Dough Quandaries: Sulphurous Sourdough

A recent sourdough crisis has prompted this latest post in what is to be a series involving ‘dough quandaries‘! I decided to build a new starter around a week ago, as the Yeasty Thing has been lying dormant in the fridge for far too long and I think it may have had its day! As described in an earlier post (linked above), the Yeasty Thing was built using Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s method – a straightforward flour and water concoction which is fermented, to begin with over a week, to attract and promote the growth of wild yeasties. This starter is fairly wet and, at first, I kept it bubbling away on the work surface (in a container, obviously!) feeding it a couple of times a day. But starters which contain a high proportion of liquid often rise and fall more quickly than more dense starters and the Yeasty Thing’s feeding schedule began to get out of hand – so she was banished to the fridge to slow down a bit!

My latest foray into sourdough was on the instruction of Peter Reinhart in ‘Artisan Breads Every Day’. His ‘mother starter’ is built in two stages. The first of which requires building up the ferment in four ‘phases’ over 7 (or so) days. He suggests using pineapple juice in the first stage, the acidity of which discourages the  growth of certain bacterias (including leuconostoc), which can overrun the yeast. Bacteria is present in all starters. It is the interaction between the yeast and bacteria cells which creates a successful culture that will raise dough.

I followed Peter’s guidelines to the letter, using pineapple juice in the first stage, and my starter behaved as it should; producing all the delightful aromas he mentions all the way into the second stage, when I formed a denser, more flour-heavy ‘mother starter’. Reinhart prescribes refrigeration after the mother starter becomes active, and this is what I did. I was pleased that I potentially wouldn’t have to replenish my starter for 5 days once it was in the fridge – a boon to any busy working mum!

So it was all good – my starter was safely nestled in the fridge, sedately swelling away between the milk and the orange juice. I quickly felt a sourdough loaf coming on and raided a portion of my new born starter to get baking. Reinhart’s book is sadly lacking in the sourdough loaf department – there are only a few recipes which call for a starter, so I referred back to Old Faithful, Whittingstal’s recipe for a basic sourdough loaf in ‘River Cottage: Everyday’. It calls for the starter to be fermented overnight with some flour and water, which is then mixed with more flour, water and salt to make the dough. Everything was going well, until I lifted the lid on the pre-ferment and reeled back in disgust at the sulphurous, eggy pong emanating therefrom!

I hit the blogs and the Fresh Loaf came up trumps with multiple articles about sourdough smelling like rotten eggs – all describing a similar situation in which gases from the dough itself omit this unpleasant odour. Meanwhile, the starter itself still smelt perfectly normal – acidic, almost winy. Even having discovered that this was unusual, and potentially due to an overgrowth in bacteria, I went ahead and baked the dough. It resulted in a pretty good sourdough loaf with a great tangy flavour.

This is the loaf that resulted from my stinky starter!

This is the loaf that resulted from my stinky starter!

My curiosity was still unsatiated and I was almost certain the eggy pong would return, should I attempt another batch of dough using the starter. So I have been searching the web ever since and have found out lots more about sourdough in the process. One interesting point to make is that in some countries, bread raised by bacteria is popular. Yeast is actually inhibited to promote the growth of natural bugs, which respire producing the gas that raises the dough (see this article about ‘Salt-rising bread‘). Maybe this is what I had produced!

Sure enough, I tried another batch of dough using my new starter and, sadly, it gave off a sulphurous whiff even more pungent than the first lot. During my online research into this, I came across lots of people who swore that one Debra Wink would be able to help. I was surprised to find that the ‘solution’ she was proposing, backed by extensive research, was to replenish your stinky starter with pineapple juice! (see ‘The Pineapple Juice Solution‘) I was back where I’d started! Maybe the bacteria which developed in my dough was different to that which Debra is trying to stave off? Or maybe it is the same, but managed to take hold once I began feeding my mother starter with spring water? Who knows? Either way, something doesn’t add up! In desperation to salvage my starter, I have started feeding it again using pineapple juice rather than water. I will keep you updated on its progress over the coming weeks.

I would really appreciate the input of anyone who can shed light on the mystery of my sulphurous sourdough starter! Happy experimenting everyone! 🙂

Brown Soda Bread topped with Oats

Brown Soda Bread loaf ready to bake!

Soda bread is my go-to when ‘a wedge of ballast’, to quote Mark from Peep Show, is urgently required and time is of the essence. It can be prepared in an instant (20 minutes max) and needs no time to prove, as it doesn’t contain any yeast; so including baking time can be on the table within an hour of turning on the scales!

A number of countries count soda bread as a staple in their diets, including Serbia, Scotland and Poland; none as famously though, as Ireland.

Irish flour has a low gluten content and so is not well suited to making yeasted breads. Around the mid 1800s, bicarbonate of soda was introduced as a raising agent in Ireland. The fact that there was no long tradition of yeast cookery in rural communities, as there was already in other European countries, meant that baking with bicarbonate of soda caught on; its speed and ease of use were just an added bonus for Irish bakers.

Soda farls, baked on a griddle, and wheaten and soda breads are still very popular today in Ireland and around the world. Brown soda bread, like the one pictured above and below, is usually referred to as ‘wheaten bread’ in Ireland and is sometimes flavoured with sweet ingredients. The name ‘soda bread’ is reserved for the savoury variety which uses only white flour. However, despite it containing wholemeal flour, this bread has a savoury flavour and so I have called it ‘soda bread’. It also doesn’t contain buttermilk, an ingredient used in traditional Irish soda bread, as I didn’t have any in the fridge in my hour of need! So I am not claiming this is a strictly Irish recipe by any means!

The buttermilk in traditional soda and wheaten breads is used to activate the bicarbonate of soda, as it contains lactic acid. Some form of acid is needed to get the bicarbonate of soda releasing carbon dioxide, which is the gas that causes the bread to rise (think back to those school science experiments involving sodium bicarbonate and vinegar!) Since I had no buttermilk to hand, I needed to concoct a similar mixture which contained both fat, for a soft, moist crumb, and some acidity, to create the rise. All that I had in the fridge was a 300ml tub of double cream. I was slightly pensive about using vinegar on account of its harsh flavour, so I opted for lemon juice to bring acidity to the mix. This didn’t bring the volume up to what I needed, so I topped it up with water; I thought this would be fine, as buttermilk is more liquid than double cream, so I knew it would not affect the balance of moisture in the bread.

Anyway, enough of the preamble! Here’s my recipe for brown soda bread! It has a lighter than air crumb and crisp, crumbly crust. Delicious eaten warm, straight from the oven. I dipped mine in a steaming bowl of fresh tomato soup. Gorgeous!

Ingredients:

  • 300g Plain Wholemeal Flour
  • 100g Plain Flour
  • 1.5 Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 0.5-1 tsp Salt (depending on personal taste)
  • 300ml Double Cream
  • 1 Lemon, thoroughly squeezed
  • 25g Butter, melted
  • Water to top up to 400ml (a little more maybe needed if the dough seems too tight)
  • 25g Jumbo Oats

To make the bread;

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Prepare one baking tray by flouring lightly.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat and set aside to cool.
  3. Sieve the dry ingredients together into a large mixing bowl.
  4. In a measuring jug, measure the cream and add the lemon juice. Mix well with a fork.
  5. Add the cooled melted butter and use the fork to combine with the wet ingredients.
  6. Add water to the cream, lemon and butter mixture to bring it up to a volume of 400ml.
  7. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the cream and lemon mixture.
  8. Mix well using one hand. You may need to add a little more water at this point to help the dough come together.
  9. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly for a minute or so, just to incorporate the ingredients. Do not over knead here!
  10. Form the dough into a smooth ball.
  11. Generously scatter the work surface with oats and roll the ball over them, pressing gently so the oats stick to the surface of the dough.
  12. Place the ball of dough onto the prepared baking sheet and dust lightly with flour. Make a deep cross in the dough using a sharp knife. The depth of my cuts were around half that of the ball (see picture above).
  13. Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes.
  14. The bread is ready when it makes a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom.

As I mentioned above, by far the best way to enjoy soda bread is eaten warm, straight from the oven, with a generous slab of butter. This bread is so quick and easy to make, and if you do happen to have it in the fridge, you can substitute the cream, lemon and water mixture for 400ml of buttermilk. Although I found that the double cream made for a deliciously moist, soft crumb! Let me know how yours turns out!

Baked Brown Soda Bread

Dark Chocolate and Macadamia Tear-and-Share Loaf

Chocolate and Macademia Tear and Share

Pulla is ubiquitous in Finland, where my partner, Jani, was born. The daily ritual of having coffee (kahvia), often together with family or friends, would not be complete without a variety of sweet buns and cakes to accompany it. Not to mention the rarity of breakfast in the absence of a ‘pitko’, or braided loaf, slathered in butter. Jani even likes to save the ends, leaving them until they are stale and dry, so he can make ‘köyhät ritarit’ or ‘poor knights’, slices of week old pulla soaked in milk and then fried in butter. Yes, the Finns are renowned for their gargantuan consumption of both butter and sugar. The excuse touted by most is that they need lots of calories to survive the punishingly cold winters. Well I need no excuse to make a big batch of pulla once in a while. The great thing about it is that it is very versatile. At its base, it is a simple sweet bread dough, the addition of crushed cardamom seeds gives it its signature taste.

It was during one of our pulla-making sessions that this loaf was born. This recipe makes a very large batch, 5 or 6 medium braided loaves; or 2 or 3 loaves and a batch or 2 of ‘korva puustit’ or ‘beaten ears’ (small cinnamon buns). I had a bag of dark chocolate chips, half a large bar of dark chocolate and two-thirds of a packet of macadamia nuts left over from several recent baking exploits and these gave me all the inspiration I needed to transform this wonderful pulla recipe into something even more naughty and a just a bit special.

The recipe I am about to share with you has been passed down through Jani’s family for generations. As I have said, it yields a large batch, so feel free to halve or even quarter the quantities to suit your appetite!

To make traditional Pulla, add 3 teaspoons of crushed cardamom seeds to the mix before kneading. I have omitted them in the recipe itself, as they can overpower the taste of the chocolate (although you may prefer to leave them in).

Ingredients

  • 1.5 kg Strong White Bread Flour
  • 1.5 kg Plain White Flour
  • 1350 g Caster Sugar
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 litre Milk
  • 100g Fresh Yeast
  • 3 tsp Cardamom Pods, crushed (for traditional Finnish Pulla)
  • Approx 200g Dark Chocolate Chips
  • Approx 200g Dark Chocolate
  • 100g Chocolate and Hazelnut Spread
  • 200g Chopped Macadamia Nuts

To make the Bread

  1. Whisk the sugar and eggs in a large bowl until well incorporated.
  2. Heat the milk over a low heat until lukewarm. Remove from the heat and crumble in the yeast. Stir until dissolved. Too much heat here can kill the yeast so ensure that the milk is only just above hand temperature.
  3. I also melt the butter at this point, in a separate pan, and leave it to cool whilst I’m mixing the other ingredients.
  4. Add the milk and yeast mixture to the eggs and sugar and stir to combine. (Add the cardamom at this point, if required).
  5. Now, this is the part which is tricky without two people. If you are going solo, sieve the flours together into a separate bowl and then use one hand to tip the flour, little by little, into the wet ingredients, whilst kneading with the other.
  6. Since the mixture is extremely wet to begin with, I use a kind of grabbing or clenching action with my kneading hand to begin to incorporate the flour. Once all the flour is incorporated, add the melted butter and knead into the dough. I only begin to use my conventional kneading technique when the dough is firm enough to tip onto a lightly floured surface.
  7. It will take a while to develop the gluten since the amount of dough is so large, and also the recipe calls for plain flour as well as strong, which has a far lower gluten content. Hence you will be kneading for a good 20 minutes to achieve a cohesive dough with a nice sheen to it.
  8. Once kneaded, place the dough into a large, lightly oiled bowl for its first rise. This will take 2-3 hours.
  9. Once the dough has doubled in size, it is time to shape it and add the filling. Fold the dough in on itself until most of the air has been knocked out and you have a rough oblong.
  10. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough (giving it a quarter turn once and again) until it is approximately 5mm thick and, again, a large roughly rectangular shape. Depending on the size of your kitchen workspace, you may need to divide the dough into two or even three pieces before rolling.
  11. Spoon large mounds of the chocolate and hazelnut spread onto the dough and spread using a knife or the back of the spoon, almost to the edges.
  12. Scatter the chopped chocolate, chocolate chips and chopped nuts evenly over the dough.
  13. You may have seen Paul Hollywood ‘tacking’ one edge of his dough, about to be rolled up, to the surface so as to make it easier to make a tight roll. You could do this, although I managed fine without this method. As tightly as you can, roll the oblong starting from the longest edge, into a long sausage.
  14. Using a scotch scraper, cut off the two ends, as these will have less filling and may be strangely shaped if the oblong was slightly uneven (you can pop these on a tray and make some small buns out of them!)
  15. Then, start by cutting the sausage in half, then these two pieces in half again, then halving these, and so on and so on…Divide the sausage into small equal sections about 6cm in length.
  16. Arrange these in generously buttered tins, placing them first around the edges, leaving about 1.5cm gap between each on all sides as the buns will rise into each other whilst proving, then place more buns in a second ring within the outer one, and then maybe a couple in the centre (see photo of finished loaf for pointers).
  17. Cover each tin with a tea towel and leave the buns to prove for around an hour until doubled in size again.
  18. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  19. Once the buns have risen. Wash the tops generously with beaten egg and sprinkle liberally with caster sugar.
  20. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the top is a luscious brown colour (keep a good eye on them as sometimes the sugar glaze can begin to catch) and the top feels firm but with a good spring beneath.

Enjoy this loaf still warm from the oven or the next morning with a big milky cup of coffee! Let me know how it goes 🙂 x

Why home-baked is definitely better than shop-bought…

Milk loaves proving

The idea for this post was inspired by two pages in Richard Bertinet’s ‘Dough’. The two pictures (found on pages 18 & 19 of the book), juxtaposed, look fairly similar bar the uniform pappiness of the supermarket ‘sliced-white’, and need no further explanation besides two lists of ingredients. One contains four natural constituents: anyone who has made bread at home will know these are flour, yeast, salt and water; the other looks like the contents of a chemist’s cabinet: mono- and diacetyle tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, to name just one of the many ‘E-numbers’ it comprises.

As well as arousing a glimmer of a self-satisfied smirk as I considered which home-baked, Bertinet influenced loaf I would conjure first; I was also driven to find out more about why these Frankenstein loaves have long been Britain’s favourite – accounting for over a quarter (£920 Million) of the UK baked-goods market, in 2012.

Well, we can blame the ‘bread-scientists’ at the Chorley Wood Flour Milling and Bakery Research Association Laboratories (doesn’t sound like a place I would want to be responsible for something I eat every day!), the work of whom, back in 1961, led to a revolutionary new way of producing bread – The Chorleywood Process. This process uses double the amount of yeast found in a homemade loaf. The higher yeast content, coupled with adding hard fats to stabilise the structure of the dough, (oh, and a plethora of chemicals!) then mixing at high speed produces a dough which is ready to bake in just 3 and a half hours. This short production time meant British bread could be mass-produced and, as a result, Britain is now one of the cheapest places in the world to buy bread.

As well as being chock-a-block with additives and preservatives, Chorleywood bread, (if you can call it bread?) has also been blamed for the increase of people who find bread difficult to digest. Furthermore, the average supermarket loaf is likely to have been deep-frozen and defrosted prior to it reaching your kitchen table; and will no doubt have been made using flour from a variety of far-flung locations across the globe, including Russia, Canada and France.

But who wants bread with a texture like cotton-wool and, quite frankly, as much flavour too? Certainly not me! And I’m not alone. Artisan bread is staging a huge renaissance with sales of luxury and speciality breads rising steadily year on year (according to Waitrose), which are made in comparatively miniscule batches and produced using traditional methods.

According to ‘Paul Hollywood’, the lengthier the proving process, the tastier the loaf. This explains the lack of any character in packaged supermarket bread and the whole world of flavour to be experienced in home-baked and artisan loaves. Not to mention the huge joy and satisfaction of mixing, kneading and shaping your own dough and seeing it rise and bloom in the oven! Priceless!

SO GET BAKING EVERYONE! X

 

For more on Supermarket vs. Artisan bread see the following articles:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20527294

http://www.dovesfarm.co.uk/resources/artisan-breadmaking

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/8414653/The-truth-about-your-supermarket-loaf.html

BunzBakes is now on Instagram!

Sourdough Loaf

Hello Everyone!

Don’t forget to follow me on Instragram @bunzbakes for lots more delicious home-baked snaps! I can post pics faster than I can write posts, so there will be many a pictorial delight to be had there!

I have a personal account which I constantly fill with my baking photographs and I’m worried my friends think that is all I do! So @bunzbakes will now be the home of all my #freshlybaked #picsoftheday!

Happy snapping!

The Best Baton: A Guide to Shaping.

I have promised a post on shaping bread, so here’s the first of a large batch! I am baking bread for our work summer picnic next week and thought it prudent to do a test run to avoid disaster and the shame of turning up empty handed! I will post the recipe shortly, although you could look it up for yourselves (it’s another from the Nordic Bakery Cookbook, Miisa Mink), Rye Baguettes. Interestingly, and rather delightfully I thought, they have raisins in them and Miisa tantalisingly suggests they would be good with a slice of Brie, yes please!

As a result of my tiny penchant for baking books, I have trialled many a manual on how to shape bread and this method comes from Dan Lepard’s, ‘The Handmade Loaf’. I have chosen this particular technique because it is easy and, thus far, foolproof! So here are my own step by step pictures and guide for how to shape a brilliant baton:

Best Baton: Steps 1-4Best Baton: Steps 5-8a) (prior to the steps shown) Once your dough has doubled in size for the first time, firmly press it down (or knock back) with your fists. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into the number of pieces required by your recipe. Shape each piece into a smooth ball (not pictured) and place seam side down on a floured surface. Cover with a tea towel and leave for 10 minutes. Dan advises that this will produce a smooth ball which will give you a more even oval for shaping in the next step.

  1. Having left your ball/s of dough for 10 minutes, take one and flatten into an oval.
  2. Imagining your oval has four corners, take two adjacent corners and fold them towards the centre (see picture above)
  3. This will create an almost pointed outcrop in the dough. Take this projection and fold it into the centre. Don’t be afraid to press down quite firmly so that the dough bonds together.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the opposite edge of your oval. You will be left with a sort of canoe shape.
  5. Fold one of the long edges over onto the opposite edge and press down firmly to create a seam. Your dough will now resemble a sausage!
  6. Roll gently using both hands to elongate the shape slightly – I press down slightly harder with my outside two fingers on each hand to create the tapered ends. Remember that these batons will now be given a second rise, so don’t be shy when you are creating their pointed ends, as these will fatten up as they prove.
  7. Place on a lined and/or floured baking sheet and bake for the time specified in your recipe.

…and there you have it! A step by step guide to creating a beauteous baton! Let me know how it goes 🙂

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!**

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 🙂

Trade shopping for food swapping!

Whilst pawing a well-known UK foodie mag recently I happened upon an article about a ‘food exchange’ network. This is where people get in touch with each other for the purpose of swapping their homemade goodies. Jam, chutney, sourdough, sausages and artisan cheese were all mooted as potential candidates for a swap and I can think of many more besides. I have been pondering this idea ever since!

For me, this wonderful notion harks back to the days when the farmer’s wife would take a box of eggs to the baker, who in exchange would give her her daily loaf. Then onto the butcher with another dozen in exchange for a hunk of beef or lamb, and so on. Despite the attention grabbing banner of this post, I’m not suggesting that us home bakers give up work to don an apron full-time and get to work on producing enough bread, buns or cakes to trade in for all our nutritional needs; but certainly we could make a larger batch once in a while, some of which we could swap for some other homemade foodie delight. What a treat!

There’s nothing I love more than sharing my home-bakes with others; and although I often toy with the idea of opening my own cafe, full to the brim with freshly baked fare, food swapping seems a much less risky way of sharing and showing off my baking talents, whilst being just as satisfying. The bonus is that you go away with the fruits of someone else’s labour in exchange for your own hard work. What could be better?

 

Why baking bread isn’t rocket science…

Do cookery writers have some vested interest in making bread baking sound like rocket science? Hang on a minute, I suppose they do! ‘Bread making is an exact science’, ‘water must be weighed rather than measured to ensure accurate quantities’…? Anyone wondering how they’ve ever managed to turn out a half decent loaf?

There are several myths surrounding how to bake bread that are very likely to deter the majority of people from going within a foot of a bag of flour and some yeast! Below, I will try to reassure you that bread-making is not as precise and difficult as we are sometimes led to believe…

Weigh your Water?

– I don’t think so! Of course, there are quantities that it is prudent to stick to; but any recipe worth its salt will advise that different brands of flour absorb water differently, and so often it is better to go by the following simple rule: whilst combining your dry ingredients with water (mixing with one hand and pouring with the other), generally you have added enough when the dough begins picking up flour from the sides of the bowl, leaving it looking clean. Also, wetter dough is considered preferable to a dough which is too dry, so that little drop extra shouldn’t mean the death knell for your loaf! Just keep kneading it past that sticky phase (if you aren’t used to making bread this requires some faith and perseverance to begin with – but it will happen eventually!) and you should end up with a light and silky dough.

Dough in the Airing Cupboard?

-Not anymore! Recipes of old would suggest rising and proving dough in a warm, draft free airing cupboard (or similar). However, whilst it is true that a draft is the enemy of your dough, keeping it in the airing cupboard is no longer required in this day and age; when homes are generally well heated and insulated all the year round. A warm kitchen is absolutely fine for rising and proving your dough.

Over-kneaded?

If you are kneading your dough by hand over-kneading is nigh on impossible! If you’re using a mixer with dough-hook, you need to be a bit more careful! Check every few minutes and if your dough begins to feel dense it may be time to stop mixing! Generally, once your dough begins to become elastic; form a kind of cohesive skin on the outside; when it wants to come together in a ball rather than sticking to the surface, it’s ready to prove. The other test for how well you’ve developed the gluten in your dough (this being the main purpose of kneading), is the ‘gluten window’ test. Using two hands, pull the edges of your dough out leaving the majority to hang down. If the dough stretches far and thinly enough so that you can see light shining through (the ‘gluten window’) then the gluten is well developed. However, if it tears before the light can be seen through it, it needs more kneading!

To me, the art of baking your own bread is actually very forgiving. Adding a little bit of this and a touch of that often pays off and even if you end up with a disastrous loaf at the end, you will invariably know the reason why and adapt your recipe for next time… And what if you don’t? Well, then there’s an army of knowledgeable bloggers on hand to answer your every baking conundrum!