Baguette Torment

Baguettes

I love baguettes. I love their crunch, their colour, their texture. Pretty much everything really. I think that they are the ideal bread for a light lunch on a Saturday with a tasty slab of pâté or cheese.

But baking the things is proving to be more problematic. They are proving to be my baking nemesis. They seem really straightforward – a white bread dough just shaped differently. How hard can that be…?

“Very” in my case. My first goes didn’t rise at all – probably because I followed some advice that you could add dried yeast straight to flour in the same way you can easy blend. This may work in a hot bakery but not in my kitchen where the yeast granules just remained resolutely undissolved, studded throughout the dough like seeds. As a result the bread itself didn’t rise at all. Poor Long Suffering Husband still had a go at eating it though…

So I switched back to easy blend. Now it rose but I had a different issue. I was proving and baking on a silicon baguette tray but whilst I got a good shape only the top of the bread would colour as if the tray were blocking the heat somehow.

I tried taking them out of the tray and putting them onto a metal one part way through. Whilst this gave me colour and crispness, the bread had stuck through the holes and it tore as I tried to remove them.

This is my latest effort. (I’m currently using Richard Bertinet’s recipe in Dough.)

Still not great but the potential is there.

Baguettes

You can tell from this shot there’s quite a bit of oven spring but the bread is tearing at the side and expanding that way rather than through the slashes. I think that this is partly a result of it adhering itself quite so firmly to the tray.

Baguette

The insides look good but I need to sort the shaping. As you can see its incurred quite a bit of damage as a result of my attempts to get it out of the tray. I think a linen proofing cloth is called for for my next attempt.

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Introducing Bertie

The time has come to introduce you all to the other “man” in my life. Meet Bertie, my rye sourdough starter, born on the 26th September 2012.

He’s my second go at a sourdough starter – the first ended up in the bin after most of my sourdoughs looked more like frisbees than bread. So I had another go and Bertie is still with me (although he has not been “frisbee-free”).

Starters are supposed to have a regular feeding regime and I have to confess that mine doesn’t. In fact if there were such as a thing as a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Sourdough Starters, I suspect that I would be pretty high up their Most Wanted list. In my defence he does live in the fridge and has quite a thick consistency but even so I suspect that “when I remember” isn’t quite what proper bakers have in mind!

But my tough love style appears to be paying off as he seems to be a quite lively – if I feed him at night with equal weights of water and flour, by the next morning he’ll have doubled in size with a mousse like texture. Clearly what a sourdough starter needs is patience and some rough treatment. So if you think that keeping a starter is too difficult and time consuming, it doesn’t need to be. Once you’ve got it through its first week or so the odds are that it will be able to cope with a fair degree of neglect.

So give it a go and let me know how you get on.

Monday Bread

White Bread

The bread I normally bake on Mondays is a white loaf ideal for sandwiches for the rest of the week. No fancy flavours here. No need to leave it overnight to prove – this is a bread you can make in a few hours with no pre-planning required.

Mix 450g of strong white bread flour with 50g wholemeal bread flour. Add a teaspoon of fast action yeast and a teaspoon of salt. Then mix in about 350g of water, more if you think that it needs it. Pull together in the bowl into a rough dough.

Knead using whatever method you prefer. I sometimes add a bit more water at this stage if the dough seems too dry – just dip your fingers in water and drizzle it over the dough. Once the dough is soft and stretchy (you should be able to stretch it until its nearly see through) leave to rise at room temperature.

After about 2 hours it should look like this.

White bread - after

Remove from the bowl. Flatten and shape. I use a proving basket as I like ridged pattern but the bread doesn’t need this level of support. Coat in rye flour and leave to prove. You can tell its ready if, when you press it with the pad of your finger, it returns slowly to shape. If it bounces straight back it needs longer. This will probably be about a 40-60 minutes.

Preheat your oven to its highest temperature with a roasting tin in the bottom. When your bread is ready, slash it with a knife and put it in the oven. Quickly pour boiling water into the roasting tray and bake for 10min. Turn the oven down to 220C and give it another 25-30 min until its baked. I use my probe thermometer to tell when it’s ready (I’ve never been very good a judging “hollowness”!). I take it out of the oven when its got to 200F inside (yes the F is right – it was from an American site and I find it easier to remember)

And this should be the result.white bread - crumb 2

The crumb is just right for our lunchtime sandwiches.
white bread - crumb

So there you have it – Monday Bread. What do you think?

Al Fresco Lunch

At the moment I appear to be unable to do a recipe without tweaking it. This time it was a Gino D’Acampo recipe from the Love Baking Bread magazine I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. It’s for Filone All’Arrabbiata – a white loaf with chilli flakes and cayenne pepper kneaded through it.

The original recipe called for 7g yeast and 1 tsp salt for 325g flour. This seemed a bit high too me so I reduced it to 3/4 tsp of each. I also increased the amount of time it needed to rise to 2-3 hours and the proving time to about an hour. I preheated my oven to its max temperature and baked the loaf for 10 min with a tray of hot water. I then reduced it to 200C for the rest of the cooking time.

I thought that the loaf pictured in the magazine looked a bit pale. More like those part cooked rolls you can buy from the supermarket. Thankfully mine had a lot more colour possibly due to the higher initial temperature.

Tastewise it certainly had a kick – ideal for eating with Italian hams and olives. And just the thing for a spot of lunch on the patio in the spring sunshine.

(More) Sourdough

sourdough seeded bread 1

The perfect sourdough loaf continues to be a very up and down business. Having had a success with Andrew Whitley’s Cromarty Cob I thought I’d give his French Country Bread a try, but with a higher proportion of white flour. Alas it didn’t work as well – it took ages to prove and collapsed when it went onto the tray. It tasted good and had an open texture but was very much on the flat side. I think that I added too much water for the flour that I was using.

But I’ve tried again. This time I wanted to make a seeded bread. I used a variation on the same recipe as before but with less water. This produced a sticky but workable dough. I then kneaded in a mixture of toasted fennel seeds, poppy seeds and nigella seeds, adding more water at this stage as it felt a bit too dry.

I left it for a further hour and then shaped it and popped it into a proving basket. Where it was then left for a very long time as LSH and I went to the pub. I think it had had about 7 hours by the time we got back ( not all of it in the pub I hasten to add!) and it was probably slightly over proved. Whilst it seemed to lack oven spring it didn’t collapse either on the tray or when in the oven.
sourdough seeded bread
It didn’t have a very open crumb (probably down to the reduced amount of water) but I don’t think that that would have worked with the seeds. It still had a good texture though and crispy crust. But the best bit was the flavour – the seeds, particularly the fennel, gave it a wonderful fragrance and taste. Maybe not everyone’s idea of a sourdough but a loaf worth making again.

Curry Night In

Flat BreadsSaturday night is rapidly turning into homemade curry night – with homemade breads of course. You’d think that naan breads would be relatively easy but there are so many variations about that trying to find the “right” recipe was proving easier said than done (a recent recipe produced crispbreads rather than naans…). I was looking for something more robust and flavoursome and felt that yeast rather than baking powder was the way to go.

So I gave another Hairy Bikers’ recipe a go – a naan bread with oomph and lots of flavour with the addition of fennel and poppy seeds kneaded into it. Possibly a little too much on the “bready” side ( I think I needed to make them a little thinner) but good for mopping up the spicy sauce of my tikka masala (plus they freeze well as well). You can find the recipe on the BBC website.

But I’d also spotted a recipe for Missi Roti in Food and Travel magazine . Described as a “simple, rustic chickpea bread from Rajasthan” it sounded (and looked) delicious and definitely not the sort of thing I can get from my local curry house (unless your local is the Cinnamon Kitchen in London which is where this recipe comes from).

Close up of Missi Roti

Why have one bread when you can have two….! So I set to work mixing gram and white flour together with onions, coriander, chilli, turmeric and ajowan seeds. I added more water to the mix as it seemed a little dry to me and used red chillies rather than the green in the recipe and it worked pretty well. Its certainly an attractive bread and one of the more unusual Indian breads I’ve tried.

I suspect that curry nights are going to be a regular occasion from now on so any suggestions for breads to go with them will be gratefully received.