Category Archives: Bread

Lovely, nutty tasting (but with no nuts) poppy seed oatcakes

These are wonderfully nutty tasting, and you’ll be convinced there are nuts therein. But there are no nuts. They are very frangible, so don’t roll them too thin, and when cooked don’t be too rough with them. Lovely with some cheese, of course, but I also sometimes have them for breakfast with some almond butter and a smidge of apricot jam on top.

Being full of oats ‘n’ seeds, they are particularly good for you, too.

(Note: I’ve put these under gluten free, oats are naturally gluten free but some have gluten in due to the manufacturing process so look at the packet your oats come in.)

These are from Hugh F-W’s Light and Easy book.

150g medium oatmeal

150g porridge oats (not the jumbo variety, if you have those, give them a quick spin in a food processor)

One tablespoon of ground linseeds

One tablespoon of poppy seeds

One tablespoon of sunflower or pumpkin seeds, or half of each

half a teaspoon of salt

75ml of sunflower or other tasteless oil

You will also need 100-150ml of boiled water

Baking parchment

 

Oven to 180C.

Put all the ingredients, save for the oil and water, into a bowl. Make a well in the middle and now add the oil and mix the ingredients around. Add 100ml of just boiled water and mix to a sticky wet dough, if you need to, add up to 50ml more but try not to if possible. This will seem like an unpromising dough and won’t be like a smooth dough, such as you may be used to.

Now you need two sheets of baking parchment to roll the dough out. Not too thin. Cut into squares – just free form with a knife, you don’t need to be madly exact. Hugh recommends cutting the square in two so you get triangles and I like this shape, too.

Don’t be tempted to use a cookie cutter. But do ball up and re-roll any off cuts. I shaped the last one by hand, in a butter-patting style.

Put on baking parchment lined baking tray and cook for 20-25 mins until just coloured. These give out a lot of steam (cos of the water) so be careful when you open the oven. You don’t want them too cook too much and be too dark, but equally they do need to be cooked so if your oven is temperamental, check after 15 minutes. The surface should be dry – no bubbling bits of steam – but not too coloured. Mine took about 22 minutes in a quite fierce oven. You may need to cook in two batches, I did.

This makes about 20-24, depending, on course, on the size.

 

Adding kefir and oats to sourdough

Last year I was given some kefir from my friend Becky. Don’t ask me too much about kefir, cos I’m still learning about it. It’s basically something that looks like a small, glutinous brain, which you put in milk (I have milk kefir you can also get water kefir) and it does something to the milk after a day or so which you can then drink or put in smoothies and it has magical qualities.

Something like that.

Every day, however, I fear I am going to poison everyone with sour milk, which is what it tastes like. This isn’t helped by my partner saying “What IS this stuff? Are you sure it’s safe?”

It doesn’t really taste great on its own. I originally started it because my eldest has eczema and it’s a battle to keep her probiotics/prebiotic level high (this is another, long story). But we channel Gwynnie whilst we imbibe it.

The thing with kefir is that you get lots of it to use up. We can only use so much in smoothies so I started thinking what else could I do with it? And then I decided to put it into my sourdough. Not loads, but about 60g (that’s all I get per yield) of it which I used as part of the ‘water’ element (I add 335g of liquid to 500g of flour so my kefir takes up some of the 335g, make sense?) And it works really well. It gives the loaf a lovely rise and you get a wonderfully moist crumb – less air holes I find (see photo below, the main photo shows the crumb after the first slice when there are more air bubbles), but a really nice sourdough for making sandwiches. And it’s tasty. Really tasty.

(I’m not pretending that any of the nutritional qualities of kefir are kept during the baking process.)

The other thing I’ve been adding is oats. I grind them up in my Nutribullet to make oat flour, and I don’t add more than 10% of the total flour content – so no more than 50g of the 500g of flour. (Oats don’t naturally contain gluten, but if you are coeliac do read this.)

Again this adds a lovely dimension to the bread. I made some the other day with oats and my children said the bread was “particularly delicious”.

I’ve also used kefir in place of buttermilk in my prune and almond loaf to great success.

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Prune and almond loaf

This is a magnificent bread recipe, adapted from the equally magnificent Donna Hay magazine that was out this summer.

It’s fantastic when you need something bready, fast, and it is SO delicious. No yeast or proving is necessary. And come on it’s got nuts and prunes in! Good for you..

I’m not going to pretend some of the ingredients are ‘store cupboard’ but aside from the buttermilk, nothing will go off quickly so if you get them in you’ll have something to rustle up over the Christmas period if you (gasp) run out of food, or even if you need to bring something to someone’s house as a little present.

This loaf, with some nice cheeses and a cheese humidor, would make an excellent gift for a cheese-loving friend. But it’s also good with pate.

Ingredients

125g plain flour (not bread flour)

125g wholemeal plain flour (not bread flour)

1.5 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda

half a teaspoon of salt

100g whole blanched almonds (not the end of the world if you have them with their skins on) – you could also, if you wanted to, use other nuts such as walnuts or hazelnuts.

85g pitted prunes, chopped up

40g maple syrup – this really adds something to it so try not to substitute it for something else

190g buttermilk (you can use kefir if you make it, instead)

65ml of sweet sherry (one of my readers has said she uses very strong Earl Grey tea for this)

Method

Preheat the oven to 200C. Lightly grease and flour a 2lb loaf tin. (I use this one.) Place the flours, bicarb, salt, almonds* and prunes into a bowl and mix up. Make a well in the middle and add the maple syrup, buttermilk and sherry. You will have a very sticky dough, slop it into the tin, whack it in the oven for about 35-40mins and that’s it. Leave to cool for five mins, turn it out, let it cool and then eat it with joy.

(*The astute amongst you may notice there are nuts on top of my loaf. This is what the original recipe stipulated – that you reserve half the nuts and scatter them atop the dough before it goes into the oven. I’m not sure I would do this again as some of the nuts got a bit too brown, but see how you feel/what sort of effect you want.)

 

Sourdough after a 156hr prove

Ever wondered how long you can push sourdough for? I baked these rolls  after a 156hr prove at 2C. They were very dry when they came out of the fridge and I slashed them with a bread knife, not expecting much. Cooked them for 8mins at 250C (fan) then 8mins at 220C (normal).

So you can go away on holiday for a few days and leave some sourdough rolls proving for a good few days. I think if anything, they rose up more than normal…

Chollah bread

Where I grew up, in Bayswater London W2, there used to be a bakery called Grodzinski and we would buy our bread there. I’d be fascinated – what child wouldn’t be – by the slicer, that they fed your whole loaves into if you asked for it to be sliced.

Sometimes, we would buy chollah bread. I loved its eggy sweetness and my favourite filling for it would be mortadella. Some years later, when I was telling my partner, he pointed out that perhaps using pork in a traditional Jewish bread wasn’t the BEST thing I could have done. (Sorry.)

Anyway. A few years ago, I attempted to recreate this wonder bread at home and I was amazed at how well it worked. This is an amalgamation of recipes that I found and it works for me, I’m not sure how authentic it is (be interested to know). It makes one good loaf. I don’t attempt to knot it or shape it into anything fancy. A Jewish friend of mine who regularly bakes says that, in her opinion, the dough is either dry enough to shape, but that results in a dry bread, or too wet to shape, but this results in a tastier bread. This was also my experience. So I always go for a higher hydration loaf in a simple boule shape. Be warned: it’s the sort of bread you can’t stop eating. Any that you miraculously have left over and goes stale (you won’t have any) you can make into French toast.

420g white flour – plain gives a better texture but you can also use strong white

7g of dried yeast

60g caster sugar

240ml of water, warm

a teaspoon of salt

1 egg

60ml of olive oil or oil of choice (you could also use melted butter)

You need an extra egg to glaze with, or milk. And poppy/sesame seeds if you like to sprinkle atop.

Mix a heaped teaspoon of the measured out sugar, with the yeast, into the warm water. Mix it up well and leave it to froth up. This takes about 15 or so minutes in my kitchen.

Mix the remaining sugar with the flour and salt into a large bowl and mix with a fork. When the yeast/water/sugar mixture has become nice and bubbled up, add this to the flour mixture and mix together using a fork until you get a sticky dough. Now add the egg and oil and mix it all together. Leave it for ten minutes.

Now tip it out onto an oiled surface and knead it very gently. Cover with a bowl and leave it for ten minutes. Repeat this twice more. The dough should be fairly smooth by now. When you have kneaded it gently for the third and final time, put it into an oiled bowl and cover with a cloth in for two or so hours.

Heat the oven to 200C, take your dough out knead gently and shape into the form you want it to be (as I said, a boule is really the only thing I can do with it) and place it on the baking tray you’ll want to bake it on. Leave for a final 20-30 minutes to rest.

Before it goes into the oven, brush it gently with beaten egg/milk and sprinkle with seeds if you so wish. Bake it for 20-30 minutes and leave to rest until completely cold before cutting it. (Yeah right.)

Sourdough rolls, or panini

Having a bread roll always seems a bit luxurious. Whereas a slice from a loaf is all about sharing, a panino (panino is the singular, panini the plural) is all about you: it’s all yours; from beginning to end.

I only started making rolls last year, when I got a couche cloth for my birthday (I felt lucky). They are so easy to make and I want to encourage you to give them a try, and here’s why:

You can keep the rolls proving in the fridge for days. A batch of dough made using 500g of flour yields about 12-16 rolls, depending, obviously, on how big you make them. This lasts us, on  average, three days. The longer they’re left, the tastier they become.

Thus, you can cook up just how much you need. This is really useful if you struggle to get through a whole loaf in one day. With the rolls, once you have a batch in the fridge, you can have freshly baked bread in less than 20 minutes (cook straight from the fridge) and you can cook up just one or two, or the whole lot depending on how many you want to feed that day/moment.

The longer-proved rolls do deflate when you slash them however, so don’t try – just nip at them deeply with a very sharp pair of scissor (you can see the effect in the pic above), they still rise beautifully in the oven, but you want to be quick and definite with the cutting so don’t faff around with a grignette.

They’re really, really tasty.

With rolls that have only been proving overnight, I do slash at them with a grignette, usually making four little slashes all the way around. This helps keep the round ‘boule’ shape. If you don’t mind about this, two or three slashes with a sharp bread knife is slightly easier, but the dough will expand to give you a more oval shaped roll.

I bake mine for anything from 14-20 minutes, divided up half at 250C and half of that time at 200C, but obviously a bit more or less depending on size of rolls or finish of crust that you want. (I still use ice cubes though.)

If you like to give bread as a present there is something really nice about giving a ‘bag ‘o’ rolls’. I mean even the phrase is great. Buy some brown bags (I get mine from the dreaded Amazon, sorry), because I do love a brown paper bag.

They are easy to shape and it’s also a really good way to practise shaping because if you get one a bit wrong, you have another 11 or so to practise on. Do shape them all up at the final prove stage, don’t be tempted to keep the dough to shape up for later. I can’t find the shaping video I watched now (it was by the people at King Arthur Flour), despite looking for it. But if you put ‘shaping bread rolls’ into You Tube you’ll get a few vids which will give you an idea.

You can bake them longer for a crustier crust, for less time to make a softer one for children/old people with no teeth. Whilst I love a deep, dark crust on a big loaf of sourdough, because the ratio of crust to middle is low, with a roll, I prefer a softer bite.

Have a go, and have fun with it. Just use your regular recipe for sourdough but shape them into rolls. This also means you can make the fabled ‘sourdough burger bun’ (basically a sourdough roll into which a burger has been put) which people queue for in London’s Hackney.

For the rolls with a lesser proving time you will need a planchette, but with the rolls that have been proved for a longer time, they are less frisky, drier, and you can, if you’re quick and confident, lift them off the couche cloth and onto a hot baking tray by hand. But given that a planchette is vital for baguette baking, treat yourself.

Monday morning bread, aka chocolate sourdough

I need a bit of help on a Monday morning. Weekends are usually cosy, engaged, involved, family affairs and splitting us all up on a Monday morning can hurt. Even though I do a job I love, and I work mostly from home – so am incredibly fortunate – Monday mornings sometimes need a bit of easing into.

Thus it is that I decided to corrupt one of the baguettes I was making last night, for baking this morning, by rolling the dough around a few pieces of chocolate (a high cocoa content milk chocolate). Everything else stayed the same. But this morning, the promise of these served warm from the oven, aside a bowl of caffe latte for dunking into, just helped get us all downstairs.

The perfect baguette

IMG_2932Although I’ve  been baking bread, by hand, for three and a bit years now, I had yet to crack the perfect baguette. Or indeed, any sort of baguette. I suspected – and I was correct – that you needed a couche cloth to make a sourdough baguette and after I got a couche cloth as part of my birthday presents (I’m not a girl who needs an underpaid worker to go into a mine and get me a diamond) I set to work.

The first thing making baguettes taught me is that you really do need to nail your shaping. If you don’t properly prepare the dough for shaping (give it a final knead, then let it rest for about 20 mins before shaping it) it won’t shape so easily and if you don’t shape it properly, it won’t have the surface tension to hold its form. If it can’t hold its form properly then it will be hard to slash and if all those things happen you will get bread that is perfectly lovely and edible. But it won’t look good as it could be.

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My first four baguettes, tasted great but shaping and slashing not great.

IMG_2403Next two. Better but not there yet.

Dan Lepard and the lovely Joanna from Zeb Bakes helped me with shaping and other tips. Joanna linked me to some shaping and slashing videos on line. Dan reminded me to put the bread into the hottest oven possible for the maximum amount of oven spring.

[The shaping video is here and the baguette shaping starts at 2.25. The scoring baguettes video is here.]

Because I really do think a baguette has to be made of white flour, I don’t really attempt to make it too healthy. But I did have, what I thought was a master stroke of genius and (because I just really struggle with adding 100% white flour it seems so unhealthy) I added 50g-ish of rye to my 450g of white flour. Okay so it’s not much but it stops it being made completely from white flour. I say this is a master stroke of genius in this way because after I did this, I read that Dan also recommends doing this to add a bit of nuttiness and flavour to an otherwise white loaf. So, you know, I felt really very clever.

Adding a bit of other flour doesn’t detract from the white-ness but it does add a certain something. I also find that sprinkling both the baking tin with polenta (so that it coats the bottom of the baguette), and the top of the baguette, lends even more certain somethingness.

The other thing to note is that with baguettes, I’ve found I really do need my grignette. So I had to find it in the back of my drawer. The videos I link to above show you how to do the slashes, as they’re quite particular. I can’t use a bread knife slashing baguettes.

Anyway. I’ve now got it so that I wouldn’t say I’ve perfected the art of the baguette, not by any means, but I’ve got it so that I can make a pretty good one which, with some butter and apricot jam and a bowl of caffe latte, makes a pretty perfect breakfast. A bit naughty, without descending into something so bad for you, you want to start slashing at yourself.

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Do look at the videos for shaping and practise. It’s really worth it.

[The recipe I use is Dan’s standard white sourdough recipe from his The Handmade Loaf book, with 50g of rye added to the 450g of white bread flour instead of 500g of white bread flour.]

Bread bakers’ hand scrub

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I often see hand-scrub for gardeners. And yet, I’ve never done any gardening which simple soap and water has not been able to see off.

Bread baking however, is another matter. I make bread about five times a week. Because I use the Dan Lepard method of making sourdough, which involves lots of rests and light kneading, and because sourdough is a high hydration dough, which means it can be a bit sticky, I end up washing my hands a lot. I often go out and realise that I’ve still got dried on bits of dough around my cuticles. I think bakers need handscrubs far more than gardeners, and yet I’ve never seen a bakers’ hand scrub and if there were one, I bet it would smell nauseatingly of fake cinnamon or vanilla. Both wonderful smells but if you want to fill your nostrils with such, you’re better off baking a cake.

This is a great little scrub which you can make with natural ingredients. Don’t make too much in one go, as it’s best fresh (although it keeps for a really long time). It takes off any dried on bits of dough (or anything) really well, and leaves your skin soft, moisturised and clean. If you want to, you can add a few drops of essential oil of your choice.

Also makes a nice present if you’re so inclined.

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You need a clean jar, granulated sugar, olive oil (despite the pic, just use regular not extra virgin), salt and a lemon.

You use one part sugar to one part salt to one part olive oil. So let’s say you use a cup measurement, that would be one cup of sugar to one cup of salt to one cup of olive oil. So two parts dry stuff to one part wet. Then the juice of one lemon. Mix all together, add a few drops of essential oils if you want and that’s it. It will separate out after standing for a while, that’s okay, you dig your hand through the oil and make sure you pick up some of the scrubby salt/sugar. Because I’m so lazy, I often find lemon pips in the mixture. That’s okay.

Couche cloth proving

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A couche cloth is a specialist piece of heavy linen cloth, made especially for the final proving of sourdough bread (couche = ‘laying down to sleep’). I’d wanted one for ages but for some reason never got myself one. Isn’t it weird how there are certain things that are perfectly affordable and yet they are regarded as luxuries and we never buy them for ourselves? The couche cloth came under this category for me, even though it only cost a tenner and I’ve easily wasted ten pounds on loads of other crap.

You can of course use a dish cloth in a bowl for proving sourdough, and lots of people do. But, for me, it’s not really the same as it’s clumsy and the dough can stick to a dishcloth, no matter how dusted with flour. I have umpteen bannetons now – hence why the couche cloth seemed like a luxury. But I sometimes wanted to make sourdough baguettes and rolls, just some different shapes occasionally, and I couldn’t do those in the bannetons, because the shape of the banneton determines the shape of the final loaf. And most bannetons are round or baton shaped. Here is a pic of my sourdough rolls, after they’d been proved in the cloth, and on the flipping board about to be flipped onto the baking tray, to go into the oven.

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Then one day, I was talking to my mother and she told me about how she and my grandmother  used to make bread when she was a girl, and she was telling me all about how they used to lay the shaped dough down in a piece of linen cloth and pinch the cloth up so that the dough held its shape. And I recognised that of course, she was talking about a couche cloth.

Well. Now I knew it was part of my heritage, I knew I had to get one. And with a couche cloth you need a flipping board or planchette. So I put both on my birthday list and I got both. They were bought from the fabulous Bakery Bits.

I got my couche cloth by the metre, going for the 60cm by 1m length, which, weirdly, ends up cheaper (£10.14) than the pre-cut cloth of the same size (£14.40).

I immediately realised that I’d got my couche cloth too big, but that’s no biggie as I cut it in half. The thing with couche cloth proving is that you then either need to keep the dough out for proving or put it in the fridge. And if you put it in the fridge you need to make sure you have a tray big enough to hold your shaped dough AND that, then, your fridge and your oven are big enough to hold the bread when you prove and then cook it. No point making a 3ft long baguette if you then can’t get it into the fridge to prove and then the oven to cook it.

Here are two great videos, that Joanna from Zeb Bakes put me onto, ostensibly to help me with shaping my baguettes (more about baguettes another time). This one shows you a couche cloth in use and this one shows you the flipping board in action.

I dust couche cloths with rice flour. I find it much better than the usually recommended rye flour – my loaves never stick – and also it gives a lovely contrast on the crust of my cooked loaves. And when I’m done, I brush the cloth with a grouting brush which I keep just for that job (being a grouting brush it has stiff bristles). Then I hang them out in the glorious sunshine to dry.