It has been almost a week since my last post… where has the time gone? Life has been busy, but I have been cooking (lots). I just haven’t managed to sit down and write about it, so deciding which adventure I should share with you first was difficult. I (or should I say we, as I don’t seem to do much cooking without the help (?) of little hands) have been cooking chelsea buns, brownies, chocolate cupcakes (decadently decorated, as only a three-year old can manage), pizza and cabbage and potato gratin. However, this bread is something I am very proud of.
I think I am becoming a bit obsessed with bread. Last year I blogged about my success with a loaf of white bread, after many years of trying. Since then I have been practising and experimenting on a regular basis. My aim is to become so good at making bread that I never have to buy a loaf again.
I won a £5 Amazon voucher over Christmas when I pulled a virtual cracker sent to me by Made Media (thank you Made) and so took the opportunity to buy a few more cookbooks (it was the perfect excuse!). In my haul was the River Cottage Handbook No. 3 on Bread by Daniel Stevens and it is a great book; full of really good advice on how to achieve the perfect loaf. There are lots of pictures accompanied by excellent descriptions to walk you through the process.
Since finding the Chocolate Log Blog I have been inspired by Choclette to use ingredients that I have never previously used, including spelt flour, hence the inspiration for this loaf.
Spelt flour is low in gluten so I followed Daniel Stevens’ advice and mixed it with strong plain flour to make a lighter loaf than a pure spelt loaf would be. The spelt is deliciously nutty and just adds that extra bite to the bread, making it taste like homemade bread should. I was really pleased with the result and Mr OC complimented me on it, so it must have been good. The loaf rose a little unevenly, so there is room for improvement, but I am looking forward to continuing practising and moving towards the holy grail of homemade bread.
300g strong plain flour
200g spelt flour
1 sachet (7g) fast action yeast
300ml warm water
Extra flour for sprinkling ( I used rye)
Mix the flours in a large bowl, add the salt and the yeast and pour in the warm water. Mix with your hands to a soft dough. There should be enough liquid to easily pick up all the flour in the bowl, but it shouldn’t be too sticky. Take the dough out of the bowl and on to a lightly floured surface (preferably wood). If you are right-handed hold the dough with your left hand and using your right hand push half the dough away, trying to stretch it a full arm’s length away from you. Then fold the stretched dough back on to that left in your left hand and repeat the kneading process making quarter turns of the dough every other stretch. (If you are left-handed then please substitute that hand for the right-hand). Continue in this way for about ten minutes until the dough feels more elastic and you can’t really stretch it very far when you are kneading. Fold the dough under so that it forms a ball.
Rinse the bowl clean, oil lightly, and place the dough into the bowl and cover with cling film or a large plastic bag. Leave in a warmish place, free of draught, until the dough doubles in size. The time this takes will depend on the temperature of the dough and of the room.
Preheat the oven to 250°c (gas mark 10) and Daniel Stevens’ tip is to buy a paving stone that fits into your oven to use as a baking stone and heat this in the oven and then use a bread peel (a flat board with a handle, like the one they use for placing pizzas into a pizza oven) to place your loaf directly onto this. I had a bit of a daft revelation in that I realised for the first time that if I placed the loaf directly on the floor of the roasting oven of my Aga I would achieve the same effect. I have always baked my bread on the tin that I have proved it on before and I think this new technique has helped.
Gently flatten the dough with your fingers, rather than punching the air out (again a change in technique for me) shaping it into a square. Roll the dough much like you would a swiss roll and then using your fingers seal the join very well. Stretch the dough lengthwise until twice as long. Fold over one-third to the middle and then fold the remaining third on to the top. Flatten again into a square with your fingers and roll up again as before, sealing well and then rolling gently into an evenly shaped baton loaf. I then sprinkled mine generously with rye flour. Leave to prove for about twenty minutes. This time you want it to get bigger but not double in size again.
Slash the tops gently. Place on to the baking stone and bake for ten minutes without looking. Check the loaf and adjust the heat of the oven, if the crust is still pale then turn down to 200°c (gas mark 6), if it is already browning then 180°c (gas mark 4). Cook for another 20-30 minutes. I left mine on the floor of the roasting oven of my Aga for thirty minutes. It should sound hollow when knocked.
Leave to cool completely before slicing.