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Archive for the ‘bread-baking’ Category

Back to bread baking… I think early autumn is a perfect time to experiment on different recipes for loaves. Simple to make, can be tackled between nappy changing and feeding the baby… and yet so wonderful when in need of something straightforward which can make the kitchen- and the whole home- smell heavenly. So I thought I’d take my first tiny steps in cooking again & achieving my goals by starting with goal 191, which involves bread baking. Not at all originally for me, this loaf comes from one of Nigella Lawson’s cookbooks (‘How to be a domestic goddess’). Nigella calls it ‘the essential white loaf’ and it is indeed a perfect, simple white loaf. The only one you’ll need to have on your repertoire, come to think of it.

The essential white loaf (from Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a domestic goddess’)

Ingredients:

* 500 gr strong white bread flour, plus more for kneading
* 7 g (1 sachet) easy-blend yeast or 15g fresh yeast
* 1 Tablespoon salt
* approximately 300 ml warm tap or potato water [head notes suggest that you can also mix 1 scant Tablespoon instant mashed potatoes with ordinary warm water, but I haven’t tried this]
* 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
* to make this, use 1 baking sheet or 500gr loaf tin

Method:

* Put the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl and pour in 200ml of the water, mixing as you do so with a wooden spoon or your hands. Be prepared to add more water, but bear in mind that you want to end up with a shaggy mess
* Add the butter, and mix that in
* Now, either start kneading, or if you’ve got a free-standing mixer, put in the dough hook and let it do the work
* Form the dough into a ball and put into a large oiled bowl, turning once so the top of hte dough is greased
* Cover with clingfilm and put into a cold place or the fridge overnight, or in a warm place for an hour or two
* If you’re giving the bread a short warm rise, then just keep an eye on it; it’s ready when it’s more or less doubled in size. If you’ve given it a long cold rise, remove the dough from its cold storage–the next morning, later on in the day, whenever–and, if it’s doubled in size, punch it down. If it doesn’t look risen much, leave the bowl out at room temperature for a while and then proceed as above
* Preheat the oven to 220 C/ gas mark 7 and then after kneading the dough for a scant minute, form it into a round loaf shape and sit it on the baking sheet (or in the loaf pan) covered loosely with clingfilm or a tea towel and leave for 30 min or until puffy and again almost doubled in size
* Just before you put it in the oven, remove the towel or plastic and dust with flour
* Bake for 35 min or until cooked through; the way to check is to lift up the loaf or remove it from its pan and knock with your knuckles on the underside: if it makes a hollow noise, it is cooked; if not, put back in the oven for a few minutes. Put on rack to cool, then enjoy.


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OK, these may not be the best pictures… but they’re just to give you an idea of what happened a few days ago. As part of my bread-baking once a week goal (191) I decided to make a basic sandwich loaf last week, i.e. a simple white loaf which includes some butter in the dough, making it softer & more suitable for sandwiches.

I used a recipe I’ve followed many times, always leading to wonderful, tasty, well-risen loaves. This time however, the dough simply wouldn’t rise! I tried all sorts of remedies: adding yeast, adding flour, letting it sit there for hours & hours, increasing the room temperature… nothing worked.

In the end, my friend N. came to the rescue. She cut the dough into small pieces, managed to roll them out a bit (roughly as you would do with pizza dough), covered them with tomato passata, freshly grated cheese & sliced mushrooms & put them in a hot oven. The result was, in one word, delicious. There is obviously no recipe to give for this, because it depends on bread dough which (for mysterious, inexplicable reasons) hasn’t risen! But it just goes to show that sometimes the best, simplest, most tasty meals are based on improvisation & on a previous mishap.

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Bread baking: A huge loaf!

This week’s loaf was, as Nigel Slater says , a ‘really good, and very easy white loaf’. The pros? Very easy to make. Very few ingredients (just flour, yeast, salt, water). Very everyday & normal. The cons? Well… I suppose it’s a bit too everyday & normal, you could easily get bored by this type of loaf. But I’m glad I made it, it’s especially good for people who are starting out in bread-baking & want to perfect a basic recipe for white bread… in that way it’s similar to NIgella Lawson’s plain white loaf which I made last week- also good, also simple to make.

A really good, and very easy white loaf (taken from Nigel Slater’s Appetite)

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg white bread flour (and a bit more for kneading)
  • 14 gr. dried yeast (you can use 2 sachets of 7 gr. each, if you have those)
  • 20 gr. salt
  • about 700 ml water (at room temperature: not chilled, not warm)

Method:

  • Tip flour, yeast & salt in a large mixing bowl
  • Pour in almost all the water & mix to a sticky dough (with your hands, preferably)
  • Keep mixing for a minute or so- the dough will become less sticky- then add a bit more flour until you have a dough which is soft & springy & still slightly sticky to the touch
  • Flour the surface on which you’ll knead the bread & scoop the dough out on it
  • Knead the dough with your hands- pushing it flat with your palms, then folding- for about 10 mins
  • Stop when you feel the dough is relatively light, more springy, and less sticky. Hopefully you’ll be able to tell the difference. This usually happens, as Slater says, after about 10 mins
  • Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with tea towel & put it somewhere warm (not hot) for about an hour
  • The dough should almost double in size in this time, but the time can vary depending on the temperature in your room, the type of flour you’re using etc
  • Once the dough has doubled in size, tip it out onto the floured surface again & knead it a bit more, for a couple of mins
  • Bring the dough into a ball & put it on a floured baking sheet (if you want, you could also use 2 loaf tins to make the bread in)
  • Dust it heavily with flour, cover with a tea towel & return it to its warm place to rise again
  • Preheat the oven at 250 degrees Celsius
  • After an hour or so, your dough will have spread & risen (maybe even alarmingly so!)
  • Gently tuck it back into a neat, high ball, & place it softly in the hot oven
  • Bake for 10 mins, then turn the heat down to 220 degrees. After 25-30 mins check the loaf for doneness. It should sound hollow when you tap its bottom (like a drum)
  • Cool the loaf on a wire rack & then, hopefully after you’ve waited a bit for it to cool down, slice into it & eat!

If you want to try out more bread recipes…

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I love love love baking bread. I particularly love- and I’m sure I’m not unique in this- the smell of bread-dough as it’s rising, and also (of course) the heady smell of a loaf straight out of the oven.

Making these two loaves was part of working on goal 191, which has to do with bread-baking every week. I’m very happy that I’ve decided to do bread-baking more systematically. Apart from leading to a delicious result (hopefully!) I find it very therapeutic. There’s nothing like working on bread dough to get rid of anger or anxiety. Plus, kneading is a bit of much needed exercise for the upper arms…

The recipe I followed was the one for Nigella Lawson’s ‘basic white loaf’ (from How to Eat). Which makes this part of goal 151 too (cooking every recipe from How to eat: quite an ambitious goal, isn’t it?!) I’ve doubled the quantities & made some tiny changes.

Ingredients:

  • 600 gr. strong flour
  • 20 gr. dried yeast (instead of fresh yeast, which is what Nigella specifies)
  • 2 teaspoons salt (I would use a bit more if I were to do this again)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 340 ml tepid water more like 450-500 ml water, but tread carefully (my dough was too dry with the amount Nigella specifies. I kept adding water, judging as I was going along how much was needed. You want the dough sticky for a while, before it turns smooth & stretchy).
  • 20 gr. (or so) fat (I used rapeseed oil because that’s what I had in the flat)

Method:

  • Tip the flour onto a worktop & add yeast, salt, sugar.
  • Pour over the water & bring together until it becomes a kind-of ‘ball’ of dough. At this point it’ll be very sticky
  • As the dough starts to come together, add the fat
  • Begin kneading & go on for at least 10 minutes
  • When the dough’s ready- it’ll feel smoother & less sticky- bring it to a ball, flour the worktop & the piece of dough lightly, cover with clingfilm & a tea-towel & leave for 30′.
  • After the 30′ pass, knead for 3 minutes. Again, flour the worktop & dough-ball & leave for 30 more minutes.
  • Flatten the dough to expel gas bubbles. Fold in half & then in half again (and so on) until it’s a small ball. Flour the worktop & ball of dough & leave for 10′.
  • Shape the dough (I made 2 loaves, but you can do a big round loaf instead).
  • Slash the tops of the loaves if you want & place in greased loaf tins or on a baking tray (if making a round loaf)
  • Put the tins or tray in a warm place, under a plastic bag for an hour
  • Bake in a pre-heated oven at 220 C for about 35 minutes. Keep an eye on it: in my oven it took a bit less time.
  • When you think the bread’s ready, lift it up & knock the base; if it sounds hollow it’s cooked.

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