Friday, 10 May 2013

Better Bread

Today we had homemade bread for lunch. I made my favourite sourdough loaf. There is something homely and comforting about the smell of bread baking in the oven. Whenever I make it I wonder why I don't make it more often. It is so much nicer than shop bought bread and healthier too. A couple of years ago for my birthday, my husband gave me a bread making course at the Paul Bakery in Covent Garden, London. They are a French Bakers and Patisserrie and opened their Covent Garden branch in 2000. They now have over 30 shops in the London Area. I had a really enjoyable afternoon. There were 8 of us on the course and it was a hands on experience. We were taken through the basics of making a sour dough loaf as well as enjoying an afternoon tea and sampling some of their delicious patisseries. We were all given a Paul bakery apron and two freshly made loaves to take home. I came away feeling very inspired and picked up lots of tips which have helped me a lot in improving my breadmaking.

When I make bread now it tends to be the sourdough recipe we learnt on the course. What I like about this is that it requires a long, slow rise. I find it works well making the dough in the evening and then leaving it to rise overnight. The next morning it is then ready to be shaped, proved (given a second rising) and baked. I learnt that rising time depends on the room temperature so it is hard to be specific about how long it will need. What you look for are air bubbles beneath the surface that spring back when touched. The basic recipe can be modified according to your tastes. I like to use a mix of wholemeal (40%) and white (60%) flour, but you can use all white or wholemeal. It is worth using good quality flour. I like the brand Marriages and tend to use organic. You can also add other ingredients to the mix after the initial rise and before shaping. I like to use sundried tomatoes (dried vacuum packed ones), olives or seeds. It is important to get the oven as hot as possible. On the course they recommended buying a granite tile to cook the bread on at home. I bought one from Topps Tiles for £5 and this works really well. Make sure you heat it up in the oven before you put the loaf on it to be cooked. In order to get a crusty loaf you need to create a steamy atmosphere in the oven. You can do this by either placing a roasting tin of boiling water in the bottom of the oven or by spraying the oven with water (using a gardeners spray bottle) just after you have put the loaf in the oven to cook. What I like about seeing the finished loaf is that you end up with a unique loaf each time. So if you feel the need for some refreshingly original bread roll up your sleeves and get stuck in!

Paul Bakery Sour dough loaf
Makes 2 medium loaves
1kg bread flour (white, wholemeal or a mixture of both)
18g salt
5g fresh yeast or dried (I like to use Dove Farm dried yeast)
680g warm water

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.
Turn the dough out onto a board and start kneading (it will be quite wet and sticky but do not be tempted to add more flour, it will become less sticky as you knead). Knead for 5-10 minutes until it becomes smooth.
Replace into the bowl, cover with clingfilm or a damp tea towel and leave to rise. This can either be overnight or for about 7-8 hours in the day. If during the day after an hour remove dough from bowl. Knock back (flatten to deflate air) fold over 3 or 4 times to re-promote the fermentation process. Put back into bowl, cover and leave as before.
Repeat several times throughout the day (depending on the room temperature leave between 2 and 4 hours)
Divide the dough into two.
Shape into desired loaf. I like to make a round loaf.
Place on a floured board and cover with clingfilm. Leave to rise for 30-40 minutes until risen and you see air bubbles beneath the surface.
Knock back again and shape once more. 
Place on board again and leave for a second rising (another 30-40 minutes). 
In the meantime preheat oven to 235C/Gas Mark 10. 
Place roasting pan of boiling water in the bottom of oven (if using this method). 
Preheat baking sheet or stone tile in oven (about 10 minutes before you want to cook bread)
When you are ready to cook the bread you need to make sure the shaped loaf is kept the same way up. In order to get it into the oven Paul bakery slide it in on a long wooden board onto the bottom of the oven. As most of us don't have one of these at home  I find it is best to tip it over onto a piece of cardboard  covered with a floured tea towel and then quickly flip it onto the preheated tile. 
I like to snip the top of the loaf to create a patterned effect.
Place in the oven and give the oven a spray. Cook at 235C for 15 minutes. 
After 15 minutes lower the oven temperature to 200C/Gas Mark 6, give the oven another quick spray and cook for another 25 minutes. 
Leave to cool for at least half an hour before slicing. 

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