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.

'Proving'
'Proving'

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.

Bread diary No.2 – Crusty white yeast bread (again)

My first effort at bread making turned out surprisingly well. So much so in fact that I was a bit worried that it was all a bit of a fluke. I decided therefore to make the same bread as last week – A white yeast bread.

Again, two delicious loaves of bread, it wasn’t just beginners luck! This time though, I felt a bit more organised and got into the rhythm a lot better. I now feel that this crusty white loaf is my benchmark and that I can move on from here and try something less basic. I have also realised that this recipe requires me to be around for a total of 3 hours (although with lots of gaps) which is good to know.

I was interested in working out the economics of self baking, but it is quite difficult to be very precise. 1.5kg of strong white flour (90p) makes almost 4 decent sized loaves of bread which would make 22.5p per loaf. I bought some amazing sea salt in France (a 1.5kg bag for E1.50) and have so far used dry yeast (46p for 125g) which makes these costs fairly negligible. It’s then only the oven cost for 50 minutes on a high heat which I have no idea. Artisan bread at Borough Market costs £3-4 so regardless of how I add up the variables, it makes quite a saving!

Can’t wait to try a new recipe next week!

Bread diary No. 1 – Crusty white yeast bread

The yeast dough
The yeast dough

I have done a little bit of travelling and it never quite fails to amaze me that almost every country in the world seems to make better bread than the UK. It is a fundamental basic of food and yet I feel badly served by the majority of loaves on offer in my own country. Yes I can go to a specialist bakery (and pay a fortune) but in somewhere like France the basic baguette is usually good if not excellent. I have also been to places with no electricity and little running water and had some of the best bread of my life.

I have therefore decided to give a go to making my own bread in the hope that I can end up making something half decent.

Ready for the oven
Ready for the oven

For my first attempt I’ve had a go at a ‘Country sourdough-yeast bread‘ that looked fairly nice and is definitely the kind of bread I love to eat. I learnt several things in the making of this bread. Firstly, don’t let your 2 year old (and very inquisitive) daughter try to ‘help’ you. Secondly I found that while the whole process took a couple of hours, there were huge intervals of ‘proving’, ‘rising’ and baking that all allow you to go off and do other things.

With some trepidation I took my two loafs from the oven, gave them a bit of a tap and was relieved to find a nice crust and a vaguely hollow sound. I waited agonisedly for the bread to cool down a bit before I cut myself a slice off the end, spread a little butter and had a taste. Not bad, in fact actually quite good. It’s possible that this was beginners luck but my first attempt seems to be a winner – a lovely crusty soft white loaf. Yay!

The finished loafs
The finished loafs

Coffees of the month – Ethiopia Yirgacheffe and Sumatra Lingtong Takengon

Here is the next episode of my ‘coffee of the month‘ series which documents my introduction into the world of gourmet coffees. Just to re-cap, i’ve been trying a new coffee (or two) each month since March 2009. I’ve slightly slipped behind with this latest report so it will have to be brief.

Ethiopia Yirgacheffe
Smooth and slightly fruity this was really lovely and really exemplifies what I think is my favourite type of coffee. Given the chance I could drink this all day.

Sumatra Lingtong Takengon
A great counterpoint to the Yirgacheffe this is a bit raw and full-on but I really liked that. This was a great wake-up coffee for me on a work day. The Yirgacheffe was much more of a relaxing weekend coffee.

I would definitely have both of these again.

Coffees of the month – Yemen Mocha Matari and Guatemala El Bosque Amatitlan Red Bourbon

Another month, another ‘coffee of the month’ review. This time I look at coffees from very different places.

Coffee from the finest estates
Coffee from the finest estates

Yemen Mocha Matari
The classic, original mocha (not to be confused with the chocolate coffee drink). I was keen to give this a try as Yemen is an old and high profile coffee growing country and mocha it’s most famous ‘brand’. I found this quite delicious – rich and, not surprisingly, a bit chocolately. I liked this and am keen to try some more mocha.

Guatemala El Bosque Amatitlan Red Bourbon
This was a very drinkable coffee, nice and fruity and a little acidic! I am finding over time that I prefer smooth, less acidic coffees so while this was good I much prefered the Mocha this month. I also generally found that this coffee didn’t particularly stand out from others I tried so I may not be getting it again.