Friday, 26 July 2013

Crusty White Loaf


 


I've mentioned in previous posts that I've never really had much luck with breads and doughs. They would never seem to rise and, after returning hopefully to the mixing bowl after a vigorous ten minutes of kneading and a few hours of waiting, more than often I would be disappointed to find a stubborn little ball of dough that had refused to rise, and would yield tiny little 'rock' loaves of bread. That was the case. Until I found this recipe.

I don't know what it is about this recipe (well, actually, I think it's the double quantity of yeast) that makes the bread so fluffy and light. This dough has risen excellently for me every single time I've made it, and after playing around with some salt/sugar measurements in the last few batches, I think we've found our winner. This loaf was dubbed 'the best bread you've made so far' by my mother, quite a compliment, as none of the others had been bad, some just more successful than others.


This, alas, is not a recipe completely of my own design. I've adapted this from the King of bread himself - Paul Hollywood's 'crusty white bloomer' recipe. The first time I made his recipe, I found the resulting bread to be quite salty. I found this unusual as normally my taste buds have a problem with homemade bread being not salty enough, and having that 'yeasty' flavour, which isn't very nice. Considering shop bought breads also contain a lot of salt, and taste fine, I couldn't work why the salt was bothering me. Anyway, I decided to experiment with different amounts to see what different results I would get. I tried no salt at all, half quantities of salt, mixtures of salt and sugar, and all sugar. I learned after many loaves that, yes, salt is critical.

before second rising
As the family chef I see it in our best interests to not add any extra salt to anything unless I absolutely can't avoid it. This is one of those times. For example, to me, the addition of salt to the Easy Flour Tortillas recipe is just unnecessary, and I really don't miss the salt, but in this bread, an amount substantial enough to feed the yeast is required. Don't get me wrong, you only need a teaspoon, it's not as if I'm telling you to add tablespoons of the stuff, but I like to cut salty corners whenever I can. So this annoyed me for a bit, until I realised that one teaspoon of salt across a whole loaf as part of a very low salt diet wasn't going to kill us. So, to counteract the somewhat salty flavour of the loaf, today, I added one teaspoon of sugar. Oh. My. Goodness. Buttery, light, fluffy, super crusty, crunchy, not-too-salty-not-too-sweet delicious bread that was gone in a mere few hours, it was that good. Fully deserving of the 'best loaf ever' comment.


A few things I would say about this dough: 1. Use butter if you can. The original recipe used butter, and for a good reason, you don't need that much, but boy does it make a difference to margarine. It gives a wonderful buttery flavour that you can taste right through the loaf and makes it extra delicious. 2: Don't put your dough in an 'extra warm' place to rise. Room temperature is just fine, do not be tempted to stick your dough in an airing cupboard, please! The temperatures in there will be too hot and will harm the yeast. Place the covered bowl of dough in the warmest room in your house, and, even in winter, it will rise, I promise. 3. You can choose how you want to shape your loaf. I like the round slashed bloomer loaf style, but feel free to experiment. I've never tried making this recipe into rolls, but I'm sure they would be successful. I've experimented before with a proper loaf tin, but had difficulty removing the bread once baked, so I find it easier to stick to the foolproof baking sheet.




Crusty White Bread
Makes 1 Large Loaf

500g strong white bread flour
2 packets easy bake yeast (14g)
1tsp salt
1tsp sugar
40g butter (salted or unsalted, your choice)
approx 300ml lukewarm water (about body temp.) you may need more or less, depending on the consistency of your dough.

1. Place the flour into large mixing bowl. Add the butter, breaking it up into small chunks so it will be easier to incorporate. Add the yeast on one side of the bowl, and the salt and sugar on the other. If they are added together too soon, apparently the salt/sugar will kill the yeast, listen to Mr Hollywood, children, he knows what he's talking about.
2. Stir the dry ingredients with your hands, rubbing in the butter a little. Add about half of the water and mix again with your hands, continue to add water until a dough forms. According to Paul 'you want a dough that is well combined and soft, but not sticky or soggy'.
3. Tip out your dough onto a very lightly floured surface. Avoid using too much extra flour, as it will change the consistency of your dough to the worse. If you're having big problems with the dough sticking while kneading (which I have never had with this recipe) spread a small amount of olive oil on your counter top, and knead the dough on top of this instead, which will not alter your finished dough.
4. Knead until smooth and elastic. You should be able to gently pull a piece of dough and it will spring back. Most recipes say this takes about 8-10 minutes but with this recipe, it takes much less, about 5-7, but see what works for you.
5. Tip the kneaded dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Leave in a warm (but not hot!) spot until doubled in size, about an hour max. For me, this also happens a lot quicker, about half and hour, but that may just be the temperature of my house at this time of year.
6. Remove the dough from the bowl and knock the air out of it. This is simply kneading the dough a few times to remove any huge air bubble, about 10 times should do the trick. With your hands tuck the edges of the dough underneath the ball to form a nice smooth shape. Continue to shape like this until you have the shape that you want. Place the shaped dough on a baking tray scattered well with flour (to prevent sticking) and cover again with a damp tea towel, leaving to rise in the warm spot until doubled in size again. While this is happening preheat your oven to gas mark 6.
7. Once the dough has doubled in size, scatter the top lightly with flour and run it over the dough for an even coating. Slash the dough with a serrated knife a few times using long strokes and cuts no more than 1cm deep, these will expand with cooking.
8. Place the loaf onto the middle shelf of your oven (this is important as otherwise the bread will hit the top of the oven when baking and burn, trust me, I know!) Place a roasting tin filled with 2cm deep of cold water in the bottom of the oven, the steam released when the bread cooks helps give it a wonderful crust.
9. Bake for 25-40 minutes, depending on your oven. The bread should be a deep golden brown on top, and should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Leave to cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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