Almost inevitably, given its scope, a few items were omitted from the original post. You could be forgiven, for example, for assuming that I never bake.
While it’s true that, as with cooking, I’m not able to do it as much as I’d like, I do bake – I make my own bread, not all of it but enough to break the monotony of shop-bought, and my heavily-fruited cake, massively over-burdened with glacé cherries, and made with organic white bread flour, is a thing of wonder (seriously – the damn thing is almost orgasmic). And very occasionally – we’re talking a span of years here – I’ll make pies.
It follows, then, that I have the necessary equipment to do these things – which I totally forgot to mention.
Let’s start with Bread.
I buy my flour directly from Shipton Mill. I’ve tried most of the flours on the market and it’s by far the best, once you get used to its characteristics. This is what I currently have tucked away:-
Organic Strong Plain White (701) – Weight- 2.5kg; 2 Bags
Organic Stoneground 100% Wholewheat Flour (703) – Weight- 2.5kg; 2 Bags
Organic Light Rye Flour – Type 997 (601) – Weight- 1kg; 2 Bags
Organic Spelt Wholemeal Flour (407) – Weight- 1kg; 2 Bags
Canadian Strong White Bread Flour (112) – Weight- 1kg; 1 Bag
I also have a part-used bag of Extra Coarse Wholemeal Flour. Rather mysteriously, Shipton Mill describe this as “Not for the light hearted,” by which, I choose to assume, they meant faint-hearted, which makes more sense as this produces an intensely-flavoured bread with a crust so rough it could be used for smoothing wood – it’s fantastic bread and I think everyone should try it at least once. It won’t appeal to everyone, but I love the stuff
Plus a kilo of Red Fermipan yeast (this, too, freezes well and keeps for years; it can be, and is, used directly from the freezer). It’s the pack that’s red, by the way, not the yeast. In my view this is by far the best yeast for home bread-making, allowing the full flavour of the bread to come through, not obscured by the taste of the yeast. It can be hard to come by – I get mine here. If you’re in Liverpool, try Matta’s, in Bold Street (you might have to ask for it).
The Canadian flour has a stronger than normal protein structure,** which apparently lends itself to long, slow, fermentation in the fridge, something I want to try but which needs two good days in succession – hard to come by right now.
**Gluten is the protein in bread, so always bear in mind that gluten-free = protein free, which needs to be compensated for.
This is my basic bread recipe (as always, spoons are measuring spoons, not cutlery):-
250g Organic Strong Plain White Flour**
250g Organic Stoneground 100% Wholewheat Flour
1.5 teaspoons Fermipan (1 teaspoon in the starter, the rest in with the flour)
2 teaspoons fine sea salt (some recipes call for less, some for much more – I find this about right)
600g warm water*** (I always weigh my liquids on the same scale as my dry ingredients, that way any inaccuracy in the scales is common across the range, and so doesn’t matter. For the record, 1ml of water = 1g and while there is a tiny difference with oil and other fluids, I find that assuming there’s no difference works just fine.)
30g extra-virgin olive oil (I use Sainsbury’s own brand, which is surprisingly good)
30g cider vinegar (I use Aspall brand, organic if I can get it)
A starter isn’t essential, you can just toss all the yeast in with the flour, but I find it does give inarguably better results. Just be careful with the malt extract – too much gives you a very soft dough.
Preheat a glass jug with boiling water, empty it and add 200g of the 600, and keep the rest were it won’t go cold. It doesn’t need to be hot – blood heat is fine.
Whisk in a tablespoon of the white flour (then mix the bulk to combine the two flours), and a SCANT teaspoon of Meridian brand Barley malt Extract. When the malt extract is fully dissolved, whisk in the teaspoon of yeast then leave it alone until it has a thick, creamy head.
**My loaves are always 50% organic white flour, simply because wholemeal flours don’t rise as well as white, and some, like spelt (delicate gluten) and rye (little gluten), need all the help they can get (I generally limit rye to 20% of the total, increasing the white to compensate, otherwise the loaf can be a tad dense).
***60% hydration is a good starting point but batches of flour (and different combinations), vary widely in their ability to absorb water, so don’t toss it all in at once, hold about 20% back, adding it a little at a time, if needed. Sometimes you’ll need a little less than 600g, others a little more.
To save me typing – I’m not having a good day and my brain is mush – can I refer you to the method in this post? Ignore the quantities, just use the method. You’ll see I use a stand mixer. This is because I have arthritic hands – practically all my joints are affected, a result of being struck by lightning in 1983. If you need to know how to knead by hand there’s ample advice on Google. Search using “kneading bread by hand” try it with and without the quotes, and try for a video – showing is far easier than telling.
You don’t actually need anything to shape loaves, the basic boule, bloomer, and baguette shapes are all formed by hand, but eventually there’ll be a need for a loaf that yields consistently-sized and shaped slices, and this is where loaf tins come in. For a loaf made with the above ingredients, you’ll need a 2lb tin, and that’s where you troubles start.
Most 2lb tins on the market are badly proportioned – far too shallow – fine for cake, but not for bread. I eventually sourced some that are correctly proportion, and affordable (you can pay way too much if you’re not careful), and I now have four of those. They need treating with care as the metal is quite thin and easily dented. I wrote an unfavourable review because of that, but it wasn’t published. You won’t, as far as I can see, find a single unfavourable review anywhere on the website – nothing is that good!
Anyway, the ones I have are no longer available, but these are approximately the same dimensions and will be fine. They’re slightly more expensive but look to be far better quality. I might treat myself to a couple.
NB: Loaf tins made from a folded sheet of steel, like these, don’t take kindly to being washed and, if in regular use, need nothing more than wiping out with kitchen towel.
If you do wash them, drain them upside down for a couple of hours to let the water run out of the folds and seams, then sit right side up on a radiator, or in a low oven, so that any trapped water – and there’ll inevitably be some – is evaporated. You might think that the ceramic coating precludes rust, but it needs only a small scratch, deep in one of the folds, out of sight, to let the rust bug in.
I also have a couple of sizes of cane baskets for shaping loaves. Those that are plain cane are called brotformen (or, often and incorrectly, brotforms). Those lined with linen are bannetons. Mostly, though, you’ll find sellers don’t know the difference (or don’t care), and use either name interchangeably, so always make sure of what you’re actually buying.
One thing you need is an accurate scale, which means electronic. I got one of these. You might not need the mains adapter – the battery has a very long life. After all, scales are used for just a few seconds at a time, so their power consumption is minimal. The 50 quid price tag is about average and it weighs in 1g divisions. It’s quite big so you’ll need somewhere to stash it. I use a dead microwave as a base for the one that actually works, to raise it to a sensible level for me. The dead one is now also used as a cupboard in which I stash my scale.
An essential tool is a very sharp knife, with which to slash the top of the loaf – one long slash, about a centimetre deep, the length of the loaf (if using a tin), and dusting the top of the loaf with flour helps the knife not to stick. It improves the appearance, too, but it’s purely cosmetic. Slashing, though allows the loaf to expand as the heat from the oven, and the stone, hits it – this is called “oven spring,” and gives you a somewhat bigger loaf than you’d get if it didn’t happen. And there will be times went it simply doesn’t, despite the fact that you’ve done everything right. Such is life…
You can buy a special tool for slashing, called a Lame, pronounced Lahm, not Lahmay or Laym. Essentially, it’s a razor blade on a handle, but I find an old Kitchen Devil carving knife takes a very good edge and does a better job. The blades supplied for the Lame don’t seem all that sharp to me – certainly not as sharp as the old double-edged Gillette razor blades were.
Also essential if you make bread without a tin, is a peel, for putting the dough in the oven, and taking out the hot loaf. It’s like a flat-bladed shovel with a 12″ wooden handle, like this one. That’s identical to mine. Don’t be tempted to go for one with a longer handle, it’ll just be unwieldy.
Finally, for the bread part, in the oven, I have a pizza stone, and on the oven floor, a baking tray. The trick is to preheat the oven, and the stone, on maximum, quickly put in the bread, pour some boiling water – about half a litre – into the tray, close the door, turn the thermostat down to 200C and come back in 35 minutes or so (ovens vary).
Last, we haz Cake.
I use an alleged 2lb loaf tin from Sainsbury’s. I say alleged because it’s substantially bigger than my 2lb loaf tins but not as deep. Still, it’s just the right size for the recipe below, with a paper liner. However, my source for this item (the same as the source for the loaf tins and scales), no longer sells them, which is less than helpful. No idea on alternatives either, I’m afraid, other than making your own from baking parchment, and I’m going to have to start re-using mine. Luckily they’re silicone coated so come away cleanly. And when I bought them they were only available in packs of 100, so I have plenty left.
And if you’re wondering why I’ve given you the cake recipe, not the bread one, it’s a simple copy and paste job as the recipe was already formatted while the bread one isn’t.
Ron’s Fruit Cake
275g white bread flour (or plain flour)
1 level tablespoon baking powder
160g golden caster sugar (I like a sweet cake, use 110g if you don’t)
400g mixed fruit
200g glacé cherries
1 large egg
50g milk powder**
Cold water sufficient to give a soft dropping consistency
**If you have no milk powder, use milk instead of water to mix. The powder gives a better flavour though. I use Tesco Value Dried Skimmed Milk Powder, but all supermarkets have a similar product.
Note re baking powder. I invariably forget this, so it winds up added at the end, mixed in by hand with a spatula and a splash more water. Fortuitously, this gives a much better rise than adding it with the flour, as it should be.
Note re cherries. If these are added with the mixed fruit, the beater tends to break them up. Still tastes perfectly fine though, but if you want whole cherries, fold them in by hand at the end
Weigh the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer (use the flat beater when mixing), and leave to soften. When soft, add the egg and sugar and beat until smooth and creamy.
In another bowl weigh out the dry ingredients, then do the same with the mixed fruit and add to the mixer bowl, add 75ml cold water and mix thoroughly. This should result in a stiffish mix (flour can vary a lot), so with the mixer running, slowly dribble in more water until the desired consistency is achieved – around 90-100ml.
Scrape into a lined 2lb loaf tin (these vary wildly in size, but Sainsbury’s have one that’s about right), level off with a spatula and coat the top with Demerara sugar then, with the back of a tablespoon, gently work the sugar into the top of the mix, where the moisture and heat will combine to form a sweet, crisp, crust.
Bake in a preheated oven (180C, or 160C for a fan oven), lowest shelf, for an hour, or a little more (ovens, too, vary). Test with a skewer, or the blade of a small knife, after an hour, if it comes out clean, it’s ready. Mine took exactly an hour and 10 minutes.
Remove, still in the tin, to a cooling rack, After an hour, remove from the tin – it’ll still be hot so pick it up by the paper liner – and set it back on the rack. Fold back the paper and leave to cool.
Gorgeous warm, just as good cold.
You can mix this by hand if you don’t have mixer.
It really is worth getting bread flour (Doves Farm is good), and milk powder.
I used bread flour without even thinking about it, because it’s what I always have on the worktop, and whenever I need flour, that’s what gets used. I’m still surprised that the cake is so amazingly light and delicate. Still, some of the best recipes happened by accident.