Bread diary no. 12 – Spelt rolls

One of my colleagues at work is intolerant to gluten and made a request for bread she can eat.

As luck would have it I was given some spelt flour for Christmas that I was keen to try.

I don’t like to be too hard on myself however so I went for 60% spelt and 40% strong white flour. I was a tiny bit worried about how well it would rise so added a bit more yeast and slightly less salt.

It was a tricky dough to work with with hardly any gluten in but I coaxed it into a decent shape eventually.

Coming out the oven they smelt really nice. Eating didn’t disappoint either. The texture was a bit grainy but the taste was nice and went well with blue cheese and the soup we had for our tea.

Bread diary no. 11 – Malt flour

I was lucky enough to be given a plethora of interesting flours for Christmas/Chanukah. Two of the speciality flours were dark malt varieties that looked brown and exotic.

Red malt flour
Red malt flour

First up I tried some:

Red malt loaf
950g strong white flour
250g red malt flour
22g sea salt
22g yeast
840g water
25g dried malt flakes

As soon as I added the water to the mix the dough turned a wonderful dark chocolate colour and gave a wonderful malty smell. It’s been really cold recently and I’ve noticed that my proving and resting periods are longer than before by about 30 mins. If anything I should have left this a tiny bit longer.

Loaves ready for the oven
Loaves ready for the oven

While baking the bread gave off an even better aroma than usual and I couldn’t wait to give it a taste. It tastes very rich and malty and was an amazing accompaniment to some very smelly Epoisses cheese that I have. Also great with a bit of honey.

Next up I used a similar flour but added a twist – beer.

Dark barley malt loaf
800g strong white flour
100g dark barley malt flour
100g wholemeal flour
20g sea salt
20g dried yeast
660g dark wheat beer
40g water

Beer and flour
Beer and flour

This turned out to be very heady and aromatic with a strong but not unpleasant aftertaste. The texture is very chewy too. Excellent with smoked salmon.

These are very distinct breads that I wouldn’t necessarily want all the time but are great to have in the locker for a special occasion.

Bread diary no. 10 – a natural leaven

The natural next step in my bread making adventure is, of course, a natural leaven.

Using the tiny amount of yeast in the air was exactly how all bread was made not so long ago. Using a leaven rather than factory grown yeast does feel really traditional and, if was possible, makes me even smugger. As I have found out though making a leaven is a bit of a faff.

Leaven - day 1
Leaven - day 1
Leaven - day 3
Leaven - day 3

A leaven takes a good 5-6 days to mature. It seems to me that a leaven is like owning a pet. You have to feed, nourish and look after it every day. I suppose you don’t eat your pet at the end of it though. Mine did have a teenage rebellious period where it exploded out of the jar.

Other than the faff the leaven seemed easy enough to make. I followed the instructions from Dan Leppard’s book.

My first attempt at making bread with it was less successful though. What threw me was the radically different resting/proving times than I am used to. It turned out edible but was a bit denser and less fluffy than I normally make my bread. It did smell and taste pretty nice.

I’ve popped the leaven in the fridge for now and I’ll try to revive it another time and have another go.

Leaven - day 5
Leaven - day 5

Bread diary No. 9 – Walnut, Date and Honey bread

After a couple of weeks off making ‘special’ bread due to the birth of my newest daughter I was eager to make something homely but tasty.

I’ve had walnut bread before in restaurants, usually as an accompaniment to the cheese course but I figured that it should also make a nice breakfast bread. The other marginally significant thing about this entry is that this is the first bread that i’ve made without looking up a recipe. I feel that I now have my yeast/salt/flour/water ratio about right and have got the measure of my oven, something that can be a huge variable I think. I therefore felt pretty confident in exchanging 100g of water for honey and adding 50g each of chopped walnut and date. I used 1kg of white to 200g of rye. I love rye bread but only really when it is kept quite light and isn’t too dominating.

The bread turned out to be delicious, though slightly denser than I had hoped.

Bread diary no.8 – Bagels

Though not jewish myself I have married into a jewish family and bagels are a regular feature at get-togethers. They take their food pretty seriously so I was a bit nervous at them eating my first ever batch of home cooked bagels. This was, after all, a potentially tough audience!


I’m also a big fan of the bagel shops in brick lane, which I frequently go to and it was their style of slightly sweet bagel that I was hoping to produce.

Looking online there did seem to be 1001 different bagel recipes, many of which didn’t seem to call for any boiling which I thought was odd. If you only bake them are they not just rolls? The other problem I encountered was that most of the online recipes were written by americans and therefore talk of ‘cups’ which I don’t really understand. I settled eventually for just making up my own version based on a few other ideas I’d read about.

1200g (eventually 1300g) strong white flour
840ml of water
2 eggs
75g sugar
22g salt
20g yeast

The flour/water ratio is the one I use for normal bread but I should have realised that the liquid in the eggs would make my dough far too wet. In the end I had to add more flour (at least another 100g) to make it a nice consistency. I recovered it but i’ll be a little more careful next time.

It might have been the relatively cool kitchen or the slightly old dried yeast that I used but the dough didn’t rise as much as i’d have liked. I’m not sure this affected the bagels so much but the accompanying Chollah bread was a little dense.

Making the rings was a bit challenging and I will have a think about how I do this next time as my bagels were certainly not pretty. The boiling went ok but the baking took a lot longer than I thought, mainly I now realise because i’d made the bagels quite big. Next time i’ll make them a tad smaller.

Boiling bread
Boiling bread

On the table and covered in humous or smoked salmon they seemed to go down very well. Not quite up to the standard of the brick lane bagel shop but I will have another go at these sometime and try to improve. Glad I tried it!

Bread diary no. 7 – Olive bread with pancetta

Since the last entry I’ve made some milk bread and a light rye loaf, both using bread tins. I’ve found the tins a bit tricky so far and it is a bit of an adjustment from the normal baking times.

The highlight though has been my first attempt at olive bread. I used another recipe from the ‘dough’ book for olive bread with black olives and pancetta. I pre-cooked the pancetta and finely chopped the olives but only just remembered to add them to the dough.

I made a kilo batch and divided them into 6 medium sized baguettes. The result exceeded my expectations and the bread was delicious. The crust was crusty and the crumb light and springy. In technical terms this might be my best bread so far. How much is down to me or the addition of the olive oil is hard to say?

So far we have had some of the olive bread just with butter but it has been best as a base for mini pizzas.

I’ll definitely be making this one again.

Bread diary No.6 – Rye Cider Bread

I seem to be more or less making two batches of bread a week now. A standard loaf for toast and sandwiches in the week and something a bit more adventurous for weekends.

This weekends bread was another recipe from the ‘Dough’ book – Somerset Cider Bread. I was interested in this for two reasons, firstly it contained cider and I wondered what effect this would have on the bread and secondly it called for less yeast and a 6 hour ferment. I again went for a fairly light Rye loaf – 75% white, 25% rye.

Rye Cider Bread
Rye Cider Bread

Unfortunately I didn’t read the recipe correctly and started making the full amount when the ferment was supposed to be with just half the dough. I then decided to forgo the ferment this time and just put in some more yeast.

Working the dough, resting, folding and proving are all becoming fairly second nature now but I’m still having problems making sure that my individual loaves are the same size. I may need to use a scale for this praps?

The finished bread was very nice but the cider/apple flavour turned out to be very subtle and fairly easily disguised once you added butter and another topping. Nothing went wrong but I thought it might have been a slight waste of some quite nice cider. I’d like to try the 6 hour ferment still but I may replace the cider with beer maybe?

Bread diary No. 5 – The Weekly loaf

A month into bread making and I feel that I’m getting into a bit of a rhythm.

When I started, bread making was a special weekend event but in the last few weeks I’ve made some regular bread for everyday use. Last week I made a kilo of light rye bread (80% white 20% rye) with a sprinkling of whole rye grains in. This week I made a batch of light wholemeal bread (70% White 30% wholemeal). Both turned out really well and made excellent sandwich bread.

I’ve learnt that when I make large batches I need to use two shelves in the oven. This does mean that they cook differently and that it is good to swap them over half way through the bake. I’ve also bought a granite floor tile to use as a baking stone.

The only part of the process that I’ve not entirely cracked yet is the transfer of the bread from the proving board to the baking stone in the oven. Bakers are supposed to use a peel (a sort of wooden shovel) but I don’t have one of these. So far it’s been a matter of trying as best as i can to slide and/r man-handle the bread onto the hot tray. Hopefully this will get smoother.

We are quite busy this weekend so I may not be making any special bread this week which is a shame as there are a few I’m dying to try.

Bread diary No.4 – Mint Loaf

Things have so far gone suspiciously well with my new endeavor into bread making and I didn’t want to muck it up now.

I felt that last week’s Alsace Rye Bread was nice but not something to have in the morning for breakfast. I did consider making brioche but in the end went for a compromise of a ‘milk bread’. I found a recipe for ‘Mint and Orange Loaf’ in a book called ‘Dough‘ which looked like the thing I was after.

Mint loaf, fresh out of the oven!
Mint loaf, fresh out of the oven!

It looked like a fairly standard milk bread but with the milk being pre-infused with fresh mint (of which we have tons from the garden). In the process of making this recipe I actually forgot to add the orange zest so it ended up just ‘mint’ flavoured.

In the end I didn’t really cry over missing out the orange as the mint flavouring was quite gentle and subtle and I think that the orange could have drowned it out. The bread turned out to be delicious and I will definitely be making it again. In a way, however, it was disappointing to break the ‘purity rule’ of just 4 ingredients – water, flour, yeast and salt.

Sliced Mint loaf
Sliced Mint loaf

Up to now I have been using dried yeast but quite fancy trying out some fresh to see if it makes much difference. I have also ordered a silicon bowl scoop as this seems to be a very handy tool.

Bread diary No.3 – Alsace Rye Loaf

So far I’ve had a go and so far I have at least one reliable tasty bread ‘in the bag’.

This time I thought I’d up the stakes and go for something a little more ambitious – an Alsace Rye Loaf. I got the recipe from Dan Leppard’s ‘The Handmade Loaf’, a present I’d bought for Deborah a few years ago and now shamelessly using myself.

The recipe calls for white flour (60%), rye wholemeal flour (40%) plus some whole rye grains. At the point I decided to do this recipe I never thought I would have such difficulty getting hold of the rye grains. It turned into something akin to the quest for the holy grail. In the end I finally found the ‘grail’ in a health food store well off my usual beaten tracks.

Making the bread required all the normal proving, leaving, kneading and then leaving some more etc. this time I added the rye grains that I’d cooked the night before and then soaked in some white wine. Instead of loaves I decided to go for batons on this one which I was quite pleased with.


I do kind of have to sort out how I place things in the oven as, for the second time now, the bread on the top shelf is slightly too high and burns a smidgen. I’ll adjust things for the next batch.

The result
I was panicking that I’d under-cooked the bread but it turns out that once it cooled that it was fine. We had the bread with our lunch and with just a bit of butter it was delicious and flavoursome. With a bit of boursin it was even better. The perfect food for this style of bread is probably something like soup or a stew. The bread would soak up the soup nicely while adding a nice chewyness from the rye grains.

The finished loaves cooling on the rack
The finished loaves cooling on the rack

This recipe was a trifle more complicated than the last ones but good to see if I could do. I would definitely make this bread again but I would probably reduce the ratio of whole rye grains as, for me, they didn’t leave quite enough room for the bread itself.