Anna@GreenTapestry pointed out that it has been a while since I posted about bread and bread making. I didn’t stop making bread, even in during my year of baking in an undersized and rather inferior non fan assisted oven with an exposed element at the top which gave everything a lovely brown surface whether wanted or not! But I did tend to stick to the plain white or mixed seed loaves that were the mainstays. I say “were”, because although I do still make both, I bought a new baking book a while back, and it has introduced me to loads of lovely recipes – including my favourite coffee cake recipe and a gorgeous fruity “you can almost convince yourself its healthy” cake – and a rather different approach to bread making.
Dan Lepard had a column in ‘The Guardian‘newspaper for ages, which is how I first came across him, and I’d made quite a few of his recipes before and enjoyed them. It was enough to convince me to buy ‘Short and Sweet‘, which is packed full of recipes for cakes, biscuits, pastries, sweets – and bread. As you can tell from the state of the cover, I have used the book a lot, and two of my three sisters-in-law plus mil now also all own copies. If you enjoy baking, even just occasionally, I can thoroughly recommend it, such a broad range of recipes and so far no duds.
Anyway, Dan has a slightly different approach to the kneading stage of bread making, which makes his bread recipes possible for anyone who finds conventional bread making too hard because of problems with their fingers or wrists, say through arthritis. Or in my case, ME. His approach is based on two or three very short sessions of very gentle kneading, to introduce flour to water and let them get on with the business of allowing the gluten to turn the gloppy mess into silky dough without all that hard work. It means you have to be around to pop back to your dough every 15-20 minutes during the first hour, so it is best suited for times when you are poddling around anyway and are able to just nip back and give it a little attention before carrying on with something else, but it really works.
The basic idea is to mix together all the ingredients well enough that there are no great lumps of dry stuff, cover it and leave it for about 10 minutes, or perhaps a little more. Then lightly oil the work surface – I use olive oil – and gently turn out the gloopy mass. Then, in Dan’s words “take the edge of the dough furthest away from you with one hand and fold it towards you, to meet the edge of the dough nearest you. Then with the heel of the other hand, push down lightly onto and into the dough and very slightly push and stretch the dough away from you by about 5-10cm. Make your movements gentle, don’t pound or tear the dough. Give the dough a clockwise quarter turn, and once again fold the dough towards you and then push it gently away; and repeat this ‘turn, fold, stretch’ no more than eight to ten times. Then return the dough to the bowl and leave it to rest, and repeat this simple kneading probably twice more at intervals, depending on the recipe.” It sounds quite alien, but it really does work, and is much less physical. I have to admit that I still make bread the old way sometimes as I just really enjoy the kneading process, and his recipes still work if you do a more traditional knead and leave, but there is something very calm and gentle about making bread Dan’s way, so that the dough is more friend than opponent to be dominated. Or maybe that’s just me!
Anyway, the recipe. This is the bread I showed in my previous post, made from 100% spelt flour, which usually makes quite a dense, almost heavy, loaf, albeit with a deliciously nutty taste. The use of the beer produces a much lighter but still very tasty loaf which works brilliantly with sharp cheese or good quality ham and pickle. The beer also means that the whole process takes less time, something to do with the effect of the malt from the beer on the dough, so you get it faster than a normal spelt-based bread which can take a while to rise well. The quantities make a single loaf, but I usually double it up and make two. A typical bottle of beer will give you slightly less liquid than you need, at 500ml, but I just make up the difference with water and it works fine.
300ml dark ale
2 tsp fast action yeast
half a 500mg plain vitamin C tablet crushed to a powder
450g spelt flour plus a little extra for dusting
1tsp fine sea salt
50g unsalted butter, melted, plus a little extra for greasing the tin
oil for kneading, something neutral in taste
- Bring the ale to the boil in a pan and simmer it for a minute or two to drive off some of the alcohol, which could slow down or even stop the yeast.
- Pour this back into the measuring jug and leave until just warm, then top up to the full quantity with warm water if necessary.
- Pour the liquid into a mixing bowl, add the yeast and stir well.
- Add the vitamin C, spelt flour and salt, and stir well again.
- Pour in the melted butter and squidge together (his words, not mine!) until even, cover and leave for 10 minutes.
- Knead the dough, and repeat after 15 and 30 minutes, and then cover and leave for 15 minutes.
- Line a tray with nonstick baking paper, lightly buttered, and lightly flour the work surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle, then roll it up tightly and place it seam side down on the tray, and leave, covered, until increased in size by a half. Don’t leave it too long, as the malt acting on the dough means the whole thing could collapse! Depending on how warm your kitchen is, this can be anything from 30 minutes to an hour.
- Heat the oven to 220C, 200C fan assisted, 425F, gas mark 7. Dust the surface of the loaf with flour and make quite a deep slit down the center of the loaf with a very sharp knife.
- Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 200C/180C fan assisted/390F/gas mark 6 and bake for a further 20-25 minutes until the crust looks like you want it to.
The only thing left to do is allow it to cool just enough to be able to eat with butter and a chunk of cheese. It won’t become my every day loaf, the beer makes it too expensive for that, but it really is a tasty bread, and delightfully easy too. Particularly if you have a decent oven!!