I was planning to make focaccia-style bread but I can’t find the baking tray I use, so I think I’ll just go with my standard loaf shape, not least because the flavourings will be in the bread, and not, as with focaccia, used as a topping.
½ teaspoon Fermipan yeast (If in Liverpool, try Matta’s in Bold Street.)
50ml extra virgin olive oil
20ml Aspall cyder organic vinegar (if not available, the standard Aspall is fine)
3 teaspoons Maldon Sea Salt Flakes
1 or 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary (leaves only), depending on how much you like it, and how bushy they are
100g black olives, rinsed, drained and chopped**
2 tablespoons Powdered Ceps (aka Porcini)
For the starter:-
270ml warm water
1 teaspoon Fermipan yeast
A scant teaspoon malt extract (I use Meridian brand; if you buy yours from the chemist/pharmacy make sure it doesn’t contain cod liver oil – it will not improve your bread!)
**Once rinsed leave in a sieve for a couple of hours, shaking occasionally, as olives can hold a lot of water which you don’t want in your bread.
You can buy powdered Ceps (as Porcini Powder), but I make my own from dried Ceps (Sainsbury’s own brand are a good price and tasty), or from fresh field and Shiitake mushrooms. All are good in soups and stews, and don’t affect the texture in any way, they simply add flavour. When I’ve finished typing this (or maybe tomorrow – I’m having a particularly crappy day today), some of the Cep powder will go into this loaf. The quantities are a bit by guess and by god right now, as these are ingredients I’ve not used before and I’ll let you know how they work out.
Next time, I want to make a cheese and onion loaf using onion powder and dehydrated cheese. I had no idea you could – or would even want to – dehydrate cheese, but evidently you can so, hell, I’ll try anything once.
A full-scale test of my new dehydrator is coming up. and will feature Braeburn apple slices with date and cinnamon purée, which should offset the sharp apple nicely, followed by dried onion, and leek powder.
Chop the olives fairly coarsely if, like me, you use a stand mixer, as it will break them up even more.
Chop the rosemary as fine as you like and mix into the flour before adding the water, oil and vinegar.
I want to try to keep the salt flakes crunchy, so after the machine kneading I plan to roll out the dough, sprinkle with salt flakes, fold, roll again, rotate 90 degrees, and repeat until it’s used up. Much the same method as adding butter to flaky pastry.
Other than that the method is the same as my normal loaf.
First of all, make a starter with all the warm water, a tablespoon of the white flour (from the weighed portion), the barley malt extract, and a teaspoon of Fermipan yeast, in my view the best dried yeast available for home breadmaking, and I’ve tried most of those available. It comes in 500g vacuum packs and freezes well, once opened, decanted into a screw-top plastic jar.
Whisk all the ingredients together in a preheated (with hot water), Pyrex jug, and set aside until frothing vigorously –30 minutes to an hour depending on the ambient temperature, the phase of the moon, your horoscope – any damn thing. Basically, as with much of bread-making, it’ll be ready when it’s ready. The same with proving – it’ll take its own sweet time. You simply cannot make bread with a stopwatch, and I don’t care what sleb bakers say.
Your starter should look like this.
While the starter is doing its thing, combine all the dry ingredients in the mixer’s bowl, using a spatula. This is better than running the mixer as it avoids generating a cloud of flour.
When the starter has a thick, creamy head, like a pint of Guinness, push the contents of the bowl to one side, pour in the starter, after giving it a good stir, plus the oil and the vinegar, and run the machine on minimum until all the flour is incorporated (scraping if down and helping it along with the spatula as needed). Stop the machine while you scrape the bowl if you feel it’s safer (it is, but when you get used to it you get blasé!).
When you’ve done that, possibly a couple of times, turn up the mixer to 1, and let it run for a about 4 or 5 minutes. Until the novelty wears off, it’s interesting to watch the dough slowly climb up the dough hook, in apparent defiance of gravity, so, once it reaches the plastic plate, turn the mixer off and scrape the dough down into the bowl. Start the mixer again and repeat the process (normally once more for me), until the whole ball of dough comes free from the bowl.
Stop the machine, raise the mixer head until it locks, then scrape the dough back down into the bowl (to which, perversely, it will then cling like a limpet!).
Remove the bowl from the mixer, dust your work surface with a little white flour (I use a tea strainer for this), and using the spatula,** scrape and prise the dough out of the bowl. The first couple of times this is a real pain, but you’ll soon get the knack.
**I use one with the flexible tip cut off – it’s easier.
Once it’s out, dust the top of the dough with an equally small amount of flour, as it’ll be sticky, then work it quickly into a smooth, un-sticky ball – if you’ve measured your water accurately, that’ll happen without fuss or mess or any more flour being needed. However, how flour and water react with each other is dependent on other factors, like humidity and even atmospheric pressure. Doubtless Sod’s Law is in there too!
Sit the ball on a sheet of baking parchment (saves having to scrape it off the worktop later!), and cover closely with clingfilm (you’ll need two lengths), and a tea-towel, and leave until doubled in size. This is the first proving.
NB: I slip a square of camping mat foam under the dough parchment – stops the worktop chilling the dough. I keep a piece just for this, and keep it clean as the foam can pick up and transfer smells.
Once it’s doubled (more or less – no need to be obsessive about it), in size, discard the clingfilm and parchment, and lightly knead the dough, then shape it into a rough loaf shape and press it firmly into the loaf tin. Using an oil sprayer, lightly spritz the dough with more olive oil, then using another tin (make sure the base is clean), press down on the dough firmly – this ensures it (mostly), conforms to the shape of the tin).
You’ll see that, around the edges the dough will have been pushed up a little – just tuck it back down using your fingers until the top is more or less uniform (with experience, that will get neater), cover with clingfilm, and a tea-towel, and leave to prove for the second time.
Contrary to what the Americans think, the word is prove, and not proof, confirmed by the Oxford Dictionary of English. Deriving, as it does, from the Latin probare – to test – my theory is that the proving, as in the rising of the dough, proves that the yeast is viable, and doing its job. The same derivation as proving a gun barrel (in that it works, and won’t blow up in the user’s face), and nothing to do, for example – though the derivation is the same – with the proof of spirits (liquor), which might be where the confusion arose. Or maybe the proof of the pudding – who the hell can figure out colonials who still use cups instead of proper scales!
The problem is that American breadmaking books dominate the market, and sooner or later, as so often when people screw up English, the wrong version will become accepted and the correct version will disappear. And all because American bakers don’t know their prove from their proof.
And if you think I’m exaggerating, look at how “begging the question” is now universally used, except by pedants like me, when “posing the question” is what’s meant (not that I’m blaming Americans for this – we did it all by ourselves). “Begging,” in this context, means avoiding – as in “to beg off” doing something – the exact opposite of its current usage.
Anyway, I digress…
Once the dough has reached the rim of the tin, loosen the clingfilm, ensuring that it doesn’t restrict the rising, and remove the tea-towel so you can more easily keep an eye on it.
As the dough begins to rise above the edge of the tin, fire up the oven, to maximum. Ideally, you want the oven to be at maximum for maybe 10-15 minutes before the bread goes in. This is particularly important if, as I do, you use a baking stone (this, among other virtues, retains heat so that, when the oven is opened, less heat is lost than would otherwise be the case).
By the time your oven has heated up, and been hot for 15 minutes, your loaf will have risen a couple of centimetres above the edge of the tin. At this point I used to say dust the top with flour and slash with a sharp knife. I no longer do this as (a) it introduces yet another variable that can go wrong and, (b) more often than not does nothing useful anyway.
So, I have my baking stone on the second shelf position (from the bottom), and on the floor of the oven I have a shallow baking tray (and it’s the one I would, in the past, use for focaccia!). Open the oven door and – quickly but GENTLY – put the loaf in the centre of the stone**. Toss a mug of hot water, about 250ml, into the tray and close the door (also gently – I’ve read that slamming it can cause the loaf to collapse. No idea if it’s true, but why find out the hard way? REDUCE THE HEAT! to 200C and set the time for 35 minutes (fan oven).
I find, with a fan oven, that putting the loaf a bit nearer the door avoids one end being scorched, but you’ll know how yours behaves.
Ovens vary in efficiency, of course, so with experience you might want to extend or shorten the time.
When the time’s up, remove the loaf and turn out onto a wire rack to cool – if they’re properly cooked the body of the loaf – the part within the tin – should be a pale gold, with darker corners, with the top a little darker, like this.
In my experience tapping the bottom with your knuckles will just tell you how hot fresh bread is. And as you can see, even though it’s not slashed, that loaf has risen well.
Once cold I double-wrap the loaves in plastic bags (Lakeland’s Freezeasy size 6 bags are exactly the right size, supermarket bags, these days, are too small.)
One final comment – breadmaking is easy, it takes far longer to write about than to do, but you absolutely must weigh and measure with almost obsessive accuracy, which is why I weigh liquids as well as dry ingredients. For most cooking, you can wing it, but not for baking and especially not for bread. Close enough simply isn’t good enough.
OK – as you gain experience you’ll learn that you can take certain liberties, and you might have to compensate for excessive humidity or excessive heat. Even flour varies over time, so the amount of water you used last time might be different to the amount you need next time.
But, if you’re a novice, stick to the recipe and – I know I keep saying this but it matters – keep a workbook, detailing what you do. Then, if it all goes pear-shaped you at least have a chance of contacting the writer and figuring out where you went wrong (or, on occasion, where they went wrong – it’s not unknown for even the most celebrated sleb baker or chef to make a mistake).
And we bloggers have more distractions than most – while I’m typing this I’m keeping up with my meds (drugged to the eyebrows and in terrible pain most days), answering the door, ignoring the phone, interacting with Twitter and checking my email. It’s a wonder we disabled bloggers get anything done. We do though, but I just thought it was worth mentioning that we can pay a high price for what we do, before some other bugger bitches about a spelling mistake that’s not – it’s just a word not recognised by his online spell-checker!
Note for those of a picky persuasion – most spell-checkers have the vocabulary of a 10-year-old child. Many don’t even recognise “blog” – this is why they have the “Add to dictionary” option. Find the Oxford Dictionary here – there’s nothing better.