Sunday, 11 October 2015

Bread - getting started...

My "old" school friend, Sean, has been asking about getting started in home baking and I thought maybe other people might find this brief introduction useful too.  Sean asks:

...And when baking at home, do you knead the dough by hand? Because in my book, "The Larousse Book of Bread" by Éric Kayser, kneading by hand appears to take awhile.

He also advises using a Liquid Starter and Fresh Baker's Yeast.
All this fascinates me but scares me at the same time, because I love cooking as one of my favourite past times, but baking bread is definitely more of a science.....and I was crap at that at SGS*, lol!

(*Shaftesbury Grammar School)

Hi Sean


I do all my kneading by hand but kneading is one of those areas about which there is a bit of twaddle talked and written. Dan Lepard in his book The Handmade Loaf recommends minimal kneading but stretching the dough.  Really kneading is done to develop the gluten so that small gas pockets fill up in the dough to raise the bread.  This will happen to some extent anyway through the fermentation process so he suggests returning to the dough every ten to fifteen minutes and just stretching it after the initial mix.  This is quite a useful technique if you are in a busy kitchen with lots of things going on at the same time – which is how he used to work as a restaurant chef.

I personally enjoy the kneading, finding it a bit meditative. I'll knead for five minutes or so and stretch the dough after an hour or so.

I prefer to use fresh yeast too – I get much better results with it.   I get mine for our shop from a local bakery suppliers – 1kg lumps – you have to be a bit careful what you get because lots of commercial yeast have horrible additives and processing agents already in them that don't have to be declared on ingredients lists – frightening really!  That's why so many artisan bakers will go for sourdough fermentation – just flour and water fermenting together.

(Note: in the UK fresh organic yeast is available by mail order from Shipton Mill.  Fresh yeast can be frozen in useful-sized quantities but tends to lose a little potency on defrosting and also tends to turn liquid - which in itself isn't a problem but can be messy if it's in a bag - so if you freeze it put it in a pot to defrost!)

As for liquid starters – there are as many different starter styles (poolish, biga etc) as there are bakers it seems to me.   The basic tenet for bread making is “the wetter the better”. Wetter dough is harder to handle but makes a better bread.

The best advice I can give though is to just have a go... a lot... and don't worry about it – it's only a bit of flour and water so if it goes wrong it's not going to kill anyone!   It is easy to get put off by the science of it but don't be – you don't need to know it to get started. The science becomes more interesting and accessible as you go along and you try to find out why things have gone wrong!

I don't know the Larousse book but, from a brief squint at it, it looks quite a serious one – sourdough starters means more advanced techniques and less predictable results – it may be that you need to allow yourself to be a beginner for a while and could do with a book that takes you right back to basics. I recommend the Dorling Kindersley “Bread” by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno or Andrew Whiteley's “Bread Matters” but even that gets a bit caught up in itself. Richard Bertinet has two books out both great as starter books “Dough” and “Crust”.

I don't know what level you're at, Sean, but I suggest you start with a really basic bread recipe:

  • Strong White flour (preferably organic, stoneground) 550g
  • Water 350g
  • Salt 10g
  • Fresh Yeast 10g or Dried yeast 5g
  • Oil 15 ml

If you're using dried yeast mix it with a little of the water and a couple of spoonfuls of the flour first and let it get active – some recommend a spoonful of sugar to help.

  1. Mix all the ingredients together to get a shaggy mass of dough.  If it's a bit sticky let it sit for fifteen minutes - you'll find it easier to handle.  If it is sticky try to avoid adding more flour to the dough as this will toughen it up.  If you are desperate dust your hands with flour and shake off the excess.
  2. Knead it for 5 to ten minutes
  3. Let it prove in a warm ( not too warm) place for an hour
  4. Turn it out and knead for a minute or two
  5. Let it prove again for an hour
  6. Turn it out again and shape it by flattening it out into a rough circle then fold in the sides and roll into a swiss roll shape
  7. Pop it into a lightly greased or non-stick 2lb tin and prove for another half an hour or so while the oven preheats to 220C
  8. When the dough is crowning the top of the tin pop it into the oven for 35 to 40 minutes.
  9. Spray the oven as you do so with about twenty squirts of water from a mister spray.
  10. I spray again after about 10 minutes and turn the heat down to about 200C or even lower 190C and continue to bake. It depends on your oven.
  11. Best way to test for done-ness is with a probe thermometer – the internal temperature should be 95C.   The bread should sound hollow when tapped but this is no guarantee on its own, and the shoulders of the loaf should be firm to the touch (ie you should be able to pick it up!)
  12. When it's cool - eat it.
  13. Make another one.

Once you've made a few you should become more familiar with how the dough will feel – try a few variations – use butter instead of oil – use half in half milk and water...

Report back to me!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Griddle Scones

It's my day off and I just fancied doing a little breakfast baking so I made some of these in about five minutes flat ... well, ok about five minutes mixing and then a half an hour actually cooking them - but it felt a quick and eminently do-able process for Sunday brunch.  Esmé and I enjoyed with with peanut butter, jam, honey, cheese and The Archers Omnibus!  (tbh Esmé wasn't that bothered about The Archers she was busy on her phone...doh!)

  • 8oz Plain White flour
  • 1tsp bicarb
  • 2 tsp cream of Tartar
  • 1tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 lg knob of butter* (approx 40g)
  • ¼ pt milk*
You could of course easily use margarine and soya milk or something made from nuts if you felt a bit vegan-y
  1. preheat a greased griddle or heavy bottomed frying pan on a medium heat
  2. sift flour bicarb, cream of tartar and salt together
  3. rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs
  4. stir in the sugar
  5. mix in the milk to form a soft but not sticky dough
  6. roll out to ½ cm thick
  7. cut out with a round cutter or cut into triangles
  8. cook in batches:
  9. place rounds onto the griddle of frying pan and cook for about 5 minutes
  10. turn over and cook for another few minutes until golden and cooked through.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Oatmeal and Millet Loaf

It has been a long time since I posted on this blog and you all must be starving by now!


I made this bread recently and have to consider it one of the nicest I have ever made so I thought I’d share it with you.  It is a half in half loaf with added ingredients and you could adapt it by simply changing those ingredients eg substitute sunflower, pumpkin or sesame seeds for either of the additions.


  • 275g Strong White Flour
  • 250g Strong Wholemeal Flour
  • 50g Millet grain
  • 30g Pinhead (Coarse) Oatmeal
  • 10g (1.5 tsp) salt
  • 1 dsp Honey (or malt extract)
  • 2 dsp oil, sunflower or olive
  • 300g water
  • 10g fresh yeast (or substitute 5g dried yeast – follow the substitution directions on the pack)


Allow four hours as a minimum for this loaf - there are only a few minutes of actual mixing and handling and 40 minutes or so baking - the rest is all just waiting for the dough to prove so get yourself a good book and have a cup of tea or two or dig the garden...

  1. Weigh the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and mix well
  2. Add the wet ingredients malt extract, yeast, oil and then water (if using dried yeast you can mix it with a little of the water first)
  3. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry until combined
  4. Work or knead the dough for five to ten minutes then place back in the oiled bowl and cover the bowl with a damp cloth or cling-film. 
  5. Leave the dough for an hour or so until it has started to rise[1].  Release the gas from the dough by gently kneading for a minute or two and then return to the bowl for another hour or so[2].
  6. Tip the dough onto your work surface and shape the dough for its final prove.       For a tin loaf the easiest way to shape the dough is to flatten it gently to a oval disc approximately 2 centimetres thick.  Then fold in the side edges to create a rough oblong shape the of roughly the same width as your tin.  Roll this into a swiss roll shape           and pop it, seam side down, into your tin (oiled if it’s not non-stick)
  7. Cover with a damp cloth and leave for it’s final prove. 
  8. Turn your oven on to Gas Mark 8 ( 200°C, 425°F)
  9. When the bread dough has filled the tin and is nicely domed, slash it [3] and put it into the
    oven.  (In the main picture at the top of this post I had also sprinkled the loaf with oats.  Do that now, too, if you fancy it - just a handful of porridge oats.)
  10. Using a water spray mist the oven as you put the loaf in with about twenty squirty sprays of water.[4]
  11. Bake for 10 minutes at this temperature then open the door and give it another spray.  Reduce the temperature
    to Gas Mark 6 (175°C, 380°F) and continue to bake for a further 25 to 30 minutes.
  12. Take the loaf out of the oven and tip it out of its tin.  Try tapping the bottom to see if it sounds hollow but the most reliable method for checking doneness is to take its temperature with a probe thermometer.  Dough cooks at around 93°C so if the internal temperature is 95°C or above it will be done.  If you're not quite sure return the loaf to the oven, but not in its tin, for another 5 minutes.  Allow to cool before cutting. [5]

This bread is great if you enjoy a nice chewy texture in your loaf but find granary a little too much... the oatmeal offers a nice bitey resistance while the millet gives a little crunch.

[1] Bread recipes often say leave the dough until it has “doubled in size” but I find that is often a very hard one to judge when the ball of dough is sat in the bottom of a large bowl.  Basically you need to see some growth in the dough ball which shows that the yeast is active and working.  As it expands the gluten stretches and creates the aerated texture of the bread

[2] Degassing the dough, sometimes called ‘knocking back’, allows the gluten strands within the dough to relax again and creates a closer, more even texture in the finished bread.

[3] Slashing the loaf across the top with a sharp knife allows the dough to expand in a more controlled way in the oven.  See also below...

[4] Spraying the oven is a useful technique to help the dough rise in the oven and then set a good crust.  Professional bakeries often have steam injected into the ovens as the baking starts, this prevents the crust from forming too soon and allows the bread to grow in the heat of the oven.  This growth in the oven is called oven spring.  When the growing has stopped the dough is allowed to dry out.  The moisture has mixed with the flour on the top of the baking bread and gelatinised and this now dries to a shiny glaze.

[5] It's hard to resist the tempting smell of newly baked bread but while the bread is hot the gluten is still very indigestible and you may well suffer if you cut it too early.  Also cutting the bread while it's hot will result in the crumb becoming gummed around the knife ... so just have a bit of self control and go out for a walk until it's cooled down!