As the evenings draw in, I’m seeking out the kind of ‘hygge‘ food you can serve in a bowl and eat with a spoon: stews, soups and casseroles. The kind of food that makes you sink a little deeper into your chair and warms you from the inside out.
Is there anything more comforting on a chilly evening than warm, fresh-baked bread with melted butter, dipped into a hot hearty soup?
And is there anything more satisfying than making that bread yourself?
I haven’t made bread for over 30 years. Watching the contestants on Great British Bake Off is both inspiring and intimidating. It seems like such a fine art, where any of the smallest tweaks to timing or ingredients can end in soggy-bottomed disaster. Their creations are amazing, but they don’t make bread baking look easy.
You might be wondering how I feel qualified to write a post about baking bread. Well last weekend, along with a group of bloggers, I attended a bread baking workshop at Jamie Oliver’s Cookery School in West London to learn the basics.
I turned up feeling slightly the worse for wear, it being the day after my birthday (where, we did this):
We watched a demonstration by one of the school’s talented chefs before being let loose to make and bake our own breads.
We made white bread rolls and a focaccia, the recipes for both are below. They were surprisingly easy and quick to make and tasted amazing.
Here are a few helpful tips to help you bake the perfect loaf:
Tip one: your oven
Key to making the perfect loaf is an even oven temperature. Without an equal distribution of heat, you’ll have to keep changing the position of your baking tray for an even bake. Most of us hang on to our ovens for 10 to 15 years, yet oven technology has moved on in leaps and bounds. Hotpoint ovens are used in Jamie’s cookery school, available from Curry’s PC World (who invited me to this event).
Cook your loaf in the centre of the middle shelf of the oven. If it’s too close to either side of the oven it could split on one side.
Tip two: your hands
If you mix the dough by hand, but don’t like it sticking, coat your hands with a thin layer of oil and just keep mixing until the dough bonds together. If you hold the dough up and it doesn’t break apart, it’s ready.
Tip three: kneading
You need to knead the dough for around five to ten minutes. If it doesn’t come together properly, add a little splash of water. It’s better to have a dough that’s slightly too wet, than too dry. Too much flour can make the bread tough. Avoid over flouring the surface.
Tip four: proving
When leaving the dough to prove, leave it in a warm place but cover it with a damp, clean tea towel to prevent air getting to the dough. If air does get to it, a skin will form on the top, which will prevent the dough from rising properly.
Tip five: shaping
Using a tin to shape bread is easier than shaping by hand. Half fill a loaf tin with dough and leave it to rise in a warm place until it’s about two-thirds of the way up the sides of the tin. It will rise more in the oven and pop over the edge of the tin for a traditional look.
For a more interesting looking loaf, make small cuts across the surface, or cover in seeds or nuts. If you’re making cuts in the top of your loaf then lightly oil the knife to stop it dragging across the dough.
Tip six: baking
You can tell the bread is cooked by tapping it on the bottom. If it sounds hollow it’s done. If not, it needs a little longer in the oven.
Here are the recipes we used to make our basic breads.
Basic white bread rolls:
- 1kg strong flour
- 30g fresh yeast (we used fresh but dry is also fine, and easier to get hold of)
- 620ml tepid water
- 1 level teaspoon salt
- Extra flour to dust on your surface and hands to prevent sticking
- Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or poppy seeds to decorate
Put the flour in a bowl and make a large well in the centre. Pour half the water into the well, add the yeast and salt and stir with a fork.
Slowly bring in the flour from the inside of the well until you get a stodgy consistency, then add the rest of the tepid water. Continue to mix until it binds together. With floured hands bring it together into a ball of dough.
Knead on a flour-dusted surface for at least five minutes until you have a silky and elastic dough.
Flour the top of the dough and place in a bowl, cover with clingfilm or a clean, damp tea towel. Leave to prove in a warm place for about half an hour, until the dough has doubled in size.
Knock the air out of the dough for 30 seconds by bashing and squashing it with your hands. Shape the dough into rolls, plait into a cholla or place in a loaf tin. Leave to prove for another half an hour, or until the dough has once again doubled in size.
‘Wash’ (ie brush) the surface of the dough with a beaten egg, decorate with seeds of your choice.
Bake the dough in an oven preheated to 200 degrees C, for 25 to 30 minutes or until it’s golden brown.
Place on a cooling rack for at least 30 minutes.
Rosemary and sea salt focaccia:
- 240g ’00’ flour
- 145ml tepid water
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 10g yeast
- Malden sea salt
- 1 sprig rosemary
Combine the flour, water, 30ml of olive oil, yeast and a good pinch of sea salt in a mixing bowl and knead gently for five to ten minutes until smooth.
Cover the mixing bowl and leave to rest in a warm place for 45 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size.
While the dough is rising, prepare a baking tray by lightly oiling the base and sides with olive oil.
Transfer the dough to the baking tray, spread out evenly and expel the air from the dough. Make little dimples in the surface of the dough (where the oil will collect). Drizzle 15ml olive oil over the surface of the dough.
With a pestle and mortar crush up the rosemary and a few pinches of sea salt, and sprinkle over the dough.
Cover the dough again and leave to rest for a further 20-40 minutes, or until it has doubled in size again.
Bake the dough in an oven preheated to 220 degrees C, for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. You can add a little extra olive oil once the focaccia is cooked.
After our bread baking efforts, we were treated to a warming pumpkin soup, which I ate with one of my bread rolls.
When was the last time you baked bread? Are you tempted to try these recipes? Let me know below.
Much love, Vx
[Disclosure: Thanks to Curry’s PC World and Hotpoint, who organised the event at Jamie Oliver’s Cookery School, which I attended.]