Last weekend I, in my infinite wisdom, decided that we weren’t going to buy bread rolls for our homemade veggie burgers – oh no – we were going to make the whole darned thing from scratch. Another recipe from one of the River Cottage Handbooks – this time no.3. The recipe goes a little something like this:
- 1kg strong bread flour – I used approximately ¾ white and ¼ oak smoked wholemeal stoneground
- 20g salt
- 10g powdered yeast
- 600ml tepid water
- Oil – for oiling the bowl for proving
- Tray of ice cubes
And making it goes a little something like this:
- Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a mixing bowl.
- Get your tepid water standing by, begin to add the water to the dry ingredients slowly – use one hand to start combining and the other to add the water. You might need to put the bowl on a wet tea towel or dish cloth to stop it from swivelling around while you mix.
- You might need to adjust the consistency – I did, perhaps because of the addition of the stoneground. I added approximately another 3-4 tbsps of tepid water to get the soft, sticky, doughy consistency.
- Next for the brute force, the moment of kneading. For this I grabbed a large wooding chopping board and used the tea towel again to give it some grip and then (without flouring the surface) began to knead. Now, I’ve watched enough River Cottage shows on TV to try something new in my kneading methods. What I did was stretch the dough more, so it was sort of stretched across the length of the board with one hand and then brought it all back to the top of the board back into a sort of ball. I timed myself doing this for 10 minutes and I had a lovely satiny ball at the end.
- I then shaped the ball of dough by bringing my hands in tightly underneath the ball and turning it 360º as I went – this sort of stretches out the top of the dough and makes it look rather beautiful actually.
- Next I cleaned my mixing bowl, dried it out and added a little bit of olive oil over the top of the beautiful dough and gently placed it in the bottom of the clean bowl and then I put the lot in a big plastic bag – I’m talking about the big clear plastic recycling collection bags, they’re perfect for this task. Then the dough went on the sideboard and the timer was put on for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
- It’s about now you want to get the oven going – the recommendation is wack it right up to about 220ºC and pop two heavy bottomed baking trays in there or a pizza/bread stone if you have one. We don’t, so we used two baking trays.
- By this time, the dough had risen beautifully and I turned it out onto the wooden board and gently walked my fingers across the surface to slowly deflate the dough and get the air out. Then I reshaped the pancaked dough back into the beautiful round it once was using the method above. This rising and deflating was repeated twice more for another 30 minutes each time.
- I then took the dough back to the wooden board and divided it in half – I used a dough scraper for this and wiggled it side to side carefully to slowly divide the two halves. I then put one half back in the bowl carefully and back in the plastic bag, and dealt with the one half first.
- I divided this into 6 relatively equally sized balls and shaped them – I then wet the tops of each bun a little and then put a small amount of poppy seeds and nigella seeds into a shallow dish and turned the wet side of the buns into the dish to get a coating on the top. Next I covered them with a tea towel, popped the board the tea towel and the six little buns back in a second plastic bag and left for 15 minutes for one final prove – until they were about doubled in size.
- Now you’ve got to get things sorted, grab half the tray of ice cubes and pop them in a cup right next to the oven – you will be melting these in the oven to provide steam. Spray the little buns with a mist of water, if you don’t have a spray just sprinkle a little water over with your fingers.
- Now, you want to keep as much heat in the oven as possible, so you need to move fast. Grab one of the hot oven trays out of the oven, close the oven door and then transfer the buns from the wooden board onto the baking tray. Quickly return to the oven and before shutting the door grab the cup of ice cubes and transfer them to the other empty baking tray on the other shelf in the oven – these should immediately start to steam and melt. Shut the door quickly.
- After approixmately 5, when the top of the buns are starting to brown turn the oven down to 180ºC and bake for about another 15 – 20 minutes. The buns should be browned nicely and check they are properly cooked by tapping the side of one – if it sounds and feels hollow they’re ready. If in doubt leave for a couple of minutes longer.
- Remove to a wire rack to cool.
- Now for the remaining half. Turn the oven back up to the highest temperature – my oven goes to 220ºC but the River Cottage book reckons get it as high as 250ºC – and put the baking trays back in the oven.
- Remove the remaining dough from the bowl onto the wooden chopping board. It may have risen again, so poke out the air and reshape into the nice round again. I also cut two slits across this loaf, mostly because it looks pretty but I’m sure there’s another techincal reason for doing this.
- Cover with tea towel and return to plastic bag again, as with the buns, leave for about 15 minutes until about doubled in size.
- Get your ice cubes ready again in the cup, spray the top of the loaf with water, grab the hot tray out of the oven and transfer the loaf to it. Open the oven again and quickly pour the ice cubes onto the other hot baking tray.
- Now bake the loaf at high temperature for about 10 minutes until browning and turn down to 180ºC. Bake for about 30 – 40 minutes until cooked, check in the same way as the rolls.
Overall this was a long, but highly satisfying process. There is something incredibly meditative about kneading and proving, shaping and baking. Clearly I do need a bit more practice at the shaping thing, as I made some pretty funky shaped bread, but the texture and taste was spot on.
This is a great recipe as made buns for dinner and lunch as well as a loaf for the week.
baking bread in pictures: