In the last couple of months I have become a little obsessed with bread making. I’m probably not alone in this after Paul Hollywood gripped the nation’s female population with his kneading technique.
We have had a bread maker for years, which, like many new toys, was enthusiastically used in the early days and has since been left to gather dust in favour of the ease of buying a loaf of Warburton’s – no slicing required, which is a key attribute for a girl who cannot, no matter how hard she concentrates, cut a straight slice that will comfortably fit in the toaster. I blame the knife…
But there is something completely charmless not to mention tasteless about a sliced sandwich loaf, added to which it’s meant to be bad for you too (due to the Chorleywood process or some such). If those weren’t reasons enough, the heavenly smell of bread in the oven should spur everyone into bread making action.
I had never realised quite how easy it is to make bread. The actual work involved is minimal – about 15 minutes of activity in all – with the bread itself doing all the hard work. You just need a little time for rising and cooking. And, as an added bonus, the kneading is both a good way to relieve the stresses of your day and could, at a stretch, be considered to be exercise!
The most successful of my recent forays into the world of bread production has been a fig loaf, the recipe taken from Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall’s weekly Guardian articles. It tastes as good toasted with a bit of butter a couple of days after baking as it does fresh with goats cheese and parma ham. I imagine if you added a pinch on cinnamon and used raisins instead of figs you would be on to just as much of a winner. It really is incredibly delicious and I urge you all to bake some immediately – you will never look at Warburtons in the same way again!
Based on Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall’s “Fig and Walnut Bread”
Makes 1 loaf
425g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
3.5g dry fast action yeast (1/2 a sachet)
1/2 teaspoon salt
225ml whole milk
30g unsalted butter, chopped into pieces
1 tablespoon honey
80g dried figs, soaked in tea overnight (though I only managed 1 hour), drained and roughly chopped
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, yeast and salt, keeping the salt away from the yeast initially.
- In a small saucepan, heat the milk, water, butter and honey to blood temperature (the butter should have melted), then add to the flour mix. Mix
- initially with a knife to bring everything together then use your hand to form a rough dough.
- Turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is soft and elastic (it will be a bit sticky initially but keep going!). Return to the bowl and cover with cling film. Leave to rise in a warm for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
- Turn the risen dough out onto a floured surface and press into a rectangle. Scatter thefigs onto the dough then roll up and knead well to distribute the figs evenly (again, it will be a bit sticky but don’t worry).
- On a lightly floured surface shape the dough into a ball, press out into a disc and the roll up tightly, tucking the ends under gently to form a loaf shape. Leave to rise again, covered, for about 30 mins until it has doubled in size again.
- Whilst the dough is rising for its final time, turn the oven up to 240°c (220°c fan) and place a baking tray inside to heat up and a roasting tray on the oven floor. Once the bread has risen again, put onto the pre-heated baking tray, slash 3 times across the top and return to the oven. Pour half a kettle-full of boiling water into the roasting tray and quickly close the door. After 10 minutes turn the oven down to 190°c (170°c fan) and bake for a further 25-30 mins (the loaf should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom). Leave to cool on a wire rack before slicing.