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focaccia_1This recipe for flatbread is another of my interpretations of Dan Lepard’s loaves.  This time it’s his take on the Italian focaccia.   Lepard’s ‘Olive Oil and Potato Flatbread‘ uses your average white spud, which most of you have knocking about.  However, on my mission for corporeal wellbeing (and that of my bairns), I like to substitute the white potato with a sweet potato as the latter is infinitely more nutritious, and sweet to boot.  I’ve also added a topping of silky sautéed red onions, fresh sprigs of rosemary and torn black olives – which add a heavenly trilogy of sweetness, earthiness and saltiness to the bread – and I use a little nutty walnut oil, which really compliments the sweet potato.  This is a meal (or, if you’re me, a snack) in itself.

Ingredients

200g 00 pasta flour
200g strong white bread-making flour
175g peeled and then grated sweet potato
1 teaspoon of fine sea salt
21g fresh yeast (or 1 teaspoon of easy-blend yeast)
275ml warm water
2 tablespoons of olive oil mixed with 2 tablespoons of walnut oil
Olive oil for sautéing the onion and oiling the baking tray
1 red onion
A handful of fresh rosemary
6 black olives
Coarse-ground rock salt for sprinkling

focaccia_2

Method

Scald a large mixing bowl with boiling water and then dry it out.  Add the warm water to the bowl and, using a fork, mix the fresh (or dry) yeast with the water.  Once dissolved, add the grated sweet potato, 00 flour, strong white bread flour and salt, and continue to mix using your fingers until it comes together.  You will have a very soft and sticky dough.

Cover the bowl with a clean, dry tea towel and leave somewhere warm for 10 minutes. Quoting Dan Lepard, we do this because “This will give the flour time to fully absorb the water and aid the development of the elastic protein called gluten, which will catch all of the gas produced by the yeast.

Rub a generous tablespoon of your walnut and olive oil mixture on the top of the dough using your hands, and then loosen the dough rubbing downwards so that it is covered in the oil.  Next, turn the bowl with one hand and, using the other, pull the dough up-and-down out of the bowl about 8 times, to give it a good stretch.  Cover the bowl again and leave for another 10 minutes. Repeat this process twice more at 10-minute intervals, then cover again and leave for a further 30 minutes.

Next, oil a large plate and, using a plastic palette knife, flip the dough out of the bowl and onto the plate in one quick motion.  Give the dough a blanket fold by stretching and folding it into thirds – you can learn how to do this by watching this video – and then place the plate and dough inside a plastic bag and leave for 30 minutes. Repeat the blanket fold once more and again cover the plate and leave for another 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 220C (200C fan-assisted).  Generously oil a large baking tray (preferably non-stick) and drop the dough into the middle of it.  Fold the dough in half so that it looks rather symmetrical and squarish, before turning it over so that the seam is hidden and your bread looks neat.  Then return the baking tray and dough to your carrier bag (I find I often have to tear or cut the plastic to get it to fit), the inside of which you have oiled so that the dough doesn’t stick to the sides.  Leave this parcel for 30 minutes or until the dough has risen nicely.

Whilst your dough is having its final rise, cut in half and finely slice your onion.  Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a pan (again, ideally non-stick) and, over a low heat, slowly cook the onion for about 15 minutes – or until it has taken on a translucent and glossy colour – stirring every now and then so that the onion doesn’t catch.

After your dough has had its final rise, remove from the carrier bag and, using lightly oiled fingers, dimple the top of the dough.  Then pour over your softened onions, including any of the oil left in the pan, followed by a sprinkling of rock salt, a few sprigs of rosemary, and the black olives, which you can tear up roughly with your fingers (of course, remembering to remove any stones). Bake in the oven for around 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 200C (180C fan-assisted) and bake for a further 10-15 minutes until the bread has a golden crust.

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I am very proud of my recipe for challah.  Most importantly, it delivers two beautiful, golden loaves that can be devoured over the course of a weekend.  (We eat one fresh from the oven on a Friday night, and then slice the other on the Saturday morning before dipping in egg, dusting with cinnamon and nutmeg, frying in butter or oil, and dousing with honey or maple syrup.)

Challah is a loaf steeped in Jewish history, folklore and tradition.  It is baked and eaten for the Jewish sabbath and festivals, and reflects the belief to share and make peace within Jewish culture.  Its shape changes form depending on the festivity or community it is made for, as does its flavour.  Claudia Roden writes more about challah here.

Challah1My own recipe uses Dan Lepard’s bread-making methods, which I always favour.  I also prefer to use fresh yeast (also called bakers or cake yeast), which I buy from local artisan bakeries or health food shops, but I have also allowed for dried yeast within the recipe too.  And here’s a nifty little video (it’s like cute frum meets ‘The Brady Bunch’) to show you the many ways you can plait your challah before baking.  (I particularly love this demonstration as Rivka Malka uses plasticine.)

Ingredients

Yeast Sponge
275ml warm water
20g fresh yeast / 1 sachet easy-blend yeast (equivalent to 2 teaspoons or 7g)
275g strong white unbleached bread-making flour

Dough
500g strong white unbleached bread-making flour, plus extra for dusting
125ml vegetable oil, plus extra for kneading and/or oiling baking trays
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 medium eggs, beaten
4 tablespoons honey
1 egg yolk, beaten with a bit of water, for glazing
Poppy or sesame seeds

Method

In a large mixing bowl, add the yeast to the warm water and mix with a fork.  Slowly add the flour, continuing to beat in with the fork, until the mixture has come together.  Cover the bowl with a clean, dry dish cloth and leave somewhere warm for a couple of hours.

After this time, and in another large mixing bowl, beat together the vegetable oil, honey, salt and 3 beaten eggs using a fork.  Then mix in the yeast sponge, followed by the remaining 500g of flour.

Once the mixture comes together use your hands to bring everything together well and then, using a floured surface, knead the dough vigorously for 5 minutes.  You can add more water or flour if you think the mixture is too dry or sticky.

Put the dough back into the bowl and cover for 10 minutes with the cloth.  Repeat this process twice more, using an oiled surface (a teaspoon of oil to cover an area the size of a dinner plate will suffice) but only kneading for a few seconds at a time.  Then cover again and leave for 30 minutes whilst you preheat your oven to 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4.

Line a baking sheet with parchment or oil well.  At this point I then divide my dough into two portions (for two loaves), and then divide each of these into four (you will have eight pieces all together) before rolling each piece into a sausage shape ready to plait.  I braid two four-plaited challahs straight onto their baking sheets.  Use this video to help you.

After braiding your bread, cover each tray in a plastic bag until the loaves have doubled in size (about 1-2 hours).  Remove from bags, glaze each loaf with the egg wash, and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds.  Bake in your preheated oven for 30-40 minutes until golden. (You will know when your loaves are ready when they sound hollow if you tap them on the underside.)

Serve just warm and sprinkle with sea salt for a proper shabbes flavour.

There’s absolutely nothing better than tearing apart a steaming pitta, before dousing it in hummus and harissa, and devouring slowly.  I’ve been using this fabulous recipe by super-baker Dan Lepard for years and it’s the closest I’ve come to the amazing pittot made by our middle-eastern bread-making friends here in Bristol, Abu Noor.

Pitta3Makes about 8 pittas
Preparation and cooking time: approx 2 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients

300g strong white flour
200g plain flour
1 level teaspoon easy-blend yeast
1 level tablespoon caster sugar
1 level teaspoon fine salt
2 tablespoon sunflower oil
325ml warm water
1 tablespoon of za’atar (if you have it.  Otherwise, here’s how to make it)

Method

Scald a large mixing bowl with boiling water.  Place both flours, yeast, sugar and salt into the bowl, followed by the oil and water, and mix together to make a soft, sticky dough.  Cover the bowl with a dry dish cloth and leave the dough for 10 minutes.  Rub a tablespoon of oil onto the work surface to cover an area about the size of a dinner plate and tip the dough out onto the oiled surface before kneading lightly for only 8-10 seconds, until smooth.  Return the dough to the bowl, cover again and repeat this light-kneading process twice more at 10-minute intervals.  Then leave the dough, covered, for 30 minutes.

Pitta1Heat your oven to at least 250°C (230°C for fan-assisted) or gas mark 9 and place a clean baking tray on a rack in the oven for 20 minutes to get very hot.  Meanwhile, lightly flour a clean work surface and divide the dough into pieces weighing around 100g, before rolling each piece into a ball.  Cover these balls and leave to rest for 15 minutes.  Next, roll out each ball into an oval roughly 5mm thick and again leave to rest for 2 minutes.

Pitta2At this point, you can sprinkle your pitta with za’atar, a heavenly Middle-Eastern condiment made from fresh, dried and toasted ingredients.  And here’s my easy-peasy recipe for za’atar should you wish to make some.

Quickly take the tray out of the oven, shut the door, lay one or two pittas on it and return to the oven.  Bake for 3-5 minutes or until risen and barely coloured.  Immediately remove with tongs (watch out, these babies are hot hot hot) and leave to cool under a cloth, to keep soft and moist.  Repeat with the remaining pitta.

Naturally, there’s nothing greater than eating freshly-baked bread but these pitta freeze excellently, and can be reheated and enjoyed at another time.

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