Monday, 30 January 2012

There’s nothing as disappointing as an uncooked muffin

I’ve not baked any bread since last Tuesday. This is starting to feel like a long time. Must be time for another bread then.

I was told about a new cooking series on TV called The Fabulous Baker Brothers. It’d completely passed me by until my friend mentioned it but I caught up with the episodes and decided to try one of their recipes; English muffins with spinach.

So far, unimpressed.

First thing, I got all my ingredients out ready. This included 30g butter and 2 teaspoons sugar (type not specified... helpful...), which went into a saucepan over a low heat for the butter to melt. I then measured out 300ml milk. The recipe specified using a teaspoon of dried yeast, which I replaced for 10g fresh yeast. I also had nutmeg and spinach handy, and weighed 450g strong white bread flour out into a bowl with a large pinch of sea salt.
So, butter melted, the instructions were to add the milk and then to add the yeast. Ok so far, but then the instruction was to add the spinach to allow it to wilt. Problem; spinach won’t wilt in tepid milk and I was a bit dubious about heating the milk past this stage as it already had the yeast in. So instead of wilted spinach, I had essentially salad-ready spinach that had been drenched in milk. This not-quite right mixture got a few shavings of nutmeg added to it and then the whole lot was poured into the dry ingredients. Now, the recipe specified to mix in a freestanding mixer on half speed for 10 minutes. Great... but what if you haven’t got a freestanding mixer? (And just ignore for the moment that I do own one) The suggestion was that the dough needed a lot of kneading, as normally 5 minutes in a mixer is sufficient for a bread dough. But no indication of what the dough should look like when the kneading is over. So I kneaded by hand for a bit past 15 minutes, which resulted in an incredibly elastic and almost gooey dough, before putting the dough aside to rise. And, again, the recipe fell down, succumbing to my pet peeve of not specifying what the dough was meant to look like at the end of this period and instead settling for a time scale of 30 minutes.

It got set aside for 30 minutes, with me grumbling a little. When I returned to it... well, it looked pretty much the same. I dusted my worktop with semolina and turned the dough out, then stretched it into a rectangle about an inch thick. The top got dusted with semolina too and the dough then got cut into rounds. They went into a hot, dry pan and were cooked until browned, flipped over half way through. Ominous sign; little to no spring off the bottom of the pan.

Out of the pan and a little cooling later, I hacked one open. It hadn’t looked promising at any stage of this bake and the results continued the theme. The dough had bubbled and there were air pockets, but the stuff around the air was still dough. The whole batch was completely inedible. It felt like a waste of ingredients, but the best place for them was the food waste bin.

Conclusion? I’m fairly sure I over-worked the dough. I remember thinking at one stage that it had got to a nice, coherent consistency where I would normally stop kneading, but the vagueness of the instructions made me think that it needed quite a lot more working than it did in reality. A warning to all recipe-writers out there; if there’s a hole in your recipe that can lead to disaster, I will find it.

Test? Try again soon, but this time with less kneading.


Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Tanduri Roti

And I thought pizza dough was easy. Today I gave roti a go, and this is probably the simplest bread I’ve ever made. Made all the simpler because it only had 3 ingredients; wholemeal flour, salt and water. No yeast.

Roti is a type of unleavened bread eaten in Punjab (I made it to accompany a curry) and is traditionally cooked in a tandoor oven. No tandoor in my house, but the normal oven and some preheated baking trays seemed to work just fine.

I sieved 250g plain wholemeal flour into a bowl with a pinch of salt and then worked in enough water to bring it into a soft “but not sticky dough”. This stayed in the bowl, was covered with a damp cloth and left to rest for about half an hour while I got on with my curry.

After this resting time, I got the dough out, divided it into 4 and formed each bit into a ball. These balls went back into the bowl, covered again and left to rest for another 10 minutes.

I floured my worktop and rolled out each ball into a circle about ¼ inch thick. Meanwhile, 2 lightly greased baking trays went into the oven while it preheated to 220°C (425°F or gas mark 7). When the oven was ready, the dough circles went onto the baking trays and cooked for about 10 minutes until they’d browned slightly and puffed up.

I think my roti may have puffed up more than they were meant to, but I was still impressed with the results. Having never done an unleavened bread before, I was little worried that they’d be completely solid, but this definitely wasn’t the case and the roti proved a good vehicle for my curry. Definitely one I’ll be doing again.

Simplified recipe
Makes 4
250g plain wholemeal flour
Pinch salt
Water, to bring the dough together

1.       Sift the flour in a bowl and add the salt
2.       Add enough water to bring the flour together into a soft “but not sticky dough”. Leave the dough in the bowl, cover and rest for 30 to 45 minutes
3.       Take the dough and divide it into 4 even pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, place back in the bowl, cover and rest for another 10 minutes
4.       Lightly grease 2 baking trays and place them in the oven, then preheat at 220°C (425°F or gas mark 7)
5.       On a floured worktop, roll each ball of dough out into a circle of around ¼ inch thick
6.       Place the dough discs onto the preheated trays and bake for 8-10 minutes “until they are lightly browned in places and a few bubbles appear” (not quite like mine, which puffed up like pitta breads. May have let them cook a little too long...)
7.       If desired, brush with a little ghee (clarified butter) before serving

A Taste of Punjab, Lali Nayar, Merehurst, 1995

Monday, 23 January 2012

Same dough, another bread: tomato, garlic and basil bread

I had a bit of dilemma when trying to decide what bread I wanted to do this week. Flicking through Richard Bertinet’s Dough, specifically the olive bread section, I think most of them appealed. So, instead of doing 1, I’ve ended up doing 3.

Today, it was tomato, garlic and basil bread. I was drawn in by the colourful picture that accompanied this one and the promise of some punchy flavours. But it did require a bit of leg work.

First, I needed to dry out the tomatoes. I think you could probably use 100g of good sunblushed tomatoes instead, but the recipe came with instructions for drying out your own. A 250g punnet of cherry tomatoes got halved (if you use larger tomatoes, quarter them) and placed on a lightly oiled baking tray. They were sprinkled with salt, pepper, a teaspoon of caster sugar and a generous load of fresh chopped rosemary and thyme. They then went into an oven preheated at 100°C (about 200°F or well under gas mark 1) for about 2 ours until they looked a bit shrivelled. Maybe not as attractive as before, but now with concentrated flavour.

The garlic also needed roasting. I peeled 20 cloves of garlic and preheated the oven at 180°C (350°F or gas mark 4). I then grabbed one of our shiny-new oven-proof saucepans and put 5 tablespoons olive oil, 25g butter and a teaspoon of caster sugar in it. It went on the hob on a random temperature because the book didn’t specify one, only that the butter needed to melt. Butter melted, the garlic cloves went in and were swooshed around in the mixture until coated. The whole thing went in the preheated oven for 25 minutes until the garlic cloves were completely soft. Despite frequently reminding myself not to be an idiot and pick the hot metal handle of the pan up without an oven glove on, I managed it at the final hurdle. So, the garlic cloves cooled in the liquid while my hand went under cold water... Another truly magnificent burn to add to the collection...

The dough was the next step, and that was simple enough as I’d actually remembered all the quantities from last time; 500g strong white bread flour, 20g coarse semolina and 15g fresh yeast (rubbed into the flour), combined with 10g salt, 320g water and 50g olive oil. This was combined with the handle of a wooden spoon (right hand still clutching an ice pack wrapped in a tea towel) until it came together as a dough, which was then turned out onto a clean work surface and worked until smooth and elastic (during which exercise, I perfected the one-handed knead). It went back into a mixing bowl and sat in a warm place for an hour.

Time to combine the ingredients. I turned the dough out onto a well-floured work surface and sprinkled the top with flour, then spread it gently into a large rectangle; the book suggests 25cm by 35cm. Also worth noting that it was positioned like a “landscape” picture... this will become significant later. After the top of this got dimpled with my still-smarting fingers, the tomatoes were spread over and pressed into the rectangle, followed by the garlic and then by a generous handful or basil leaves.

And time to attempt the artistic bit. The dough got folded like a letter, and outside third folded onto the central third, and then the last third folded on top of these to create a smaller rectangle. I pushed it down gently with my fingertips to push the bits of flavour a little further into the dough. The open ends were tucked in to close up the holes. This long rectangle then got cut across into 3 smaller rectangles, and I did a bit more tucking so that the central piece had one open and one closed end. I had 2 lightly-oiled baking trays to hand and the rectangles got transferred to these before being manipulated so that the closed end faced down and the open end faced up, exposing some of those colourful contents. These then got covered and went to rest in a warm place for another half an hour.

10 minutes before needed, the oven went on to preheat at 220°C (425°F or gas mark 7). Once the dough had had its resting time, it went in the oven for 20 minutes until golden. It went onto a cooling wrack and I brushed it with olive oil while it was still warm.
It was a few hours later when I gave the dough its test chomp. I have to say I’m not convinced by using the garlic cloves whole, as the ones in my bread that were left exposed got a little bit cremated. On the plus side, the tomatoes and basil added little pockets of flavour and texture and the bread itself was soft and moist. If I was to make it again, I think I’d try a different approach with the garlic.

Simplified recipe
For the tomatoes
250g tomatoes (cherry tomatoes halved, larger tomatoes quartered)
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon caster sugar
Fresh rosemary and thyme, chopped (or herb de Provence)
Olive oil, for greasing
1.       Preheat an oven at 100°C (about 200°F or well under gas mark 1)
2.       Lightly grease a baking tray
3.       Arrange the tomatoes on the tray, skin side down, and sprinkle with the salt, pepper, sugar and herbs
4.       Bake in the oven for around 2 hours until dried

For the roasted garlic
20 cloves garlic, peeled
5 tablespoons olive oil
25g butter
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1.       Preheat the oven at 180°C (350°F or gas mark 4)
2.       Put the olive oil, butter and sugar in an oven-proof pan or dish and heat this on the hob until the butter has melted
3.       Put the garlic gloves into the pan and coat with the oil and butter, then place the whole thing in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the garlic is soft throughout
4.       Allow the garlic to cool in the cooking liquid
5.       Remove from the pan and place on kitchen paper to remove the excess oil

To make tomato, garlic and basil bread
1 quantity olive bread dough (see, rested in a warm place for 1 hour
100g dried tomatoes
20 cloves roasted garlic
A generous handful of basil leaves
1.       Carefully turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Lightly flour the top of the dough and then use your fingertips to push it into a rectangle about 35cm by 25cm. It should be positioned like a landscape painting in relation to where you’re stood
2.       Place the tomatoes across the rectangle and gently push them into the dough. Do the same with the garlic and the basil leaves.
3.       Imagine that the rectangle is split into 3 columns. Fold one of the outer columns into the centre, then fold the other outer column on top of these other two
4.       Gently push the dough down with your fingers to work together the dough and other ingredients. Tuck in the two open ends
5.       Cut the dough horizontally to make 3 small rectangles. Tuck in the end of the central rectangle so that you have 3 pieces of dough with one open end each
6.       Lightly oil a baking tray (you might need 2) and place the dough on the tray with the closed end down and the open end facing up. It’ll take a bit of gentle manipulation to get it to sit with this open end properly facing up
7.       Cover the dough and leave it to rest for 30 minutes
8.       Preheat your oven to 220°C (425°F or gas mark 7)
9.       Once the dough has rested, place it in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown
10.   Brush with olive oil while still warm, then leave to cool completely

Dough, Richard Bertinet, Kyle Books, 2005

Saturday, 21 January 2012

One dough, two breads: soup bowls and flatbreads

I’m currently experiencing a rare occurrence in my life; a weekend off. So, what better to do with my free time than to make bread?... Well, maybe a few things, but making bread sounds good to me.

I returned to Richard Bertinet’s Dough for my bakes this weekend. The book provides an innovative approach to bread making by giving you 5 basic doughs that can be transformed into a much bigger variety of breads. I tried the basic white dough last time. This time, it’s olive bread...

... Which isn’t actually that different to white bread. It includes 500g strong white bread flour, 15g fresh yeast and, for a little extra texture, 20g coarse semolina. I crumbled the yeast in with my fingers and into this went 10g salt, 50g olive oil (the recipe asked for extra-virgin: I did half and half, for economy’s sake) and 320g water. Everything was combined in the bowl and turned out on a clean, dry work surface to be worked. Last time I made a bread from Bertinet’s book, I used his method of working the dough, lots of slapping it down on the work surface, pulling and folding. I got a little exasperated this time round because, initially, the dough wouldn’t stick to the work surface so couldn’t be pulled and folded properly. I gave up and worked it as I normally would, arm workout and all, but I personally don’t mind using that method. Once it was smooth and elastic, it went into a floured bowl and rested in a warm spot for 30 minutes. No doubling in size for the breads that I was doing; neither needed to be light or airy.

I turned the dough out onto a very well-floured surface and cut it in half. And here, their paths went very different ways.

The first half then got cut into 4. I formed each piece into a ball and then rolled it out until about ½ cm thick. I’d already prepped 4 oven-proof bowls by oiling them on the outside, so the dough got draped and formed over the upturned bowl. When all 4 were done, the dough rested for 10 minutes and I preheated the oven to 200°C (400°F or gas mark 6). The bowls went in for about 25 minutes until golden brown (best to check after 20 minutes though). When they came out of the oven, they cooled for about 5 minutes before I carefully teased them off the bowls with a round-bladed knife. Et voila! Soup bowls! (Warning; probably won't support hot soup for the entire length of time it takes to eat it. Would recommend using an actual bowl too...)

The other half of the dough got split into 2 pieces and each piece went onto a non-stick tray (about 20cm by 30cm) that had been lightly oiled. I pushed the dough out with my fingers to partially fill the tray. When it had stretched about as far as it wanted to, it got rested for about 20 minutes and then pushed out again. I have to admit, I slightly messed one up by trying to readjust it too much on the tray (push the dough out too thin, or make the single piece uneven, and it will either cook unevenly or just generally too fast). I put it aside before I could mess it up any more and let the dough sit for another 10 minutes while the oven preheated to 220°C (425°F or gas mark 7). I sprinkled salt on top before cooking the dough for 8-10 minutes, or just colouring. It came out before browning too much because this bread is meant to stay flexible. Voila; flatbreads!

An afternoon off well spent, I’d say.

Simplified recipe

The Dough (makes 4 flatbreads or 8 soup bowls... or half of each, if you do both at the same time, as I did)
500g strong white bread flour
20g coarse semolina
15g fresh yeast
10g salt
320g water
50g olive oil (extra-virgin, if you’re feeling plush)

1.       Place the flour, semolina and yeast in a bowl and rub the yeast into the flour using your fingertips
2.       Add the salt, water and olive oil and bring the dough together
3.       Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and work using your preferred method until smooth and elastic
4.       Place in a lightly-floured bowl and rest in a warm place for 30 minutes

To make soup bowls
1.       Lightly oil the outside of 8 oven-proof bowls (around 12cm in diameter)
2.       Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and divide into 8 pieces
3.       Shape each piece into a ball
4.       Roll out the dough into a circle
5.       Drape each circle over a bowl and gently shape it to the bowl
6.       Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 200°C (400°F or gas mark 6)
7.       Bake the soup bowls for 20-25 minutes until golden brown
8.       Allow to cool for 5 minutes before gently teasing the bowls off their moulds with a round-bladed knife. Allow to cool on a wire wrack
9.       To serve, warm the bowls in an oven preheated at 180°C (350°F or gas mark 4) for 3 minutes

To make flatbreads
1.       Lightly oil 4 20cm by 30cm baking trays
2.       Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and divide into 4
3.       Place each piece on a baking tray and use your fingers to push the dough and spread it over the tray
4.       Rest the dough for 15-20 minutes
5.       Use your fingers to push the dough again. You should be able to stretch it to fill the tray but try to do this evenly
6.       Rest the dough for another 10 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F or gas mark 7)
7.       Bake the dough until just beginning to colour. To turn it into bread crisps suitable for dipping, bake for 15-18 minutes until... well, crisp

Dough, Richard Bertinet, Kyle Books, 2005

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Pizza dough

Just a quickie this time. I was heading over to my friend's house for an evening of nattering and pizza. As we weren't eating until late, I decided to distract myself by making the dough myself.

Please excuse how blurred the picture is.
I just really wanted to eat...
I've done pizza dough before and it's one that I had pretty good results with even before starting college. Mostly because it's probably the easiest bread dough you can make. There were only 2 of us so 250g strong white bread flour went in a bowl with 7g fresh yeast (rubbed into the flour) and 1/2 teaspoon salt. 150ml lukewarm water and 1/2 tablespoon olive oil then went in the bowl and I brought it together into a dough, although it did need a bit of additional water to get it to the sticky stage that it need to be at. It then got kneaded for 10 minutes until silky smooth and elastic. I needed to travel with it and it was pretty small anyway, so I plopped it into my measuring jug and left it snuggled up to my wheat bag to double in size. This also involved a brief stint in my very cold car and another one with the warm wheat bag in the confined space of my friend's microwave (turned off, of course). Once doubled in size, I knocked it back and divided it into 2. Each piece got pushed, pulled and prodded to the desired shape. We'd decided to go with calzone rather than a straight pizza, so the filling was loaded on one half of the dough before the other side was folded over and the edge pinched together. They sat and waited while the oven preheated to the hottest temperature that it would do and then each little semi-circle got blasted for 10 minutes until beginning to brown. 

The verdict; much tastier than getting a takeaway.

Simplified recipe
Makes 2 pizzas
250g strong white bread flour
7g fresh yeast (or half a sachet of fast-action yeast)
1/2 teaspoon salt
150ml lukewarm water
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
Topping of your choice


  1. Put the flour, yeast and salt in a mixing bowl. If using fresh yeast, rub this into the flour with your fingertips. Do not put the salt straight in next to the yeast as this may kill the yeast
  2. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the water and olive oil. Mix until it comes together as a sticky dough; you may need slightly more water or flour to achieve the correct consistency
  3. Turn out on to a worktop (I left it un-floured but you can lightly flour it if you feel more comfortable kneading this way) and knead for 10 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and elastic
  4. Place in a bowl and cover loosely. Leave to prove in a warm place until doubled in size
  5. Once proved, turn the dough out onto a work surface (lightly floured or oiled) and knocked back lightly
  6. Divide the dough into 2 and form each piece into the desired shape of pizza
  7. Add your toppings of choice
  8. Preheat the oven to the hottest temperature available (and, if possible, with the baking trays in that are going to take the pizzas). While the oven is preheating, let the pizza dough rise slightly again
  9. Put the pizzas in the oven (if you've preheated your baking trays, slide them onto these. If you're less confident with that technique, like me, your pizza will already be on an oiled baking tray) and cook for 10 minutes or until the base begins to brown
  10. Serve immediately
The Great British Bake Off: How to Bake, Linda Collister, BBC Books, 2011


There’s one lesson that all enthusiastic cooks should learn early. It’s also one that I should have learned years ago. But it’s one that I didn’t pay enough heed to at the start of the day. That lesson? Always make sure you have the right ingredients ready to hand. Especially if you’re planning on making something that can take up to 10 hours to prove...

So, I got up on a Sunday morning, happy with the thought that I had the day off work and would finally have time to make the panettone that I’d been intending to make for about 3 weeks. I leisurely came downstairs and flicked through the relevant recipe book to see where I needed to start. Cue the “oh pants” moment. The first step required 2 eggs. I had 1. It was 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning; no shops would be open until 11 and my local shops are notoriously bad with their egg stocking. Uh oh.

So, my best laid plans were kinda scuppered. No early start for panettone making; it wasn’t until about 11.40 that I managed to get hold of my second egg. More flicking through the recipe... increased eye-widening and raising of eyebrows as I spotted not 1, not 2, but 4 different development stages involving 1 hour plus waiting. Oh well; I didn’t want an early night anyway.

When I finally got all my ingredients ready, things went as follows. 125g strong white bread flour went into a large mixing bowl and got mixed with 75g caster sugar. I made a well in the middle and in said well went 2 roughly-beaten eggs and 3 tablespoons lukewarm water containing 15g fresh yeast. This all got mixed together into a “thick, smooth batter”. I sprinkled flour on top to stop too much of a film forming on top and left the mix to develop plenty of bubbles.

Beware; don’t do what I did and add the lukewarm water to 2 cold eggs. They were meant to be room temperature but they’d got a bit cold in the frost outside. The result was that the temperature of the mix dropped and 2 hours rather than 1 for lots of bubbles to develop.

It got there eventually. Time for the next lot of ingredients. I combined 2 egg yolks, ½ teaspoon vanilla extract and the finely-grated zests of 1 lemon and 1 orange and this then got combined with the batter by hand. I then gradually worked in 175g strong white bread flour and ½ teaspoon salt. The aim was a “soft and very sticky dough”. It was soft and sticky, but not quite as sticky as I thought it needed to be for the next step (you’ll get what I mean soon), so I added a touch more water before proceeding.

Because the next step involved butter. Lots of butter. 175g of the unsalted stuff had been softening at room temperature and was now cubed and added to the dough. The recipe described what was needed for the next step fairly astutely, but I can tell you now that it wasn’t refined or elegant. The butter had to be incorporated into the dough; the most effective method was to squeeze it “through your fingers” until all the streaks were gone (thus the need for quite a sticky dough). Memories of playing with mud came flooding back...

The eventually streak-free dough got turned out onto a work surface that had bee floured with some of the rest of the flour that needed incorporating; 100g if we’re being precise, although the recipe did say that more or less either side might be needed so as to achieve the right consistency. I kneaded for 10 minutes until I had a “satiny soft and very pliable, but not sticky” dough. It went into a clean bowl to double in size but it had to be without too much encouragement as the butter could melt if the dough got too warm. It was going to be an anxious 2-2 ½ hour wait.

I have to admit that I got a little impatient and decided to encourage the dough by making the environment just a little warmer. I think this showed when I came to the doubled-in-size dough because it had a bit of a yellowy stickiness to it... definitely butter, unless the water from our tap is doing funny things these days. But it wasn’t horrendously sticky, so I thought I’d got away with it. I punched the dough down to knock the air out of the pockets that had formed, then covered it up to double in size again. With butter on my mind, I resisted the temptation to encourage the dough again.

I distracted myself with some of the other prep that needed doing. Chopping up chocolate is always a good distraction. 50g of it needed chopping and got put in a bowl with 75g sultanas and 50g candied peel, all of which got tossed in a teaspoon of flour to remove the outside stickiness and stop it clumping together. I also had the fun *note sarcasm* of lining my special 15cm cake tin. It needed a double layer of greaseproof paper on both the bottom and the sides, and the sides needed to extend 5cm above the side of the tin because the panettone needs plenty of room to grow upwards. You know the lining of a tin has gotten serious when you need to break out a tape measure.

The proving time ended... no encouragement needed this time... and I turned the dough onto a lightly-floured worktop and spread it out into a rectangle. The instructions were to “sprinkle” the sultanas, mixed peel and chocolate onto the dough and to “gently” fold it in. This didn’t quite happen in reality. Far too much of the stuff to “sprinkle” it and, although I tried to be gentle, its sheer volume also meant that it took quite a lot of work to incorporate it, and even then I don’t think I managed it very evenly. I wasn’t particularly pleased with that step but I carried on anyway by shaping the dough into a ball and placing it gently in the lined tin. I used the tip of a sharp knife to make a cross in the top... although I think I did it a tad too deep. The hole then got loosely covered with cling film for the dough to double in size. Again. You’re beginning to see why I needed to start this earlier in the day. Especially as I was managing to do every step just slightly wrong.
Close to the end of proving, I preheated the oven to 200°C and got 25g of butter melted with another knob of butter weighing 15g to hand. I brushed the top of the loaf (the cross pretty much beyond recognition by this stage) with half the melted butter and put the 15g in the middle of the cross. It went in the oven for 10 minutes to colour up slightly... just enough time for me to get into the latest episode of Sherlock to then be dragged away again. The oven got turned down to 180°C , the rest of the melted butter went on top (and some of it leaked out of the tin onto the kitchen floor...) and it went back in the oven for 40 minutes... well timed for the end of the episode of Sherlock.
Taking pictures of bread at 6 in the
morning is a funny thing to be doing...

When it came out of the oven, it was a little browner than it was meant to be. It cooled in the tin on a wire wrack for 10 minutes before I gently eased it out of the tin. Definitely no opportunity to snaffle bit of the loaf that day because it was already past my bed time. It got to cool completely, but not on the wrack it went into a cloth bag and hung from a cupboard door handle to cool overnight.

So panettone for breakfast next morning was the obvious choice. As I thought, I’d overbaked it slightly and it had a bit of a thicker, more coloured crust than it was meant to. I was also right in thinking that I hadn’t distributed the sweet bits particularly well because they were a bit few and far between, except in the odd slice that had loads. The overall texture was quite airy and light, so it hadn’t completely fallen down on all points, but I’d already known that my execution on this one hadn’t been stunning. It’s one that I’ll probably try doing again; must try harder next time.

Simplified recipe
400g strong white bread flour
75g caster sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature, broken up
3 tablespoons lukewarm water
15g fresh yeast
2 egg yolks at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
½ teaspoon salt
175g unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into small cubes
75g sultanas
50g candied peel
50g dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
40g butter, to finish
You will also need a 15cm cake tin or panettone mould. The recipe book also suggests using a coffee tin or catering-size baked bean tin if you don’t have anything of this size

1.       Combine 125g of the flour and all of the sugar in a mixing bowl and make a well in the centre
2.       Crumble the fresh yeast into the lukewarm water
3.       Pour the water/yeast and the whole eggs into the well in the dry mix. Combine the contents of the bowl until they form a smooth batter without lumps. Leave for 1 hour until “very bubbly”
4.       Combine the egg yolks, vanilla extract and orange and lemon zest and mix into the batter
5.       Gradually work around 175g of the flour into the batter until it forms a “soft and very sticky dough”
6.       Add the cubed butter to the dough and work it in by squeezing it and the dough through your fingers until there are no streaks
7.       Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. The dough now needs to be worked while the rest of the weighed flour is also gradually incorporated into the dough. Work the dough until it becomes “satiny soft and very pliable, but not sticky” so you may need more or less flour than you have weighed out
8.       Place the dough in a clean mixing bowl and cover. Leave to prove at room temperature so as not to melt the butter. Prove until doubled in size; 2-2 ½ hours
9.       Once proved, uncover the dough and “punch down” to knock out the air. Cover it again and leave the double in size for a second time (around 1-1 ½ hours)
10.   Put the sultanas, candied peel and chocolate in a bowl and add a teaspoon of flour. Toss the mix to coat the stuff in flour and remove any clumped bits
11.   Line the tin for the panettone. If you can get one, this is done most easily with a panettone liner. If you can’t, put a double layer of greaseproof paper on both the base and the sides of the tin. The paper up the sides needs to rise 5cm higher than the sides of the tin
12.   Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down again and turn it onto a flour work surface. Do your best to gently spread it out, then sprinkle the mixed fruit and chocolate on top of the dough and gently knead it in until evenly distributed
13.   Shape the dough into a ball and carefully place it in the lined tin. Use the tip of a sharp knife to cut a shallow X into the top of the dough. Loosely cover the hole with cling film and leave the dough to double in size again; around another 1-1 ½ hours
14.   Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F or gas mark 6)
15.   Melt 25g of the butter “to finish” and carefully brush the top of the loaf with half of this. Place the remaining 15g of butter in the middle of the cross
16.   Put the panettone in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, until it just starts to colour. Turn the oven down to 180°C (350°F or gas mark 4) and baste the top of the loaf with the remaining butter. Cook for a further 40 minutes until the loaf is a deep golden brown and a skewer or thin, sharp knife inserted in the middle comes out clean
17.   Allow the panettone to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, which will allow the crust to firm up slightly. Remove it carefully from the tin, remove the greaseproof paper and lay it on its side to cool completely. Alternatively, hang it in a clean string or cloth bag; this helps distribute the weight more around the delicate crust

The Great British Bake Off: How to Bake, Linda Collister, BBC Books, 2011

Saturday, 14 January 2012

White sour dough

I “returned to the water” with this bake. My last attempt with my sour dough starter failed miserably. I partly put this down to getting ahead of myself, so I returned to the recipe book that I’d got the sweet rye bread from (The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard) and instead turned to the first recipe in the book.

Another non-pretty loaf.
Good looks are overrated
The first recipe was a simple white bread made using a sour dough starter fed with white flour. My starter was still a bit overpopulated with rye flour after the previous recipe, so I fed it for a few days with just white flour.

The baking day arrived. Breads made with a starter take a fairly long time to prove so I started early in the day. First step; combining the ingredients. Out came my large mixing bowl and in it went 200g of the starter and “325g cold water at 16°C” (luckily, the temperature it came out of the tap at). These got whisked together. Next, 500g strong white flour and 1 ½ teaspoon salt went in. Time to get messy, as this required mixing by hand. When it had all come together as a dough, I cleaned myself off, covered the bowl and let it sit for 10 minutes.

10 minutes up, the dough came out of the bowl onto an oiled worktop for its first knead. Dan Lepard is known for his low-intensity kneading method, so rather than a 10 minute arm workout, I kneaded the dough 12 times (10-15 seconds), shaped it into a ball and put it back in a cleaned mixing bowl that had been oiled lightly (covered, of course). Another 10 minutes later, it got a similar kneading, then went back into the bowl, this time for 30 minutes... and this was pretty much the stage where I had to re-read the recipe book about 5 times before each step just to check that I was up to the right one. It had another knead, then rest for 1 hour... another knead, another hour rest... another knead, and then 2 hours rest...

A bit of variation with the next step. The mix got halved this time and formed into 2 balls, which sat on the oiled worktop for 15 minutes while I rubbed flour into 2 tea towels which were then used to line two 20cm bowls. After the 15 minutes was up, I put the dough balls seam-side up in the bowls, covered them with oiled cling film and... yep, more waiting, this time around 4 ½ hours, until doubled in height.

The hours past and the dough puffed up nicely. I preheated the oven to 220°. Time to get the balls of dough turned out of the bowls. First attempt; place the baking tray over the bowl then flip the whole thing over. Result?... none. The dough was stuck to the tea towel. Should have seen that one coming. And it was stuck firm with both balls, so there was no chance of salvaging either in that shape. In a sort-of desperation, I scraped them off the tea towels as best I could and gently put all the dough back together again; not difficult, but it was still incredibly soft. I quickly oiled my loaf tin and plopped... yep, literally plopped... the whole lot in. And now the indecision; did I need to leave the dough to prove again because I’d essentially knocked it back with all this man-handling, or did I just shove it in the oven and cross my fingers because it was already about 7 o’clock?
I shoved it in the oven and crossed my fingers, fully prepared for another disaster.
The loaf came out of the oven after about an hour. There were a few positive signs; it had risen while in the oven and clearly gave off a hollow sound when tapped. I left it to cool and distracted myself in what I’ve found is the best way for me; a walk, far away from the bread that needs to cool.

I came back with an appetite, but with the belief that I’d probably have to defrost a bagel. I’d clearly not manhandled the dough too much after the tea towel disaster though because the slice of bread that I cut was laced with air pockets, was moist and flexible. Pretty damn edible, even if I do say so myself.

Although this bread had turned out alright, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m missing something when it comes to making breads with leavens. Am I feeding my leaven with too much water? Is that why the dough was still so sticky? Or is it down to the flour that I’m using? Or was it just that I hadn’t floured the tea towels enough? The latter point wouldn’t account for why the sweet rye bread didn’t work but the former ones would.
After taking in a sample for one of my tutors at college, it turns out that he sometimes bakes with natural leavens at home too. I may be asking him for some tips in future.

The Handmade Loaf, Dan Lepard, Mitchell Beazley, 2004

Tuesday, 10 January 2012


I’ve been sat tapping my foot for a while now, waiting for a 15cm cake tin to arrive for me to use for panettone. It sort of made it to the house yesterday. It’s just a shame that no one was in to receive it, so it went back to the Post Office depot. A little frustrating so in the meantime I decided to make bagels.

I’ve made bagels, and using the recipe that I’m about to describe, before, but I thought it was about time to give them another go, partly inspired by one of my new friends on Twitter. This bagel recipe comes courtesy of the Hairy Bikers. As much as I like their cooking, this descriptions in this recipe were a tad unhelpful and were partly responsible for the major texture differences between my first and second attempts.

These bagels start with 500g strong white bread flour in a large mixing bowl, together with 2 teaspoons dried yeast (which I used first time round; this time, I crumbled in 20g fresh yeast), 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon clear honey and 1 beaten egg, which all got mixed together. I added 300ml warm water and worked it until it came together into a fairly sticky dough. I turned it out and worked it until the mixture was smooth and the lumps had gone, then put it into a mixing bowl to prove.

So, what was unhelpful about the method for this recipe? As I’ve made more bread, I’ve come to realise that knowing how much the dough needs to prove rather than knowing how long it needs to prove is really important. There are several things that will affect how fast dough will prove; the type of leaven you use, the activeness of the yeast, the temperature in the room where it’s proving, etc. So to me a recipe saying to put the dough aside to prove “for at least an hour” seems to lack a bit of key information. The first time I made the bagels, I left the dough for an hour, but I was using fast action yeast and that stuff seems to dislike my house. This time, using fresh yeast, I decided to leave the dough until doubled in size.

For the next step, I turned the dough out onto a floured worktop (quite well floured as it was a sticky dough) and cut it into 12 pieces. I formed each piece into a ball and then made a whole in the middle with my finger and then pulled it out to make quite a big whole (the dough tends to fight against being pulled into shape and the whole will get smaller while the dough proves for a second time). As far as I know, this isn’t the traditional method of shaping, which I think instead involves forming the dough into a long sausage shape before rolling the ends together to form a ring. But I followed the Hair Bikers’ instructions... this time round. They went onto floured baking trays for their second prove. The recipe specified a prove of “45-50 minutes”... so instead I let them double in size again.

Towards the end of proving, I preheated the oven to 230°C (gas mark 8) and got a big pan of boiling water ready.

Time to make the bagels into bagels! This bread gets its distinct texture from being boiled before being baked, so I boiled the bagels for 1-2 minutes and turned them over halfway through. When they came out of the water, they got dipped in sesame seeds. They went onto baking trays (my amazing non-stick ones that require no greasing... may want to add in that step if yours aren’t quite so non-stick) and then into the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes until golden on top.

My finished bagels looked... hmm... okay. They were a bit misshapen; the dough was still fairly soft after the second proving and I accidentally pulled some of them slightly out of shape when placing them in the water. And the sesame seeds wanted to fall off more than they wanted to stick. But the texture was right; chewy but soft and with a crunchy crust. The aeration inside was also completely different to the first time I’d made them; they’d clearly proved better this time round because the bubbles were open and irregular rather than tightly packed like last time. Overall, not bad, but not nearly as aesthetically pleasing as those made by my friend on twitter. More attempts needed methinks. And maybe with a different recipe.

The Hairy Bikers’ 12 Days of Christmas, Si King and Dave Myers, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2010

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Rustic loaves

I’m continuing to work my way through my newest baking book, The Great British Bake Off: How to Bake. Today... and sort of yesterday, I’m making “rustic” brown bread.

This had to be started yesterday because this bread uses what I think is called the “sponge” method. This is where a dough is made using yeast and allowed to develop over the period of a few hours (somewhere between around 6 and 12 hours). This method bears some similarities to using a sourdough starter because this extended period of fermentation allows flavours to develop. But it’s obviously not quite the same because fresh yeast is used rather than bacteria generated naturally.

So, last night I weighed out 250g of strong wholemeal bread flour (the recipe actually specified “strong wholegrain seeded bread flour, or spelt flour”, but I didn’t have either of these and reasoned that the wholemeal I had would do fine). I measured out 200ml of water, at room temperature, and combined this with 5g fresh yeast. The water/yeast mix went into the flour and the whole lot was combined and worked roughly for about 3 minutes into a thick, sticky but slightly elastic dough. I covered it with a tea towel and left it to “do its thing” overnight.

When I came back to the dough in the morning, it was bubbly, had risen and had spread around the bowl so that it did actually look a little like a sourdough starter. I left this while I got on with the other bit of the dough. Another 250g of strong wholemeal bread flour went into another mixing bowl and was combined with 300ml lukewarm water which had 15g fresh yeast stirred into it. You can probably guess from that sort of ratio of flour to water that the mix was pretty sloppy but it still needed working for about 5 minutes until elastic. It then got covered and rested until doubled in size.

This is another occasion when I’m going to start coming across as a bit of a bumbling idiot who can’t read instructions properly, because I’d missed the little section in the recipe that told you to add the overnight batter to this fresh one. I was actually meant to do it before the resting period. I didn’t and had to add it afterwards. Luckily enough, this didn’t seem to adversely affect the texture of the finished loaves...
This was however the right point at which to add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 teaspoons salt. I then got another 250g strong wholemeal flour to hand and gradually started to work this in until a “soft but not sticky dough” formed. Out this got turned onto the table for 5 minutes of kneading by hand. Towards the end of said kneading, I worked 65g poppy seeds, 65g sesame seeds and 65g sunflower seeds into the dough. Once if was firm but pliable it got returned to the bowl and covered for another doubling in size.

Despite the fact that I personally felt rather cold, the dough clearly didn’t think the house was that cold because it didn’t take any encouragement to get it to double in size. Once it had got to that point, I scraped it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured work top, cut it in half and shaped it into 2 batons. Contrary to the book instructions, I used the method that we’d been taught at college. I gently flattened the dough into a rectangle, folded one third into the middle, folded the opposite third into the middle, lightly flattened again and did one more fold. This is all in the cause of generating a “spine” in the bread so that it holds its shape and doesn’t split open where you don’t want it to. These batons then got placed onto pieces of baking parchment and rested for another 30 minutes.

10 minutes before baking time, the oven got preheated at 230°C (450°F or gas mark 8) with 3 baking trays in; 2 to take the bread and one on the bottom of the oven to take some water. The loaves went into the oven, on their pieces of baking parchment and along with a cup of water in the bottom baking tray. The idea of preheating the trays is to generate immediate heat and therefore rise as the loaves go in the oven, and the water is there to create steam, which forms a damp layer on the outside of the bread, slowing the development of a crust and therefore giving it more time to rise. Or that’s the theory. The loaves got slashed and then baked for 30 minutes until golden and they gave off a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom. They went on to a cooling wrack and I vacated the house while they cooled to stop me cutting in straight away.

A little while later, I was back home and hungry. After a bit of loaf fondling to check if they were cool, I hacked into one and had a gander at the interior. I was a it worried when I started because the last few loaves I’ve done just using wholemeal flour have turned out like rocks. Clearly my technique and understanding has improved since then because this bread, while with a fairly fine texture of air bubbles, was still soft and fairly fluffy. I couldn’t taste any noticeable flavour from the overnight dough, but that might have been because the nutty flavours from the sesame, poppy and sunflower seeds was quite intense. Overall, a flavoursome and pleasingly textured loaf... and it was nice to be making a healthy one filled with fibre too.

Next? Sit and tap my foot while I wait for the tin for my panetonne to turn up.

The Great British Bake Off: How to Bake, Linda Collister, BBC Books, 2011

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Monkey bread with green pesto

Christmas has been and gone and it was inevitable that I’d get at least one recipe book. This year it was The Great British Bake Off; How to Bake written by Linda Collister. The book, like the TV competition that it is based on and named after, has a section on bread and there were several that caught my eye. The first one I’ve given a go is called “Monkey bread”, which I made with a little variation of my own (although I haven’t decided yet whether this variation was misguided or not).

I started the bread as you start many breads; flour and salt. 500g of strong white bread flour, to be precise, and 1 ½ teaspoons of sea salt. Just to generate plenty of washing up, there was a pan on the hob in which 50g of butter was melting, while I was using a measuring jug to measure 200ml of milk, which I then got to “tepid” by giving it a zap in the microwave. I crumbled 20g fresh yeast into the milk... Ok, I forgot this slight variation. The recipe said 7g fast action yeast or 15g fresh yeast. But I recently discovered that you can freeze fresh yeast (makes sense; bacteria and suchlike go dormant but aren’t killed in the freezer) so I got a load and froze it in handy 10g pieces. Not quite as handy when you need 15g, but 5g over of the yeast won’t do your dough much harm. It will probably just rise faster... in fact, using more yeast than completely necessary is one of the ways that industrial bakers get their bread to prove so fast. It also means that the bread has slightly less flavour because it took less time to develop.

Rant over, back to the bread. I made a well in the dry ingredients. I added the butter to the milk and stirred in, then added one beaten egg. This all got poured into the well in the dry ingredients and all of this was stirred together. It took a few extra blobs of milk to get it to form a soft dough and I kept some to hand for the next step. I turned the dough out onto a work surface. I didn’t bother flouring it; I don’t get that worried about the dough sticking to the table any more. I’ve found the last few times that I’ve baked at the dough coming clean away from the work surface is a good indication that it’s either too dry or has become elastic and smooth enough to stop kneading. Aaanyway, I kneaded until the dough was exactly that; elastic and smooth, which took 10-15 minutes. It then went in a bowl to prove for an hour while I got on with dinner.

The extra 5g of yeast meant that it proved a little faster than I was expecting. So much so that I had to dart between cooking dinner and getting the dough ready for the next step. Once the dough had doubled in size, I turned it onto a lightly-floured worktop and “knocked it back” by kneading gently for about 30 seconds. I cut the dough into 60 pieces, ready to be rolled into balls and placed in a loaf tin. And remembered that I’d forgotten to grease the loaf tin. This is where the flavour variations start. The original recipe suggests that you coat the balls of dough with muscavado sugar, cinnamon and pecans or walnuts, or with cheese, and that you grease the tin with butter. I went for olive oil be because, in my moment of “I think I’m clever”ness, I decided that it would taste nice with pesto. So, tin greased, I started arranging them in the tin and brushed the balls lightly with pesto before adding more. I used up all the dough and tried to get the top roughly even, then covered the loaf tin and left the dough to double in size again.

About ten minutes before the loaf was ready to bake, I put the oven on to preheat to 200°C (400°F or gas mark 6). Just before it went in, I drizzled it with a little more olive oil. It went in for 35 minutes... after about 10 it looked like it wanted to climb out of the tin, so I’d clearly got a good rise on it! The usual test was made when it came out; does it sound hollow? Yep, it sounded good and empty, so it went on a cooling wrack and cooled.
When I cut into it, I was kinda expecting to see vivid green stripes where the dough balls had met and sandwiched in the pesto. Turns out that I should have used more pesto to achieve this effect because the green was only very subtle. I’d also been wondering about the wisdom of these pairing; a dough enriched with butter, milk and egg then flavoured with basil, nuts, cheese and olive oil. It didn’t taste bad, per se; like the colour, the pesto flavour was very subtle. But the firm texture and mildly buttery flavour of the actual bread probably would have worked better with the flavours that it was originally suggested to go with. Probably a self-explanatory point, but I do get the urge to mess with recipes from time to time.

Next breads planned; wholemeal bread using the sponge method, and panetonne... I don’t care if it’s not Christmas any more; I still want to try making it.

The Great British Bake Off: How to Bake, Linda Collister, BBC Books, 2011