Thursday, 19 May 2011

Making Bread

Bread has been my kitchen focus for the past few months...both in practice, and via research in the pages of many, many writers on the subject (E. David; Linda Collister; Eric Treuille; Jane Grigson; Elisabeth Luard; and Andrew Whitley, to name but a few). I was keen to get myself to the stage - as with making pastry or pasta dough - where I wouldn't have to think about what I was doing, but could judge the 'rightness' of the dough by either look or touch, and therefore the effort and time required would be reduced almost to nothing. And, I think I've got there (after a number of varying degrees of 'interesting' results along the way).

This post will be of no use whatsoever to anybody outside Italy - bad luck - , since the basic challenge with breadmaking is in identifying the correct flour to use from the choice of whatever is readily available locally. I admit, I have broken down and brought back from London a bag of stoneground rye flour, in order to make a sourdough starter, for future use with Italian flour - but the idea of bringing flour from London on a regular basis simply to make bread is too silly even to contemplate. All the sources quoted above, though, specify all sorts of esoteric sounding flours ('wholemeal', 'stoneground', 'unbleached', 'multigrain'...) which have yet to grace the shelves of any grocery store this side of the Alps, and arguably even this side of Calais. And so, it's taken some time to work out from the flour available here what will actually translate most effectively into the stuff I've read about. That, and a process of cherry-picking from amongst all the various methods described, to come up with a combination of exactly which steps will produce the desired result...in fact, I think I've ended up with a little bit from almost everybody mentioned.
At the moment, I'm regularly making the following two loaves - alternating between the two, and baking a new loaf approximately every two to three days. And the repertoire may stay at that level until the end of summer, as the weather is warming up now, and as more and more time is taken up with watering the garden, then the attraction of experimenting in a hot kitchen decreases in direct proportion!

Crusty Farmhouse Bread

Ingredients: 600g - plus a quarter cup of extra flour if needed, which I normally find it is - Manitoba Flour (comes from North America, and so has a much higher gluten content than Italian flour), at room temperature; 400 ml tepid water; 12g Fresh Yeast; a small pinch of Sugar; 2 tsp Salt (adjust to personal taste).

Method:

1. Dissolve the crumbled yeast along with the sugar in a few tablespoons of the water. Put the flour and salt in a large bowl, stir together thoroughly, and make a well in the centre of the combined mixture.
2. After the yeast has visibly dissolved and slightly frothed in its water, stir with a fork to combine properly, then pour the liquid mixture, along with the remaining water, into the well in the flour. Stir the liquid rapidly with a fork, incorporating enough of the flour/salt mixture to make a paste, then flick a fine covering of flour over the top of the paste, cover with a damp towel, and leave for about twenty minutes.
3. Empty the mixture into a mixer bowl, and then knead for ten minutes or so, using the dough-hook attachment. If, at the end of this time, the mixture appears 'sloppy' then add the extra quarter cup of flour and beat for a minute or so at high speed, until the dough is a honogenous lump that comes cleanly away from the side of the bowl.
4. Return the dough to its original bowl (cleaned out in the meantime), cover with a damp towel once more, and leave to rise until doubled in size in an oven with the door closed, at the bottom of which you have placed a roasting pan filled with boiling water. The time taken to double in size will vary...normally it should be between one and a half and two hours.
5. Once doubled in size, put the dough on floured surface, and roll it sausage-like until it is twice the length of the bread tin in which you intend to bake the loaf. fold the sausage into three, so it is about two-thirds the length of the time, then flatten the dough into a rectangle. Fold a third of this towards you, then the third nearest you over that, flatten it with the heel of your hand (which should produce a rectangle of dough slightly smaller than the base of the baking tin, and about two thirds its height) and place it in the baking tin, with the seam facing down.
6. Slash the top of the dough once lengthwise with a sharp knife, then cover again with a damp cloth and leave to rise again back in the closed oven, until approximately doubled in size - about fifty minutes.
7. Pre-heat the baking oven to 230 degrees C (and, if you have it, activate the steam function). Bake for twenty minutes at this temperature, and then reduce the temperature to 200 degrees C and bake for a further twenty minutes.

Voila. (Try not to eat it all in one go!)

Six-braid Zopf
Ingredients: 680g Semola di grano duro, rimacinata - plus a little extra, if needed; 450 ml tepid water; 12g Fresh Yeast; small pinch of Sugar; 1 Egg; 30g Butter; 2 tbs Salt; Egg wash made with 1 beaten Egg; 1 tbs Poppy Seed.

Method:
1. Crumble Yeast into a small bowl along with the sugar, and add enough Water to dissolve the Yeast. Put the Flour and Salt into a large bowl, mix together thoroughly and make a well in the centre of the Flour.
2. After the yeast has visibly dissolved and slightly frothed in its water, stir with a fork to combine properly, then pour the liquid mixture, along with the remaining water, into the well in the flour. Stir the liquid rapidly with a fork, incorporating enough of the flour/salt mixture to make a paste, then flick a fine covering of flour over the top of the paste, cover with a damp towel, and leave for about twenty minutes.
3. Empty the mixture into a mixer bowl, along with the Butter and Egg, and then knead for ten minutes or so, using the dough-hook attachment. If, at the end of this time, the mixture appears 'sloppy' then add the extra flour and beat for a minute or so at high speed, until the dough is a honogenous lump that comes cleanly away from the side of the bowl.
4. Return the dough to its original bowl (cleaned out in the meantime), cover with a damp towel once more, and leave to rise at room temperature until doubled in size . The time taken to double in size will vary...normally it should be between one and a half and two hours.
5. Once doubled in size, empty the dough onto a floured work surface, cut it into six equal portions, and make from these six 'sausages' of equal length. Follow the directions for a six braid plait given here  (except that I fnd it easier to braid starting from the middle of the loaf to the end, and then turn it round and braid again from the middle of the loaf to the end - when I start braiding, it is always looser than when I finish, and the final result looks better if the 'loose' braiding is at the centre of the loaf, rather than all at one end).
6. Once braided, put the loaf on a non-stick baking sheet, cover once more with the damp cloth, and leave to rise at room temperature for a further fifty minutes or so, until doubled in size.
7. Pre-heat the oven to 230 degrees C (with the steam function switched on, if you have it). Brush the loaf with egg wash and sprinkle it with poppy seeds, then bake for twenty minutes at 230 degrees C, before lowering the temperature to 200 degrees c for a further twenty minutes.

And that's it!

Tonight's Dinner:

Ravioli of White Fish, in Butter and grated Bottaga.

Fegato alla Veneziano

Phyllo tart shells, with fresh strawberries (the first of this year's crop from the garden) on a base of Fiori-di-Sicilia flavoured Crème Patissière.

8 comments:

Chris Peacock said...

Sounds good but can you not buy some proper bread yeast from a local baker? I've been making all our bread for the last fifteen years here in Shropshire and have three bakers where I can buy live yeast.

Pomiane said...

The yeast I use is fresh yeast (commercially produced), and in fact, although I've always assumed it is Brewer's yeast, it states on the packet that it is for 'Pizza e Pane'...so I suppose it it may not be. Brewing is not much done is this part of the world, so it makes sense that no reference would be made to it when marketing packaged yeast anyway.
Although Pisa has many supposedly 'artisanal' bakers, none of them actually bake the bread themselves(it arrives early in the morning in the back of various little white vans, sometimes from as far away as Puglia!)...so I doubt any of them would have yeast to sell. I get mine from the local supermarket...

Toffeeapple said...

That's a large amount of salt in the dough, two teaspoons is usually enough for me. Bread looks good though.

Pomiane said...

We're a salt-heavy household. Even with the amount quoted, which works for me, I find the TD occasionally sprinkling his bread with additional salt before he chows down. Chacun a son gout.

Toffeeapple said...

Whatever suits you, my dear.

suej said...

Great bread Pomiane! Can almost smell it. My OH has been making sour dough 100% rye bread here in SW France. The organic rye flour here behaves beautifully. It makes light, moist bread that keeps well (not that we ever leave it long!) I've been meaning to do a post on it. He's started sharing his sour dough starter with friends who love his bread so much :) He did a course with Andrew Whitely a few years ago and really enjoyed it.

Pomiane said...

Now I feel guilty - my packet of organic rye flour has been standing unused on the pantry shelf ever since it travelled from London many weeks ago. The fact is, summer months are a lousy time for experiments in the kitchen - so much time is taken up with endlessly keeping the garden watered that I take refuge for these months in tried-and-trusteds in the kitchen, and uncharted territory has to wait until at least September. I'm encouraged by what you say, though, and will be delving back into Mr Whitely as soon as the season changes once more...

suej said...

Interestingly MOH never managed to make good 100% rye bread in the UK - even with organic flour. We wonder whether it's because (we believe) UK flour has to have preservatives which can inhibit the natural fermentation. Here, though, the loaves rise beautifully often in 2-4 hours. I know what you mean about the garden v being in the kitchen. Our watering at the moment is endless too. :(