Long time readers will know that this blog is a bit of a neglected spot because I run a cookery school teaching people how to make bread.
So, if you have ever felt frustrated with your lack of success with making bread then let me help you. I can also reassure you that I was once exactly the same. When I first tried to make bread I was hopeless at it. In fact, that is recorded in one of my first blog posts that I shared on here. You can read all about my first attempts at making a reasonable loaf here. I wrote then that I thought practice helped and I can confirm that it definitely does. If you had told me back then that I would have started to teach other people to make bread in 2015 setting up my own cookery school I would have looked at you as if you were a fool. It’s funny how life turns out.
If you would like to banish your own fears about bread making then taking my online masterclass will do exactly that. It takes you through the bread making process step by step and because it is pre-recorded videos, text based lessons and a workbook you do at your own pace and in the comfort of your own home. You can refresh your memory by going back and revisiting it as often as you like.
Here are a few of my videos from YouTube to get you started.
I hope these help you to start to conquer your bread fears.
Hands down my most popular recipe is for Shropshire Butter Buns and for very good reason. A butter bun is a fine, fine thing. A sweet dough filled with buttery goodness and with a delicious sticky toffee bottom. Back in 2015 when I posted the original recipe it was one that I had cobbled together from memories and snippets on the internet and it’s a recipe that I am pretty pleased with.
I teach people how to make butter buns on my sweet dough course and either they swoon immediately or look at me with an impassive face as they have yet to experience one. Once they have experienced one though I haven’t known anyone fail to be impressed.
Last week, Edward Aston contacted me. Edward had been an apprentice baker some seventy years ago at a bakery in a local town just a few miles away from here at Tom Wedge’s bakery. Edward tells me that Tom Wedge was the son-in-law of Mr Rhodes of Rhodes Bakery in Market Drayton where the recipe for the butter bun originated. Being keen to pass the recipe on Edward has very kindly sent me the recipe that he still bakes regularly for his children and grandchildren.
So here is what Edward wrote to me:
“I have just read your piece on Shropshire butter buns and thoroughly enjoyed it. The café you refer to in Shrewsbury would be Sidolis if memory serves me well. I believe the original recipe came from Market Drayton, Rhodes bakery I believe but sadly no longer trading. Some seventy years ago I was an apprentice baker to the son in law of Mr Rhodes a brilliant baker named Tom Wedge who had his own bakery in Broseley, Shropshire. That bakery is also sadly no longer trading and none of his family is involved in the trade. In view of this I now feel that it is time to make sure his original recipe should be preserved and I can think of no one better to share it with. Your dough and method are absolutely fine but the filling and construction is not authentic. So here goes for what it is worth. For the filling use equal weights of butter and light soft brown sugar. Beat them together until light and very fluffy now add about 20% of the butter sugar mixture total weight of lemon curd and beat well again. You should now have a cream like spreadable mixture. Now to construct the buns, place the dough circle flat and spread the mixture thinly on half of the circle, fold to make a half circle and then spread half of that and fold again to make a quarter circle. To bake place the buns in groups of four to form a circle on the baking tray. This was the traditional way of selling butter buns, in rings of four. I hope this is of use to you and will help to keep this beautiful confection alive. I like you am a great fan of the butter bun.”
How wonderful is that? I was so pleased and felt very honoured to have received such an email. I have spent a very happy morning today filming myself making the buns so that you can all see how I have translated Edward’s note to me and hopefully make the authentic Shropshire Butter Bun for yourself. I agree very much with Edward that we should keep the butter bun alive.
If you would like to watch the video of me making these beauties you can do on my YouTube channel.
For the dough: 300g strong white flour (bread flour) 250g plain white flour 10g fine salt 7g easy bake yeast (instant yeast) or 10g fresh yeast (the fresh yeast can be dissolved in a little of the warm water that you will be using for the recipe) 50g caster sugar 150ml milk 150ml warm water 50g butter 1 egg
For the filling: 150g unsalted softened butter 150g light soft brown sugar 60g lemon curd
For the glaze: 50g caster or granulated sugar 50g water
Warm the milk and the butter together in a pan over a gentle heat. Yeast dies at 55C so you don’t want the water to get too hot.
Place the flours, sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Keep the salt and yeast separate as salt can kill yeast. If you are using fresh yeast dissolve in a small amount of the water that you are using for the recipe before adding it to the flour.
Add the egg, warm milk and warm water and mix well. You can now use a stand mixer to mix the dough, knead for 10 minutes or use the stretch and fold method to develop the gluten in the dough. Leave the dough to ferment until it has become light and airy and has doubled in size. This can be at room temperature and take 1-2 hours or in the fridge overnight.
Meanwhile make the filling. Beat the sugar and butter together until soft and fluffy. Add the lemon curd and mix to combine. Set aside.
Make the glaze by placing the sugar and water in a small pan over a gentle heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and then simmer for a couple of minutes.
When the dough has become light and airy turn it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough into 8 large pieces or 12 smaller pieces. I like the bigger bun but you might prefer the smaller size.
Roll each piece into a circle. Place a teaspoon of the filling not each circle. Fold the circle over and seal the edges. Place another teaspoon of filling onto the half moon shapes and fold in half again so that you now have a triangular shape.
Place four of the triangles onto a baking tray (you can use baking parchment on the tray to save the washing up effort) to make a circle and repeat with the remaining triangles.
Leave in a warm place to prove or place in the fridge for several hours or overnight.
When the buns have risen by about half preheat the oven to 200C, gas mark 6, 400F or use the roasting oven of the Aga and bake for 20-25 minutes. depending on your oven.
As soon as they come out of the oven brush them with the simple syrup glaze generously and leave them on the tray for 10 minutes to soak up any excess butter and allow the treacly toffee to stick to the bun. Finish cooling on a wire rack and eat the toffee bits stuck to the tray as a cook’s bonus.
Try both this recipe and my version and let me know which one you prefer or which one brings back happy memories of enjoying butter buns.
Edit: Edward has been in touch to give additional information “Just two small points I would like to offer to make things easier. First, after making the dough balls cover them with a cloth and give them about 10 minutes bench rest. This will make them easier to roll and prevent pull back. The second is the glaze which is improved by the addition of a spoonful of golden syrup which makes the glaze more viscous and offers better coverage with less risk of the glaze being absorbed. Finally a sprinkle of caster sugar used to be added for presentation.”
I have already published this on my blog at Veg Patch Kitchen, but I wanted to make sure I shared it here too as it is too good not to. This recipe was inspired by James Morton from his book Brilliant Bread, now of my favourite books on the subject (you can read about my other favourites here) and is a bread that people can choose to make on my full-day Bread Basics course. Obviously, the very idea of Marmite bread makes some people shudder with horror. If this includes you I urge you to try it at least once, you can reduce the Marmite to 30g for a more subtle flavour that just lends a delicious savoury edge to your loaf which is wonderful with soups and stews and then for an extra bonus it makes wonderful toast, that you can spread with extra Marmite.
Note of caution though – Marmite is salty so reduce the salt that you would normally add otherwise the loaf will be too salty. Also, don’t do what I did once and overdo it on the marmite front. I got cocky in a class one day and added two spoonfuls instead of my usual one spoonful and whilst everyone else’s loaves rose beautifully mine remained as flat as a pancake. The saltiness of the Marmite will kill the yeast if you go overboard. Lesson, well and truly learned.
500g strong white flour or you could replace 100g with 100g wholemeal or 50g rye & 50g wholemeal 5g easy bake/ instant yeast or 15g fresh yeast (remember that you can reduce the yeast and allow the bread to rise longer) 5g fine salt 40g Marmite 340-380g water (depending on flour choice)
Place the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl and mix together. Weigh the Marmite out in a jug and pour over 100g hot water and stir to dissolve. Allow to cool a little and then add to the flour. Add another 200g of warm or cool water (if you use cool water your dough will take longer to prove which improves the texture and flavour). Start to mix, adding splashes of water in until you get a dough that is soft and slightly sticky. Make sure that there are no dry bits in your dough. Leave to rest for at least ten minutes or up to an hour depending on how your day is going.
Cover well and leave to prove until airy, remember it will take longer for it to prove if you used less yeast or cooler water. You can also pop it in the fridge at this point for several hours or overnight if that fits better into your day.
Shape your dough. I show you how to shape for a loaf tin or as a batard/ bloomer in this video.
Cover with clingfilm or similar, remember to oil it well so it doesn’t stick to the loaf and deflate it. Allow to prove, again this can happen overnight in the fridge if it suits you.
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees centigrade, gas mark 7 or use the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga. Steam the oven well as you put your loaf in, I like to use a plant mister to do this, spraying several times (avoiding the glass door and light). Bake for 30 minutes, check that it is baked by tapping on the bottom, it should sound hollow or insert a temperature probe and check that it reaches 90 degrees centigrade. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack and I promise you will love it even if you hate Marmite.
Regular readers will know that the other hat I wear that’s not The Ordinary Cook one is my Veg Patch Kitchen Cookery School hat. I teach people how to make bread in my lovely little kitchen we built in an outbuilding in our garden. Of course, my classes came to a grinding halt on 20th March this year and, because the kitchen is small, social distancing will not be easy. The school will reopen as soon as it is safe to do so, but this has meant that I have had to think of different ways to help people with their bread making in the meantime. I created a YouTube channel three years ago with the intention of filming bread making videos but a combination of lack of time and huge fear of committing myself to camera meant that I successfully put it off, until now. I have finally forced myself to learn the technical skills of filming and editing and, more importantly, gritted my teeth to commit my face and voice to camera. I uploaded the first two videos this week. It took many hours of listening to my own voice before I was happy with the editing!
The first video shows you how to mix and develop a basic white dough using the stretch and fold method. This is the method we use in all of my classes because it makes bread making so wonderfully easy and you can make it fit into your routine really easily. The second video shows you how to shape, slash and bake your loaf and how to check that it is baked properly. If you have a spare 20 minutes (each video is about 10 minutes), make yourself a cup of tea and have a watch. I hope they inspire you to give bread making a go or if you already make your own bread I hope it will provide you with a few new tips. More videos will be coming soon.
Now that the wild garlic season is in full swing we have been having this bread quite a bit. It is very garlicky and buttery, with each ball of dough filled with garlic butter. If you are looking for something less buttery then have a look at my other wild garlic loaf which just makes use of the garlic leaves in the dough.
We have a lot of wild garlic in our garden and the surrounding area. It is fairly easy to identify and the smell of garlic gives it away but if you are unsure what you are looking for check out the Woodland Trust’s page to make sure you know what you are picking.
These loaves are destined for today’s local community lunch along with a seeded spelt and a white loaf for those that prefer their breath not tainted by garlic at lunchtime.
You only need a generous handful of garlic leaves for this recipe. Make sure they aren’t picked from the side of paths where a passing dog might have, well you know, passed. Because there is so much of the stuff near here I am not shy about picking it as close to the ground as possible and pulling up 1 or two cloves as well. The garlic fragrance is stronger nearer the base of the plant and in the clove. You can control the garlic-y-ness of your loaf by choosing to include more green leaves for a more delicate taste or including more white stem for a more knock-out taste. I also include the flowers because they bring another taste dimension to it as well. I add a bit of garlic to the bread dough because the garlic taste transfers during fermentation. You can miss this step out if you prefer.
Always wash your wild garlic well before using.
To make one pull-apart loaf:
For the bread:
500g white strong bread flour
1 sachet of easy bake yeast or 15g fresh yeast
5-10g of fine sea salt
320-350g water (it will depend on your flour how much you need so add 320g to begin with and then add more carefully as you mix. You want to have a softly sticky dough rather than a dry dough or a wet dough.)
20g wild garlic chopped finely (optional)
For the garlic butter
A large handful of wild garlic, finely chopped (how much you use is up to you taste wise)
50g softened unsalted butter
a large pinch of flaked sea salt
Make the garlic butter by combining all of the ingredients and then popping it in the fridge.
For the bread, place the flour, yeast (if using fresh yeast crumble it into the flour until the pieces are fairly small), salt (keep the yeast and salt separate as salt will kill yeast on contact) and chopped wild garlic in a large bowl. Add 320g of water and using one hand start to mix and squeeze the dough. Carefully add more water until the dough comes cleanly away from the bowl, there are no dry bits, and the dough feels on the wetter side. I describe it as softly sticky. Cover with clingfilm (or a large inflated bag) and allow to rest for at least ten minutes.
Remove clingfilm. Keep the dough in the bowl and grab the bit furthest away from you, stretch up and fold over the remaining dough. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the stretch and fold. Repeat this about 6-10 times until you feel the dough starts to resist you. Cover with clingfilm again and leave to rest for at least ten minutes. You will need to repeat the stretch and fold procedure and then rest period in full as described above at least twice more. You can go for a third if you have the time. Once you have completed the stretches and folds cover your dough and you can either place in the fridge overnight or leave at room temperature for the dough to get airy and double in size.
Take the dough and turn it onto a lightly floured work surface. Cut the dough into about 20 pieces. Take each piece, flatten slightly, place a large knob of garlic butter in the centre and wrap the dough around the butter to encase it completely to make a small roll of dough. Place each roll into a 2lb loaf tin.
Cover the loaf tin with cling film or a large inflated bag and leave to prove for about 30 minutes at room temperature, or longer in the fridge. In the meantime preheat your oven to its highest setting and place a baking tray on the centre shelf. Bread benefits from being placed onto a hot solid surface.
When the rolls have risen and look airy, place tin the oven. Mist the bread with water several times using a plant mister (avoid the light and glass door). This creates steam and helps the bread achieve maximum oven spring. Turn the oven down to 220°c, gas mark 6 and bake for about 30 minutes until the bread is golden. Turn onto a wire rack to cool.
This post is a re-post from my sister site www.vegpatchkitchen.co.uk, the home of my cookery school. I thought the project might interest readers of The Ordinary Cook too. You can read the original post here.
I have had the Veg Patch Loaf Project in my mind for the last year or so. The idea is that I will plant wheat in our veg patch next to our bread kitchen. This wheat will grow, (unfettered by bad weather, pest, disease or squirrel) and at the end of this year I will bake a loaf from home-grown wheat.
Well, I have finally managed to plant my wheat seeds today. I had hoped to plant some winter wheat seeds in the autumn last year, but with life being busy I didn’t get round to it somehow. I thought that perhaps I had missed the boat. Then, I was reading the latest copy of True Loaf magazine from The Real Bread Campaign and an article reminded me of The Brockwell Bake Association and their project to encourage allotmenteers, schools and community projects to grow heritage wheat. I visited their website and was very pleased to find that I could still order some spring wheat seeds from them. I know that I am far behind most farmers and growers but this is my first time attempting to grow wheat so even though I am really hoping I will get a small crop my expectations for success are fairly low. I am just going to give it a go and see what happens.
Brockwell Bake Association sent me 40g of April Bearded seed.
Here is the planted plot and how it looks today:
The plot is roughly 3m x 2m with a path through the middle so I can get in and weed. I broadcast the seeds randomly, raked them in and then used a large piece of cardboard (a Shipton Mill delivery box as it happens) laid on the soil to tread the seed in. The canes and string are there as a collie disruption mechanism, in other words to stop our collie, Rascal, from digging up my seeds. For some reason his favourite game is to dig large holes in this particular patch.
I am an erratic gardener. I try my best every year to be better than the last. We always have a degree of success and a fair few meals from our garden every summer and autumn, but my gardening leaves a fair amount to be desired. Inevitably the weeds get the better of me. I hate pulling up self-seeded borage, nasturtiums and poppies because the bees and other pollinators love them so much. As a result our veg tends to be a little drowned out by these. Only the very strong wins through. I am going to try my hardest to be a diligent weeder of the wheat patch and I am hoping that the squirrels and pigeons give me a break when it comes to harvest time (if the crop survives that long). I will report the progress of the Veg Patch Loaf throughout the season. I very much hope I will be able to post a loaf that uses at least a bit of the wheat later in the year. Watch this space.
I am a very lucky woman. I get to do something that I love for my job. I fell in love with bread when I realised that it was a challenge and that I could keep on learning about it forever more. Then I decided I want to spread the bread love and set up my bread making classes. All of this is my way of explaining why I am making a Greek bread that is usually made at Easter when I have barely taken down the Christmas decorations. I have to plan ahead in this game and as I popped an Easter Baking Day in the calendar last week I thought it best that I get cracking with perfecting the Tsoureki.
Tsoureki is traditionally braided and has a dyed red egg, to symbolise the blood and rebirth of Jesus, popped in the dough before the second rise so that it is nestled within the dough. The bread is enriched with butter, egg and milk and flavoured with mehlep and given a slightly stringy feel by the addition of mastic gum.
I already had the mastic gum and the mehlep seeds to hand because our lovely Cypriot Londoner friend Tony had bought some up for me when he visited. The mastic is the sap from an evergreen from the pistachio family grown only on the Greek island of Chios. It reminds me of the (very posh) sugar crystals my mum used to have for guests back in the 80’s. But pop one of the mastic gum crystals in your mouth and you get a chewing gum that is lightly scented pine forests (I am chewing, vigorously, as I type). Mastic gum has been used for centuries as a breath freshener and has anti bacterial properties and is said to be good for indigestion and stomach complaints, amongst a long list of other things. In the case of Tsoureki, you grind a small amount (I used three crystals) to a fine consistency and it imparts a delicate spicy, pine flavour as well as a slight stringiness to the soft dough.
The mehlep (aka mahleb) seeds are from the kernel of a species of cherry and have an almond flavour and impart a wonderful smell to this bread. Again you use them sparingly in this recipe. I ground five seeds along with the mastic and together they made about ¼ tsp (a pinch of each).
You can make the Tsoureki without the mastic and mehlep seeds, but it won’t have quite the right flavour or texture, so if you can get hold of them, then do. I think they are fairly easy to get online and if you are a keen cook can be used for other dishes.
550g strong white flour
1 sachet of easy bake yeast
10g fine sea salt
50g caster sugar
grated zest of 1 orange
3 pieces of mastic gum, finely ground to make a pinch
5 mehlep seeds, finely ground
150ml milk, warmed
50g butter, softened or melted with the warmed milk
50g caster sugar
50g (or ml) water
flaked almonds to decorate (optional)
Dyed red egg (if you want to be proper and traditional) or mini eggs to decorate
Place the flour, salt, yeast (keep the salt and yeast separate), sugar, orange zest, ground mastic and mehlep in a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer.
Warm the milk to hand hot, I add the butter to the pan to melt it but you can just add softened butter. Add the cool water to the milk to bring the temperature down. Check it’s not too hot (too hot and it will kill the yeast) and add to the flour. Add the egg. Now you can mix by hand or use a stand mixer.
If you use a stand mixer, then mix until well combined, turn off, leave the dough to rest for ten minutes (covered with a large bag), then mix on speed 1 for 1 minute. Leave dough to rest for ten minutes and then mix again for 1 minute. Cover the dough with large bag and allow to double in size.
If you are mixing by hand you can either mix with a clawed hand until combined and then knead for ten minutes until the dough is satiny smooth and a small piece stretches thinly before breaking or you can mix until well combined and leave to rest for ten minutes. Keep the dough in the bowl and take the half furthest away from you and stretch it over the half nearest you, turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the stretch and fold. Repeat this action 8-12 times until the dough starts to resist you. Cover the bowl with a large plastic bag and leave for ten minutes. Then repeat the stretches and folds. Leave to rest again and then repeat the stretches and folds. Cover the bowl and leave the dough to double in size.
Lightly flour your work surface and tip out the light and airy dough. Deflate slightly and separate into three even sized pieces. Roll each piece out into a long sausage and braid the loaf. I start from the centre and work to each end. Tuck each end underneath slightly. If you are using a dyed red egg place it in one end of the braid and the loaf will prove around it. Place the braid on a tray, cover with a large inflated plastic bag and leave to prove for about 30 minutes, until it is light and airy and has increased in size. Preheat your oven to 190°c, gas mark 5, or use the top of the baking oven of the Aga. Place a baking tray onto the shelf to heat up so you can put the tray directly onto a hot tray. It will make a difference to the rise of the loaf. Bake for 25 -30 minutes until dark golden and when pressed with a finger it resists your pressure.
In the last five minutes of baking prepare the sugar syrup by placing the sugar and water in a small pan and dissolving over a gentle heat, then turn the heat up and simmer for a couple of minutes. Brush the Tsoureki with the sugar syrup as soon as it comes out of the oven. Decorate with flaked almonds, that you have toasted lightly and some mini eggs if wished. Place on a cooling tray to cool completely. It is delicious with or without butter.
I am running a Christmas Breads course in November at Acton Scott Farm and Museum so I have been planning which breads we will be cooking during the day. I wanted to do a range of sweet and savoury so that there will be a bread to cover every occasion over the busy Christmas period. I was thinking about sweet buns and which one we should make. At a Christmas breads course last year we made St Lucia buns, they were quite tasty and appealed because of the story about them being handed out whilst the girls in Scandinavian towns and villages dress in white with a candle crown and walk through the streets. But they are not buns that I would write home about. I love a Chelsea bun and all of its fruity stickiness so I began to think about replacing the fruit, butter and sugar mixture with mincemeat and it works beautifully. Whilst I was making them Mr OC commented on the Christmassy smells emanating from the kitchen – so they were deemed perfect for the Christmas breads course, along with a date and walnut loaf and a blue cheese focaccia. All suitably Christmassy and with the advantage of using up the bit of mincemeat left in the jar, the bowl of walnuts and the inevitable bit of cheese that escaped the crackers.
For the enriched dough:
300g strong white flour
250g plain white flour
1 sachet of easy bake yeast or 10-15g of fresh yeast
10g fine sea salt
50g caster sugar
150ml whole milk
50g unsalted butter
For the filling:
5-6 tablespoons (about half a jar) of mincemeat
For the glaze:
50g caster sugar
For the icing:
50g icing sugar
squeeze of orange juice 0r use water
To make the dough:
Heat the milk and butter in a small pan until the butter has melted, add in the tepid water and check with a clean finger that the liquid isn’t too hot. If it’s too hot it will kill the yeast, so leave it to cool for a while.
Measure the flours, salt, sugar and yeast (keeping the salt and yeast separate as the salt will kill the yeast too) into a large bowl, pour in the liquids and add the egg.
Using a clawed hand mix the ingredients together until they come together in a shaggy mass. If the mixture has any dry bits of flour add a splash more water. You want it to feel on the wet side rather than the dry side. Cover with clingfilm, a large plastic bag or a shower cap and leave to stand for ten minutes. Uncover and using one hand stretch half of the dough furthest away from you and fold it over the other half. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat this stretching and folding. Repeat the action for a further 8-10 times. The dough should start to resist you as you do these stretch and folds. This is the gluten developing. Cover the bowl again. Leave to rest for at least ten minutes and repeat the stretch and folds. Stop stretching and folding when the dough becomes difficult to pull. You will have done enough. Rest for at least another ten minutes and repeat the stretch and fold. Cover and leave until the dough has doubled in size (about an hour in a warm kitchen).
Preheat your oven to 200°c, gas mark 6, or use the roasting oven of the Aga. Place a solid shelf or tray in the centre of the oven or use the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga. All bread benefits from being cooked on a solid tray rather than a wire shelf.
Lightly flour the work surface and tip the dough onto the flour. Roll into an oblong roughly 40cm x 30cm. Spread spoonfuls of the mincemeat evenly over the surface.
Roll up from the long end, like a Swiss roll.
Once fully rolled up cut into 8-9 pieces, depending on how big or small you want your buns to be. Place the buns, swirl facing up, in a square or round cake tin, that measures about 20cm. You want the buns to be touching slightly so that they batch bake (that way you get the lovely soft side when ripped apart).
Flatten each bun slightly with the palm of your hand. Cover with clingfilm, a large inflated plastic bag or a shower cap and leave to rise until they look nicely risen and slightly puffy (about half in a warm kitchen).
Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and burnished. If you poke the middle with your finger you should feel very little resistance.
Just before the buns are due to be ready place the sugar and water for the glaze in a small pan and bring to a simmer over a gentle heat. Simmer for about two minutes.
When cooked place the tin on a wire rack and brush the sugar glaze over the buns. Leave them in the tin for about ten minutes and then remove and place on the wire rack to cool completely.
Mix the icing sugar and enough orange juice or water to make a pourable icing and decorate the top of your buns to your heart’s content.
It’s funny how much life can change in four years. I last wrote about Bara Brith in 2013. In that post I said that I hadn’t enjoyed the yeasted version as much as the cake version of this traditional Welsh treat because of the denseness of the yeasted version. The Bara Brith started life as a yeasted loaf, a treat that was made to cook in the dying heat of the traditional wood fired bread ovens. In latter years the cake version has become more prominent.
Since 2013 I have become obsessed with yeast cookery, to the extent of setting up a cookery school to teach others the joy of making your own bread at home. A friend mentioned Bara Brith to me in the school playground and it set my brain whirring with memories of that experiment that I staged back in 2013. I started to wonder why I hadn’t enjoyed the yeasted version as much as the cake.
I revisited the recipe that I used back in 2013 for the yeasted version and now with experience of baking wholemeal breads it occurred to me that it would benefit from being mixed a lot wetter than the original recipe specifies. Instead of the ¼ pint or 150ml of warm milk specified, I added ½ pint or 250ml milk to the flour. I also used a mix of wholemeal and white flour to lighten it up further. As an aside I used freshly milled Shropshire Soissons grain, because I am also obsessed with using my Komo mill at every opportunity, but I do realise that not everybody is as obsessed as me, so any wholemeal flour will be fine, although stoneground is always a better choice.
I am happy to report that this new experiment has proved that the yeasted Bara Brith can outclass the cake version every time. So, this recipe will get added to my Croissants and sweet dough class that I have on Saturday, I hope my students enjoy it as much as I do (NB. It’s even had the thumbs up from my girls!).
300g wholemeal flour (I used bread flour, but if you don’t have it then don’t worry)
250g white bread flour
1 sachet of easy bake yeast or 15g fresh yeast
8g (or 2 scant tsp) of fine sea salt
50g sugar (you can use caster or dark brown, whichever you have to hand, the dark brown sugar will make a richer loaf)
1 tsp mixed spice
150g dried mixed fruit
40g caster sugar
Place the flours in a large bowl. If using fresh yeast crumble it into the flour like you would butter into pastry. If using easy bake yeast just mix it in the flour. Add the sugar, salt and mixed spice and stir in.
Cut up the butter and add it to the milk in a small pan and warm to tepid, so that the butter is just melted.
Mix to a softly sticky dough. Cover with clingfilm and leave to stand for ten minutes. Uncover and use the fold and stretch method to improve the gluten. To do this take half the dough, stretch it up and fold it over the top of the rest of the dough. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the stretch and fold. Keep repeating this until the dough starts to resist you or threatens to tear. Cover again and let rest for another ten minutes. Repeat the stretching and folding. Cover and rest for ten minutes and then do one last round of stretching and folding. Also feel free to knead the dough however suits you best (but don’t flour the surface) or use a stand mixer.
Cover the dough and let rise until doubled in size. Add the dried fruit and fold in until evenly distributed.
Butter a loaf tin. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and press gently into a rectangle with your fingers. Roll down from the longest edge, seaming the dough as you roll. Place the dough, seam side down, into the loaf tin. Cover with oiled clingfilm or a large inflated bag and leave to rise until it has proved. To test press a finger gently into the dough, if it comes back within two seconds it is ready for the oven.
Once you have shaped your loaf, preheat the oven, with a baking tray on the shelf to 200°c.
Place the loaf on the preheated baking sheet in the oven, mist with a few sprays of water (using a plant mister). Bake for 15 minutes, turn the oven down to 180°c and continue to bake for another 25-30 minutes until it sounds hollow when tapped on the base.
Whilst the loaf is cooking make the glaze. Put the sugar and water in a small pan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved, then bring to the boil and simmer for three minutes until syrupy.
As soon as the loaf comes out of the oven, brush all over with the glaze. Leave the loaf to cool completely before enjoying spread with butter.
We are lucky enough to be surrounded by wild garlic as far as the eye can see at this time of year. It has been whirring round my mind about how it might taste in a loaf. So we popped our wellies on and went a walk. We could have picked it out of our very own garden borders but we have two dogs… So I wanted to find a corner which might be unadulterated. (I still gave it a good rinse though, just in case).
Wild garlic is fairly distinctive, so get yourself a field guide and if you are unsure then the strong garlic smell gives it away. Always follow the rules of foraging. Be sure what you are picking. Ask permission of the landowner. Only pick something that is prolific and not protected. Only take what you need for your personal use. Give it a good wash before eating it.
When I was mixing and handling the uncooked dough, the garlic smell was very strong and I was worried that I had perhaps overdone it a bit. However, once cooked the garlic had mellowed and imparts a subtle and surprisingly sweet hit of garlic. It makes a delicious loaf, that is very good with soup or, in fact, anything that you happen to have for your dinner.
Makes 1 loaf
500g white bread flour
5g easy bake yeast
8-10g sea salt
20g olive oil
a couple of handfuls of wild garlic, chopped
Place the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl (keeping the yeast and salt separate, as the salt will kill the yeast). Add the water and olive oil and mix with a clawed hand until well mixed. Cover with a large bag or clingfilm. Leave to rest for twenty minutes. This allows the flour to absorb the liquid and start to make gluten before you have to get involved. The dough should be softly sticky, if it isn’t add a bit more water. Don’t be tempted to add more flour. A wetter dough is better than a dry dough.
Leave the dough in the bowl and holding the bowl with one hand, stretch some of the dough up and over the rest of the dough. Turn the bowl a quarter turn, and repeat the stretching and folding. Repeat this for about 10-12 folds. Cover the bowl again and leave for another twenty minutes. Repeat the stretching and folding motion again. If the dough starts to resist then stop stretching, if it starts to break then stop stretching. Leave to rest again for another twenty minutes and then fold again. It will need less folding this time and it will feel lovely and stretchy, smooth and satiny. Cover and leave the dough to prove for at least an hour until it has risen, is domed and has plenty of aeration.
Lightly flour your work surface and turn your dough out of the bowl. Add in the chopped garlic leaves and fold the dough over the leaves. Shape into a round and place on a floured tray or into a proving basket or if you prefer into a greased loaf tin. Cover with a large bag or oiled clingfilm and leave to prove again. It might need twenty minutes, it might need an hour. It will depend on the temperature of your dough and the temperature of the room.
Preheat the oven to 230°c and place a baking tray on the oven shelf to heat up with the oven, or use the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga.
To test if your loaf is ready to bake, flour or oil your finger and press lightly onto the surface of the loaf. If it springs back slowly within 2 seconds it is ready to put in the oven.
Place the loaf on the hot baking tray, spray the oven walls with water using a plant mister (avoiding the glass door and light). This will create steam, so that the loaf has a chance to do its last rise before the crust forms. Bake for about 30-40 minutes until the loaf is dark golden and sounds hollow when tapped. Leave to cool completely on a wire tray before slicing and enjoying.
If you would like to perfect your bread making skills you could always join me for a bread making course at Veg Patch Kitchen.
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