dough debacles and discuss the reasons behind them so we can all make better bread!

So, here goes:

Many books about bread contain the mantra ‘wetter is better’ when it comes to dough. Indeed, in an earlier post I too embraced the notion that pros make wetter dough; and that adding too much flour to your dough will lead to a dense, brick-like loaf. Of course, by wet I didn’t mean swimming in it; when you add water to the point where it will no longer incorporate into the dough it was probably time to stop about 100 ml ago! No, I firmly believed, mainly on account of what I had read and heard from the mouths of the experts, that, within the confines of a recipe (which often state a minimum and maximum volume of water), more water rather than less was preferable. I knew that this led to a more sticky dough to begin with, that stands to reason, but, again as many professionals would reassure us, with a thorough knead this sticky, unmanageable dough will become ‘smooth and silky’.

Au contraire! On numerous occasions recently, as I have been growing more confident with my kneading technique, I have become somewhat gung ho with the amount of water I have been adding (obviously only to the point that the dough has been slightly wetter than usual) and I have only just discovered that this has been the culprit for several failed attempts at potentially delicious loaves.

To make these posts more useable for all you bakers out there, I have separated my unscrupulous pre-babble (above) from what follows:

The symptoms of adding too much water:

  1. An early sign is that, at mixing stage, the dough no longer has a ‘shaggy’ consistency; but has begun to come together into a more cohesive ball. My most successful loaves have been turned out for kneading not resembling a ball at all, so although you should continue adding water until flour begins to come away from the sides of the bowl, don’t be tempted to keep going until everything comes together into one mass of dough.
  2. With a dough that is too wet, you may be surprised by how little kneading it takes to seemingly produce a cohesive, shiny-looking dough. I was! On a number of occasions, I put this down to my brilliant kneading, but I now think this was because I had added just a tad too much liquid.
  3. Once the dough reaches the shiny stage, it will still be very sticky. It will seem much more elastic and will want to stretch in one long piece, although when you try the gluten window test you will notice that the dough is easily torn and that the consistency feels weak and stringy rather than strong and firm. It may also feel cool and damp to the touch.
  4. More kneading will produce a bubble-gum like mass, which will stick to your hands and stretch into lots of long tendrils. When prodded with a finger, dough with the correct texture should put up some resistance, dough which is too wet will just stick to the end of your finger.
  5. At this stage you may think it is ready for proving, as you may have been kneading vigorously for half an hour or more and think the elasticity is a sign that the dough has been kneaded sufficiently. However, upon first proving the dough, although it may rise very well, will fall back very quickly (one of my failed attempts rose to double its size and then fell back within the space of half an hour). Dough which has risen and then begun to fall back will have lots of little dimples on its surface and look deflated (which it is!) A well risen dough will spring back quickly when touched with a fingertip; not so with over-wet dough. A gentle prod will either cause the dough to deflate or will leave a dimple on its surface.
  6. The natural reaction to over-proofed dough is to re-knead and prove again. Although, you will find with dough that is too wet that no matter how many times you knead it, it will never relinquish its stickiness. Its structure does not contain a high enough ratio of flour to water, therefore its structure will never be strong enough to rise and produce a satisfactory texture for a loaf.

The Solution:

If you notice more than one of the first 5 symptoms, your dough is likely to be too wet. But never fear! Your dough is entirely saveable and won’t have been harmed in the process, as some will lead you to believe (‘re-kneading will lead to a reduction in final loaf size of up to 20%’).

So, what to do? Well, if you have proven your dough and it has fallen back, re-knead adding enough flour to relieve the dough of its bubble-gum like qualities – you will see as you knead in the extra flour that the dough begins to stretch firmly, rolling out in more of a lump than stretching out into a stringy sausage. Its tackiness will lessen and with a full and thorough knead it will pass its sticky stage and become that soft, silky ball you were originally hoping for!

If you are lucky enough to spot this issue during your original knead, simply add some extra flour to the dough until it obtains the right consistency. Although do beware of adding too much as, (I’m sure most of you are aware!) this will have dire consequences for your dough which are far harder to remedy!

Please get involved and add your experiments and epiphanies as comments below 🙂

**I will be adding a photograph to this post – watch this space!**

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Sweet Oat Bran Flatbreads with Currants

Sweet Oat Bran Crisp breads

These light, crisp flatbreads are very quick and easy to make and are a healthy accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee, or as a mid-morning snack. They are glazed with sugar, which you roll them out with, which gives them a nice sheen when they’re baked.

Ingredients:

  • 400g Plain Wholemeal Flour
  • 50g Oat Bran
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Mixed Spice
  • 2 tbsp Rapeseed Oil
  • 140 g Currants
  • 200-225 g Milk
  • 150 g Caster Sugar

To make the flatbreads:

  1. Put the flour, oat bran, salt, mixed spice and currants into a large bowl and mix roughly with one hand.
  2. Gradually add the milk to the dry ingredients, bringing everything together with your hand. Only add enough milk to combine the ingredients – stop as soon as they start to resemble dough. Too much milk can make the mixture too sticky to work with.
  3. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a minute or so until the ingredients are well incorporated and it is smooth and even.
  4. Divide into four pieces (I used a Scottish scraper for this), and flatten each one into a disc, roughly 10cm in diameter.
  5. Wrap each disc in cling film and place in the fridge to chill for around 45 minutes. If you are in a rush, you could put them in the freezer for 15-20 minutes instead.
  6. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius and line two baking trays with parchment (these will be baked in two batches).
  7. Once chilled, take a piece of greaseproof paper from one of the trays. In the centre, place a small mound of around a quarter of the sugar and place your disc of dough on top. Roll out evenly, turning a quarter turn after each roll, until the dough is about 2mm thick (the thinner you roll your flatbreads, the more crisp they will be!).
  8. Pierce the dough with a fork at roughly centimetre intervals all over. This prevents areas of the dough bubbling up, which can lead to an uneven bake.
  9. Once you have rolled out two discs (the other two can remain in the fridge/freezer until needed), carefully lift the greaseproof paper containing the prepared dough back onto the trays and bake for 8-9 minutes, swapping the two trays around mid-way through baking.
  10. Cut into slices whilst still warm and then cool the pieces on a wire-rack.
  11. If the flatbreads are slightly pale in colour, or if they aren’t as crisp as you would like, you can place them (once cooled) back into the oven on their racks at 130 degrees for a further 15-20 minutes. This way they will be super crisp!

Enjoy! Don’t forget to let me know how you go making these!

Wholesome Wholemeal Loaf with Oat Bran

Wholemeal Oat Bran Loaf

Whilst flicking through one of my Scandinavian baking books, I noticed that a few of the recipes call for oat bran or wheatgerm and this intrigued me. I’m all for healthy baking and, as I’ve said in previous posts, I am a lover of baking with a variety of different flours. So this bread incorporates a number of them, with a dash of oat bran for extra fibre-y goodness! The recipe that inspired this loaf was that of Norwegian ‘grovbrød’; a rustic brown loaf, great with thin slices of smoked fish and a squeeze of lemon. I chose to use rapeseed oil rather than olive oil as it has a more neutral flavour and I wanted to let the flours and grains do the talking. You needn’t add the honey, but I always think it adds to the flavour of wholemeal loaves.

Ingredients:

  • 100g Strong White Bread Flour
  • 300g Strong Wholemeal Flour
  • 50g Rye Flour
  • 40g Oat bran
  • 15g Rye Flakes
  • 350-390 ml Tepid Water
  • 10g Fast Action Dried Yeast
  • 10g Salt
  • Tbsn Honey
  • Tbsn Rapeseed Oil and extra for kneading.

To make the bread:

  1. Measure out the flours, oat bran and rye flakes into a large bowl.
  2. Add the yeast to one side and the salt to the other, avoid mixing the two as direct contact can retard the yeast.
  3. Add the honey and rapeseed oil to the bowl.
  4. Add roughly 350 ml of the water and begin to mix with one hand. Continue adding water until the flour is lifted from the sides of the bowl and the dough begins to come together.
  5. Tip the dough onto a lightly oiled surface.
  6. Knead until the dough is no longer sticky and has a silky, elastic texture. This may take substantially longer than a white dough to achieve this texture, so don’t give up! Also, this dough will seem tighter than other wholemeal doughs, I think this is on account of the oat bran, which soaks up a lot of water and makes the texture more dense. However, with some working it will become smoother and more like conventional wholemeal dough. I used a slightly different kneading technique, rather than holding with one hand and stretching with the other, I used both hands to roll and then fold the dough. As I say, this will take longer, but will achieve the right result in the end.
  7. Leave the dough to rise in a lightly oiled bowl covered with a tea towel. Find a warm place for this one – rye flour doughs take marginally longer to rise, and I find that a warmer place than usual helps this process along.
  8. Once the dough has doubled in size (after 2-4 hours), tip onto a lightly floured surface and pressed firmly into an oblong. Fold in the edges and press again to form an oblong the length of your 2 lb loaf tin. Roll the oblong and place into the tin, with the seem facing downwards.
  9. Leave to prove until doubled in size (around an hour and a half). Meanwhile preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Place a baking tray in the bottom to heat up.
  10. When your loaf has doubled in size, dust with wholemeal flour and cut a slash lengthways across the top with a sharp knife.
  11. Boil a kettle full of water and pour into the heated tray, leaving it in the bottom of the oven.
  12. Bake your loaf on the middle shelf for 35-40 minutes. When the loaf is done it will sound hollow when tapped underneath.
  13. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

This bread is delicious eaten, as the Scandinavians would, for breakfast or lunch with slices of mild cheese (I like Emmental), some ham and maybe a pickle or two. It is equally as delicious with smoked salmon or Gravad Lax and a squeeze of lemon. I even love it toasted and slathered in butter with some sharp and sweet marmalade and a cup of tea – delish!

Enjoy Budding Bakers! Don’t forget to let me know how you get on 🙂

Tastes of Sicilia

photosiciliy

I have just returned from beautiful Sicily, where I spent a wondrous week with my other half and our little man, sampling many a foodie treat and tanning ourselves shamelessly on the local beach! We even squeezed in a few days worth of sightseeing – Sicily has so much to offer both in terms of its spectacular landscape and its rich history and culture. You can look forward to some Sicilian treats, or at least some Sicily-inspired experimentation, coming soon.

Amongst the traditional fare we tasted were ‘Cannoli’, crispy sweet pastry shells wrapped around lightly sweetened, creamy ricotta; wonderfully crisp pizzas baked in a ‘forno a legna’, meaning wood-burning oven (these can be found all over Italy, but the Sicilians have their own particular flavour combinations – aubergine and seafood feature heavily on most Pizzeria menus) and ‘Cassata’, a moist sponge cake filled again with sweetened ricotta and moistened with fruit juice or liqueur.

Almonds or ‘mandorla’ are everywhere in Sicily! Almond wine, almond milk, almond granita, almost nougat, you name it, an almond has been involved in it! I happen to adore everything almond, though my better half prefers to steer well clear; so  this was excellent gorging territory for me. As well as sampling almond wine, I tasted some devine ‘paste di mandorla’ directly translated as ‘almond paste’. These were similar to amaretti biscuits but with a soft, crumbly and almost moist texture – beautiful!

I have come back feeling truly inspired by, as well as sorry to leave, this special island. More about Sicily’s baked goodies to come…

Daily Spelt Loaf

My Daily Spelt Loaf

As well as being a cookbook fanatic, I have a fetish for flours. Find me a new variety and I’ll have a bag in my basket before you can say ‘Paul Hollywood’! I love finding recipes that contain lesser used flours like spelt, buckwheat and Khorasan. Even the thought of a new rye recipe gets my creative juices flowing better than your average strong white ever could.

This loaf evolved from a pure spelt loaf, made with only wholegrain spelt flour into this recipe, which contains strong white flour (and if you like, wholemeal too) as well as wholegrain spelt. Using spelt flour alone produces a loaf which has an interesting flavour and texture – lighter in colour and crumb than a wholemeal loaf, with a greater depth of flavour than a plain white one. All things considered, it was its distinct flavour that caused me to want to use a mix of flours for this loaf. Pure spelt bread is lovely eaten with a meal, to mop up delicious casserole juices or such like; but for me, its characteristic flavour needs dumbing down for use as toast or sandwich bread – which my ‘daily loaf’ frequently is!

This is not to say that this loaf isn’t deliciously flavoursome. It just has a more neutral (for want of a better word!) taste, which provides a delicious base for other ingredients.

Note: You needn’t add the Greek honey if you’re a purist and prefer to stick to the core ingredients. However, I think it adds something special to this everyday loaf and complements the nutty notes in this loaf.

Ingredients

  • 205g Wholegrain Spelt Flour
  • 300g Strong White Bread Flour (for a wholegrain loaf, reduce the quantity of white flour to 200g and add 100g of Strong Wholemeal Flour)
  • 1 tsp Salt (I add a generous teaspoon)
  • 1 tsp Fast Action Dried Yeast
  • 1 tbsp Greek Honey
  • 1 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 400 ml warm water

To make the bread

  1. Mix the flours together in a large bowl, I do this roughly and by hand.
  2. Add the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Then drizzle over the honey.
  3. Pour over the warm water (the temperature of which needn’t be measured, it should feel slightly warm to the touch) and begin to mix using one hand.
  4. Add the olive oil and continue to bring the mixture together until you have a ‘shaggy’ (to quote HFW – but this is the most useful, if not very technical, term I have come across to describe the dough at this stage!) dough.
  5. Tip the dough out onto a lightly oiled surface (you can use flour, but be careful not to add much more at this stage as your bread could become dense and mealy).
  6. Knead for 10-20 minutes (I always knead by hand, but feel free to use a mixer if you have one) until the dough is elastic and appears to have a sheen to it. If your dough feels wet and sticky, you could add a touch more flour, but try to knead through this stage as a wetter dough produces a more open crumb with a lighter texture.
  7. Leave to rise in a lightly oiled bowl until roughly doubled in size (approx 1hr). I place the bowl in a large plastic bag, inflate it slightly and then use an Ikea plastic clip to seal it, stopping any draft from halting the proving process.
  8. Since I use this loaf daily, mainly for sandwiches and toast, I like to bake it in a 2lb tin, but you go ahead and get creative with your shaping if the feeling takes you! (See future post on shaping bread). I lightly oil the tin and my bread hasn’t gotten stuck yet!
  9. To shape, tip the risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Press all over with the palms of your hands to knock out any air bubbles. Shape into a rough rectangle. With one of the long edges closest to you, fold in at either side so that the left and right-hand edges overlap slightly. Now flatten slightly so it matches the length of your tin.
  10. Taking the long edge closest to you, roll up like a Swiss roll so you have one long seam along the dough.
  11. With the seam facing downwards, place the dough into the tin. (This method is very similar to Paul Hollywood’s in ‘How to Bake’, which also has great pictures that may help if you’ve had problems shaping in the past.)
  12. Place the tin in a large plastic bag and leave to prove for 1/2 an hour to an hour or until doubled in size.
  13. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Place a baking tray in the bottom of the oven.
  14. When your dough has doubled in size, place a kettle on to boil and pour the boiling water into the baking tray – this will create a steamy atmosphere, which will produce a loaf with a thin but crunchy crust with a nice shine to it.
  15. Dust your loaf with flour and make several diagonal slashes across the top (I use a sharp serrated bread knife to do this).
  16. Place your tin in the middle of the oven to bake for 30-35 minutes. To check if your loaf is baked, turn out of the tin and tap – if you hear a hollow sound your loaf is ready, if you hear a dull thud it needs longer in the oven!

I really hope you enjoy this loaf as much as my family and I do! I would love to see pictures of your loaves and, of course, hear how you got on using this recipe!

Happy baking, but more importantly – happy eating! 🙂