So why attend a bread course? You may have read articles such as this one in the Daily Mail which explains how supermarkets really make their 'fresh' bread and about the additives that go into them but sometimes it's difficult to see an alternative. Homemade bread and artisan bread is currently enjoying a renaissance but many people worry about the time it takes to make a loaf or that it might be difficult to get right...however, this course attempts to demystify the art of bread making and prove that it can be quick and easy.
We certainly managed to squeeze a lot into one day creating all of the following:
- Classic white boule loaves
- Olive & sun-dried tomato focaccia
- Tomato & mozzarella pizzette
- Flatbreads and pittas
- Walnut, spelt and malted brown breads
Our first bread was a classic white boule which was made using the fridge dough. We learnt how to shape it into a boule but there are plenty of different bread shapes and methods, some of which you can see here. There are also plenty of videos on YouTube.
Once the bread has been shaped you also need to slash the top of the bread to prevent the loaves from bursting open. The slashes allow the bread to rise properly. Slashing is in fact a little more difficult than you think but with a bit of practise you'll soon get the hang of it. The secret is to flour the top of the loaf and really quickly run the knife through. If it's too slow the bread will drag.There are many different patterns for slashing bread, below are just a few that we used. Again there are plenty of videos on YouTube and you may be interested in this blog post on slashing bread.
We also used our fridge dough to make a focaccia which was absolutely delicious, much better than one you'd buy in a shop and if you served this at a dinner party your guests would be really impressed. The focaccia used top quality extra-virgin olive oil and also contained olives, sun-dried tomatoes, sage and rosemary. It was so tasty but again so simple to make.
For the focaccia and for the pizzettes the fridge dough had 3 tablespoons of olive oil added when it was made. The pizzettes were again really easy we just took a tangerine sized blob of dough, shaped it into a small boule and then left it to rest for 10 minutes before rolling it out and it doesn't matter if it's a little irregular. We then kept it simple with some garlic oil, chilli oil, tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella.
Again for the flatbreads and pittas it was similar, shape the fridge dough into a boule, rest and then roll out. The pittas were put in the oven and puffed up nicely with an air pocket inside and the flatbreads were cooked on a very hot griddle. Once the flatbreads were cooked we brushed them with ghee and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Our final loaf was the only one that wasn't made with fridge dough. However, it still didn't take long to make the dough but it did take a bit of kneading but this is good for developing a bit of arm strength! :-) We still used the white bread flour for these loaves but to add a bit of variation we had the option of adding other flours to the mix. I added Shipton Mill's Three Malts and Sunflower Brown Flour, we then shaped our loaves into a batard or torpedo shape...again videos on YouTube. If you wish you can also add sesame seeds, linseeds or walnuts etc into the dough, however I just added some linseed on top after the bread had been shaped.
As always on Anna's courses we were treated to a delicious lunch. On this course we enjoyed the fruits of our labour as we munched our way through the focaccia, pizzettes, flatbreads and pittas along with butternut squash hummus and beetroot and yogurt dip for which we received the recipes. Lunch was also washed down with a glass of red!
- My favourite new term of the day was 'Gluten Cloak' which is a technique to impart tension to the outer skin of the loaf so it rises and holds it shape rather than spreads. This is done when shaping the bread as the seams are pulled under the loaf and sealed shut.
- To make it easier to get your loaf into the oven you can use a bread peel. Here are some expensive bread peels from Bakery Bits. You can get them cheaper elsewhere or make your own with a bit of plywood! You can see the loaves below on their peels. A little semolina was sprinkled on before the loaf was put on top to make it easier to slide off.
- When baking bread add steam into the oven. You can do this by placing a baking tray in the bottom of the oven and pouring in around 300ml of water as the bread goes in. However, if you leave the steam for the whole of the baking process the crust can go soggy, so with about 5 minutes to go leave the door slightly ajar. The steam stops the crust forming too quickly as this can stop the bread expanding inside and inhibit the rise. Steam also gives bread a lovely orangey brown colour.
- To test whether your bread is sufficiently kneaded you can use the bounce test. When you think the bread is there, pull a bit taut and then stick a floured thumb into it. If it bounces or springs back quickly then it's done. The quicker it springs back the higher the rise is likely to be. If the dough is ready it will also become less craggy and it will become more stretchy as the gluten develops.
- Don't forget to get yourself a dough scraper...they're invaluable.
- Finally, it's also useful to have a baking stone. The stone evenly distributes the heat and gives a better bake. However, baking stones can be expensive so you might want to try a granite worktop saver that can be purchased for around £15 on sites such as amazon. They may also be marketed as a granite chopping board. Or how about an off-cut from your local kitchen shop.