Hello from the farthest reaches of rural broadband . . . it’s Tom again. So, who doesn’t like fresh bread? I certainly do, but our local shops have been out of flour, of all kinds, for a couple of months, and my bread baking has been sadly on the back burner. I’ve been eking out my last bag of gluten-free wholemeal flour, with limited success, to make paratha, but for what seems like a very long time that has been about it. Luckily, about a week ago, Kate finally scored some huge sacks of flour from a mill who normally supply commercial bakeries, so at last I could get back to my baking. With plenty of flour to use, and an undiminished appetite for fresh bread, I thought I’d share two of my go-to bread recipes with you today. The first is a super-simple wholemeal loaf, produced with the dried active bakers yeast that is great for speed and convenience. But, like the rest of the world it seems, I also really enjoy my sourdough, and enjoy experimenting with wild yeast / lactobacillus cultures. Today’s second recipe, for a crusty white sourdough loaf, takes a little more time, but I think it is definitely well worth it.
Easy Wholemeal Loaf
500g wholemeal bread flour (plus extra for dusting)
Dried active yeast 1 x 7g sachet
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
350ml tepid water (20-25C)
Mix together the bread flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the tepid water and mix thoroughly, bringing together until all the ingredients form a soft dough. If the dough is too dry, add a little more water. Turn out onto a floured surface and use the heels of your hands to to flatten and stretch the dough, before folding over and repeating.
Continue to knead, working the dough firmly for 10 minutes. Continue to dust with more flour if the dough is sticky. After 10 minutes kneading the dough should feel soft and springy to the touch. Transfer the dough back to the bowl after lightly disputing with flour. Put a damp, clean tea towel over the bowl and leave somewhere warm for an hour or so, until the dough has doubled in size.
Scoop the dough out onto a floured surface and knock back, kneading for a couple of minutes. Generously dust a baking sheet, then gather the dough into a ball and pop it on top. Dust with flour then cover with the damp tea towel and return to a warm place for a second proving for an hour or so. Preheat the oven to 240c(220c fan) and place a baking tray in the bottom of the oven. When the dough has doubled in size again it is ready for baking. Transfer the dough to the oven and add 2 cups of water to the baking tray at the bottom to generate steam. Bake for 10 minutes at 240c (220c fan, before reducing the temperature to 220c(200c fan). Continue to bake for 20-30 minutes. It is ready once it is risen, golden brown and sounds hollow when the bottom is tapped. Remove from the oven and cool on a drying rack for twenty minutes or so, before slicing and tucking in!
Crusty White Sourdough
5 tbsp plain, live yoghurt
200ml milk (semi-skimmed or whole)
450g strong, white bread flour
150ml tepid water (20-25c)
300g starter (as above)
500g strong, white bread flour (plus extra for dusting)
250ml tepid water (20-25c)
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
Heat the milk in a saucepan over a gentle heat until it is 90c. Empty into your starter jar and leave to cool. The starter will expand considerably over the next week, so your jar needs to hold a litre or so, with some headroom. Once the milk has completely cooled (20-25c), whisk in the yoghurt, cover the top with a clean cloth and transfer somewhere warm. Leave overnight.
The following day you’ll have 250ml or so of thick yoghurt. Add 125g strong bread flour and mix thoroughly. Cover the top (don’t seal it or it might explode!). Transfer to a warm place (20-25c) and leave for 2 days.
Your starter might be starting to show signs of fermentation, with bubbles rising to the surface of the dough – but don’t worry if not much is happening yet. Add 200g strong bread flour and 140ml tepid water and a tablespoon of milk. Mix thoroughly, cover and return to the warm place.
Remove and discard half the starter. Add 150g strong bread flour and 150ml tepid water. Mix thoroughly, cover and return to the warm place.
You should now see definite signs of life. The starter should be risen and bubbly: it is now ready to use. My starter is always ready on day 6, even if it’s not at its most vigorous, you’ll still get excellent bread. But if you feel things definitely aren’t happening, give your starter another feed and an extra day by removing and discarding half its quantity, adding 150g strong bread flour and 150ml tepid water and mixing once again. Cover and transfer to the warm place and check tomorrow.
Keeping the starter going
If you are able to bake every day (lucky you!), just keep your starter in its warm place and feed using 150g starter, 150g strong bread flour and 150ml tepid water. This gives you 300g starter to use and 150g to maintain the culture. If you bake less frequently (like me) store the starter in the fridge. Feed every 4 – 5 days by removing from the fridge 2-3 hrs before feeding. Use equal parts (150g / ml) starter, flour and water to feed. I always feed the starter overnight, in the warm place, before using it for baking, to ensure it is highly active.
In a large bowl mix together the starter, bread flour, sugar and salt. Add the tepid water and mix thoroughly, bringing together to form a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and use the heels of your hands to flatten and stretch the dough, before folding over and repeating. Continue to knead, working the dough firmly for 10 minutes. The dough will be stickier than the easy loaf recipe, but just continue to dust with more flour if it feels too sticky to work. After 10 minutes work, the dough should feel soft and springy to the touch.
Lightly grease a large bowl with the olive oil, then transfer the dough to the oiled bowl. Place another damp, clean tea towel over the bowl and leave somewhere warm for 3 hours. The dough will increase in volume, but not double in size like you would expect with a conventional baker’s yeast loaf.
Scoop the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knock it back, kneading for a couple of minutes. Divide into two and gather into equal sized balls. Line two bowls or baskets with clean tea towels and very generously dust with flour. Pop the dough balls into the lined bowls (seam side up) and leave for an hour in a warm place. Transfer to the fridge, cover loosely and leave overnight before continuing as below. (If you are in a rush, and would like to bake on the same day, leave for another 2 hours in a warm place)
Remove the dough from the fridge and leave for 1-1 1/2 hrs to come back up to temperature. Preheat the oven to 240c (220c fan) and place a baking tray in the bottom of the oven. Invert the bowl containing the dough onto a well-dusted baking sheet. Remove the tea towel and slash the loaves 3 times with a sharp knife. Transfer the loaves to the pre-heated oven and add 2 cups of water to the baking tray at the bottom of the oven to generate steam. Bake for 10 minutes at 240c (220c fan), before reducing the temperature to 220c (200c fan). Continue to bake for 20-30 minutes. The bread is ready once it is risen, golden brown and sounds hollow when the bottom is tapped. Remove from the oven and cool on a drying rack for twenty minutes or so, before slicing and tucking in!