A year of baking bread.

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Well, we’ve left 2014 well and truly behind, and being the late developers we are, have only gotten round to thinking about our year of bread making adventures at the start of March! We’ve learnt so much about bread-baking in the last 12 months, how easy it is, and how deceptively hard it is too. How the baker’s greatest friend is time, and constant nemesis is patience. How we only need four ingredients to make a basic loaf, but can tweak these infinitely to create a doughy global smorgasbord.  How while making bread together Ruby and I get to talk about silly stuff and important stuff. Because it slows us down, pulls our focus in, and no-one’s going anywhere until the bread is put to bed.

Our technique has definitely improved. We’re not afraid of our dough anymore, or too reverent, and will smack it back or punch it down if it’s being too cheeky. But we’ve a long road ahead with many branches to meander down, lots of techniques and recipes to try, and while we’re a Jack (and Ruby) of all breads, we’re very aware we’re still masters of none.

Our quest for the perfect loaf goes on in 2015.

ruby says “it’s been fun. i want to get better at kneading though! :/

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Slightly sourdough loaf.

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Oh dear. It’s been a while since we’ve posted. Although we’ve been baking away, other engagements (and if we’re honest, a little laziness) have prevented us from writing about it. But that’s about to change now we’re firmly back in the blogging saddle.

We have been experimenting with our standard loaf and how to make it healthier without alienating the other rather pernickity members of the clan. While we like a bit of sourdough, the rest of the family is not that keen, and it doesn’t always make kid-friendly sandwiches. And while our great white never fails to delight, it’s not the healthiest everyday-kind-of-bread. We decided we needed something less yeasty and more wholesome with a robust flavour, but without the tangy sourness and jaw-aching crustiness of a true sourdough. So Ruby and I reached a compromise, we’ll attempt a slightly sourdough bread with the best of all worlds – springy yeastiness with a doughy depth of flavour and some husky wholemeal.

It took a little experimenting to get our quantities right, but that’s half the fun, and we think we’re pretty close to a perfect all-rounder. As our sourdough starter is the star of the show, this takes a little longer to prove than a normal pan. But not much, and it’s worth the wait!

Slightly sourdough.

410g white bread flour
150g wholemeal flour
10g salt
3g dried yeast
60g sourdough starter
20g olive oil or butter
330g tepid water (you may need to adjust this if your flour is thirsty)

Mix the white and wholemeal flour in a bowl. Add the salt on one side and the sourdough starter on the other. Dribble in the oil. Dissolve the dried yeast in the tepid water and pour in. Mix to a wettish paste and knead thoroughly for about 15-20 mins. Put the dough back into an oiled bowl, cover with a showercap, and leave to prove in a warm place for 1.5 to 2 hours, or until doubled in size (this may take longer, don’t worry if it does). Punch down, flop out onto a barely floured surface, fold and shape into a well floured 1kg loaf tin. Cover again with a showercap and leave to rise for a further 1-2 hours or until the dough reaches just below the lip of the tin. Pre-heat the oven to 240ºc. Flick over some flour and slash with abandon. Throw a cup of water into the bottom of the oven if you feel inclined. Bake for 10 mins then turn down to 210ºc for a further 20-25mins. Check the loaf is done by rapping on its bottom. It should sound hollow. It should not say ow.

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This makes a lovely springy soft loaf with enough fortitude to hold the soggiest sandwich filling. And with so little yeast, it’s easy on the digestion too.

ruby says “Yum-yum that was delicious probably one of the best slices of bread ever! A bit of white bread, a bit of brown and a touch of sourdough! M-m!”

 

Campervan bread

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We have a much loved and underused old VW campervan that sits outside our rain-soaked house patiently waiting for summer adventures. It came all the way from 1970s Australia, and must be traumatised by the brutal Irish weather it is subjected to on a daily basis. But with another glorious summer stretching through July and August, we dusted off the cobwebs, stocked the shelves and headed for a little apple farm in Co. Tipperary.

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Usually our camping epicurean adventures are dictated by the local supply of produce topped up with whatever supermarket supplies come with us. When we arrived at the apple farm with limited provisions in our little van we were cheered to find a farm shop that only stocked the absolute essentials of cider, strawberries and ice-cream. Unwilling to forage for dinner further afield we improvised with a repast of sausages, beans and freshly baked bread.

Normally, bread-baking is not on the agenda on camping trips. The lack of an oven is the main culprit, but also it never really occurred to us that we could bake bread in a campervan. That is until we got a Cobb barbeque. Many a chicken and leg of lamb have been roasted in the little metal wonder, so this summer we thought – why not bread? Ruby had packed all the bread-making essentials – flour, salt, yeast, scraper, tiny cheap scales – and once camp was established we set about utilizing our meagre camping utensils for the art of loafing. But there was one thing we forgot to check before we left….

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Campervan bread.

420g or 3 cups strong white flour
7g or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried yeast
7g or 1 teaspoon salt
20g or 2 tablespoons olive or rapeseed oil
250-260g or 1 1/8 cup tepid water
tiny cheap scales
EXTRA BATTERIES FOR THE TINY CHEAP SCALES

Here’s how to do it properly.
Weigh out your ingredients into whatever camping cook equipment is big enough. In our case the biggest camping saucepan we had. Alternatively (and probably more prudently as we discovered) use the american imperial cup and spoon system if you are without scales, or check that the BATTERIES ARE WORKING in your tiny cheap scales.

Dump your dough on the cleanest flattest smoothest surface available and knead vigorously for 15 minutes. This is surprisingly therapeutic when you are confined in a small space with your loved ones for an extended length of time. Don’t hold back. Put back in the oiled saucepan, cover with clingfilm or a shower cap, put in the warmest place available, and leave to rise for about an hour.

Punch down and mould into a cob shape. Place on an oiled or dusted baking tray/tin and leave to prove for about 30 mins. Meanwhile light the barbecue. We cooked our bread on a Cobb barbecue that only takes 5-10 minutes to heat up, but this bread should cook in any barbecue with a dome once it reaches its optimum temperature.  Place the baking tray/tin on the grill and cover with the dome. You may need to check the bread after about 15 minutes as you can’t control the temperature, and the bottom may get a bit scorched, but the loaf should be ready in 20-30 minutes.

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Here’s how not to do it.
We forgot to check the batteries in our tiny cheap scales. We didn’t use a cup system. We had no idea how much salt we added as the batteries died at this crucial point (but judging by the taste, it was a lot!!). Our dough didn’t rise due to the murderous horde of salt massacring the yeast. It was scorched on the bottom and pale on the crust. But still…we ended up with an edible, nay palatable, if slightly salty cob loaf to have with our dinner. Not bad for our first attempt at campervan bread. And washed down with all that lovely cider, strawberries and ice-cream, it was a treat…

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…..and the next morning, tools out to get us home.

ruby says “i loved kneading the bread in the campervan, it kept rocking. but i was a bit sad when it didn’t rise. tasted nice as toast with lots of butter. and we had strawberries and ice-cream for dessert!!!”

Sourdough September

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Summer life kind-of took over our house this year, with the result that our bread-making took a bit of a back seat. Another result was poor Gordon, our sourdough starter, was neglected shamefully, pouting sulkily at the back of the fridge. We took him out this morning before school to warm up and recover. Ruby put him in intensive care and we will drip-feed him until he’s strong enough to contend with our plans for this month – to join in with The Real Bread Campaign’s Sourdough September!

Fingers crossed…

ruby says “poor gordon’s sick. we need to feed him lots to make him better.”

Bacheldre Water Mill.

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We spent a week in England visiting family and friends this month, and on the way back to the ferry we took a detour to visit the beautiful old watermill at Bacheldre, a traditional stone-ground mill in Powys, Wales. There has been a mill on the site since 1575 but the current mill dates to the 18th century, still using water from the mill race to power the water wheel and turn the stones, though this is now supplemented by a motor to allow the wheel to turn when the water flow is low.

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When Matt and Anne Scott bought the mill back in 2002 it was primarily for the attached campsite. The mill at that time was a working museum, still grinding flour, but in small batches for display purposes. With no previous experience in the milling field they threw themselves into restoring the watermill and creating a viable business, but using the traditional methods of stone-ground flour production. They now produce award-winning flour, in a variety of styles and flavours, and supply large retailers such as Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and John Lewis as well as a myriad of smaller artisan stockists. Amazon even deliver their full range, including 25kg sacks. Many of their flours use locally grown Welsh wheat, just like the old days…

We had intended to buy a 25kg bag of white bread flour to bring home with us on the ferry, but in typical Jack and Ruby fashion happened to turn up just after the owners had left for a holiday, the two mill workers had a day off, and there were no ready-filled large sacks of flour in the shop. In fact, the mill was pretty much closed that day. But the caretakers were very friendly so we had a quick look around and bought a small bag of bread flour and a bag of Oak Smoked malted flour to try out.

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It was such a treat to see an old mill so lovingly restored, eager to welcome visitors and tourists who take up time and only buy a small bag of flour, happy to share the traditions and methods of an age-old profession – and yet still be relevant and vibrant in the modern fast-paced flour-producing industry that has tended to remove itself from its customers – us, the bread-makers and bread-eaters. On returning home, to our surprise we found out that Bacheldre Mill is up for sale. We hope its future custodians treat it with the love and respect that the Scotts did.

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Photo from Shropshire Star.

ruby says “it was very pretty, i liked having my picture taken beside bacheldre mill stone.”

 

 

Our journey in sourdough: scalds, sweat and tears.

Sourdough, we have learnt, is a whole different animal to anything we’ve attempted before. One that cannot be rustled up on a whim, or is always compliant with our plans and wishes. We’ve made a number of sourdough loaves so far, none of which could be described as a truly successful attempt, and some of which could barely be described as sourdough (or even a loaf). Still, we remind ourselves it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts.

Sourdough loaf No. 1.

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After lovingly nurturing our starter, Gordon, we were brimming with excitement to make our first sourdough loaf. We carefully selected the recipe, readied our equipment, weighed and measured the ingredients, didn’t baulk when the dough flowed stickily across the table, pushed, stretched, pummelled, scraped, coralled, rested and finally nestled our first loaf in its new flour-filled banneton for the night. Springing out of bed in the morning, we rushed downstairs to find…..a slightly deflated balloon.

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Unperturbed (well a little perturbed) we heated the oven, attempted the Herculean task of moving the flaccid dough from the banneton to a hot baking stone without deflating the loaf (more) or losing precious heat from the oven, forgot to slash, and splashed boiling water all over the oven and kitchen floor.  A modicum of shouting and scalding ensued,  culminating in our very depressed dough sitting awkwardly on, and overflowing slightly, our old pizza stone. The result was not something you’d find in any bakery we’ve ever been.

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Sourdough loaf No.2.

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Our second attempt was a little more successful. This time we proved overnight in the fridge, left to warm up and remembered to slash, but while transferring the dough to the stone we pulled the tray out too far and the loaf slid off onto the oven door. We managed to manhandle it back on, but the shock was too much for it.

Sourdough loaf No.3.

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Realising that our long banneton was actually too long for our stone, we admitted defeat and bought a round banneton instead. Our third sourdough went a lot more smoothly. After our overnight fridge prove, this time we heated the oven, took the stone OUT, gently tipped our round loaf onto it, then panic-slashed and shoved it into the oven. Result? A round, slightly spread sourdough with the faintest of slash marks on the top. And a nose, strangely.

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Sourdough loaf No. 4.

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Our confidence was starting to grow by loaf no, 4. No longer scared of the stone/oven-heat dilemma, we slashed with abandon, threw and sprayed water, and watched with awe the blooming of a vaguely recognisable sourdough bread.

Sourdough loaf No. 5.

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This is our most successful so far. The dough was exceptionally wet, and on removal from the fridge in the morning, it was more brick-like than bread-like. We left it to warm to room temperature, and it rose slightly. Not expecting much, we placed it in the oven and watched with mounting surprise as the oven-spring kicked in and it grew rapidly before our eyes, opening out along our frenzied slashes.

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None of our loaves is exactly of a professional standard, but one thing is noticeable – the flavour of the sourdough has sweetened and deepened with each loaf, which must mean Gordon is maturing into a fine young starter. Now, onto loaf no. 6…..

ruby says ” they were nice! but the inside was too soft and the outside was too hard. it was also fun making them but boring waiting. they took so long!” 😉

The Great May White.

May great white

I know we’re well into June but we seem to be slipping behind in all sorts of things lately. Still, we managed our weekly Great White all through May, with it’s usual highs and lows. What did we do differently this month? We tried a new slashing technique (top two) – yeah, that didn’t go so well. We also tried an overnight white loaf (bottom right) – that didn’t go so well either. But number three! Well, that’s as near to the perfect loaf we’ve come so far…….

So what have we learnt? Not a lot. Except to persevere……and stick with our old slashes.

ruby says “I couldn’t lift the last one it was so heavy.”

Big baker / Little baker: what we want for May.

With all this bread making going on, we’ve noticed something irritatingly frustrating – we’ve nowhere to put our bread. Currently it resides on the worktop in a plastic bag, or a paper bag, or underneath a tea-towel, and gets shunted around when various mechanical or electrical devices need to be used. This is not ideal. So this month we’ve been looking at bread-bins. What makes a great bread bin?  Material? Air-flow? Condensation factor? What we’ve learned from our research is that bread needs air to stop mould, and that’s pretty much it. Real slow-proved bread, it seems, will stay fresh for a lot longer than fast-produced processed loaves if left cut-side-down and loosely covered. So the big question is should we go retro or futuristic? Utilitarian or decorative? Chic or unique? So many choices….but ultimately the answer will be whichever fits the meagre space in our kitchen.

Still, a breadmaker can dream…..

Big baker….

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1. Garden Trading bread tin. 2. Lark farmhouse bread locker. 3. Vintage Tin. 
4. Armadillo breadbin. 5. Antique tin. 6. Vintage Dutch bread box. 7. Typhoon Novo Bread bin.

Ruby has a different – and so much more fun – agenda to me…..

Little baker…..

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1. Dollhouse mint green bread box. 2. Dollhouse breadboard with bread. 
3. Mr. Rebanadita rucksack. 4. Miniature wicker bread basket. 5. Dollhouse bagel crates.

 

The Great April White.

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Our quest for the perfect loaf continues. Along with our variety of the good, the bad and the ugly loaves, we’ve also been baking a basic white once a week. It is our intention that by the end of the year we will be able to create a perfect loaf, with lofty aspirations of something akin to the overnight Sherston Loaf from Hobbs House bakery. In addition, we’ve been tasting and rating other white and sourdough breads from various bakeries across Dublin to find the ultimate loaf, and compare our more humble offerings – more of that to come in the next few months. Here are four of April’s offerings….

We can see that we have issues with uneven rising, erratic oven spring, length of bake…. the list is pretty endless, and the loaves seem to be getting worse instead of better! But at least we can eat our mistakes.

ruby says “I don’t really mind what they look like as long as I can put jam on it.”

13/52: Wheaten loaf.

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A little red piece of plastic has revolutionized our lives. It’s a scraper, cutter, dough handler, crumb chaser, residue remover. It’s the bike tool of baking. In fact you could probably mend a puncture with it. It is now our most treasured possession, made all the more iconic in our house because the baking legend Tom Herbert presented it personally.

red scraper800Before our scraper, we were scared of our dough, as it crankily stuck to the table and demanded more flour before it would play with us. The result was always an uptight sulky loaf and two disappointed bakers. And a kitchen table with concrete adhesions that even wire wool couldn’t shift. Anything requiring a soft wet dough was way beyond our courage and capabilities. Now, thanks to our flexible red wrangler, we can herd any gooey mixture from table to tin without a floury fence. 

Emboldened by our newly acquired training, our recent (relative) successes, and armed with our little red weapon, we leapt into making a soggy-doughed brown soda bread. Many of these are often coarse worthy affairs, good for the gut but dull on the tongue. Yet there are some that are sweet and fragrant and soft and tangy, with a certain depth of flavour that can only be achieved with the secrets of a master baker. And one of these secrets happens to be…..sticky black treacle.

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Wheaten Bread (from The Fabulous Baker Brothers Recipe)

450g strong wholemeal flour
50g oats
20g butter
100ml black treacle
1tsp sea salt
2tsp caster sugar
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
200ml milk
200ml buttermilk

Heat the oven to 170ºc/Gas 3. This is a no-knead dough, so it’s going in pretty rapidly. Mix the flour, oats, salt, sugar and bicarbonate of soda in a bowl. In a pan on the hob, gently melt the butter and treacle together. Pour into the dry ingredients and add the milk and buttermilk. Stir up the sludgy mixture until it’s all well combined. It will be rather wet at this point. Grease a 1kg (2lb) loaf tin with plenty of butter and scatter some oats around the bottom and sides. Slop the dough into the tin and scrape all residue from the bowl with your trusty scraper. Smooth the top, sprinkling more oats as you go. Cover it with foil and bake in the oven for 35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes or so, until the top is a dark brown and the kitchen smells deep, sweet and oaty. Remove to a cooling rack. Slather with butter and eat warm, or leave to cool completely and top with a deliciousness of your choice.

This loaf is now officially the best wheaten loaf we have ever tasted, made all the sweeter because we managed it ourselves. It will feature heavily in our future lives. And the smell in the kitchen as it bakes….

Oh yes, we got so cocky half way through that we made our own butter too…

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ruby says “scrumbly delishious, but it was a bit heavy for me to eat every day, i think we did a good job though! it was fun whisking the butter!”