Monday, 14 January 2013

Battling with bread, Dan Lepard vs River Cottage.

I'm writing this for all those battling with breadmaking, as I have been.

Since moving back to London in September I have baking my own bread after nurturing a starter to life, bubbling happily on my windowsill in its new bigger jar after I walked in one morning and it'd escaped its jar all over the sill. Rebellious children. A starter, for those not of the nerdy bread persuasion, is a mix of flour, water and possibly a sugary element which serves to feed the yeast contentedly developing. You need to regularly feed said started and mine, at least, has become rather like a pet.
Anyway, I started off using Dan Lepard's 'The Handmade Loaf', simply because I wanted a bit of a helping hand and my mum had this lying around. I decided, contrary to my usual practice, to follow the recipes to the letter until I felt confident enough to veer a little more onto my own course. My starter, therefore, was created à la Dan Lepard, using raisins to speed up the yeast. So far so good. For a couple of months since I have been struggling with what is allegedly the easy option, the no-knead method, as advocated by Lepard. This technique involves mixing the dough together and kneading for a few seconds then leaving it to rest, starting with a set of 10 minute rests which extend to half hour then hour then 4 hour rests. Although the involvement is short it needs a lot of attention and I found that as essay season descended I wasn't baking because it required me effectively putting a whole day aside and my best friend becoming my digital timer (it is anyway, to be honest - I love my timer!). The bread that I was producing was by no means inedible (right), in fact it was pretty tasty, but it didn't look the way I wanted it to and involved to much stress to make it worthwhile.
After a motivational talk with my dad, who has been making his own bread for a few years now, which went somewhere along the lines of 'YOU OWN THE BREAD, THE BREAD DOESN'T OWN YOU' I decided to try another recipe.

I stumbled across this sourdough recipe on the River Cottage site. This method involves making a sponge with all of the liquid you will use, your starter and half of the flour. This is left and, once ready, the rest of the flour, salt and oil is added, the dough then kneaded and left to rise once then knocked back to rise again before baking. So far, so easier than no-kneading, although taking place over a longer period of time. The above picture is my second attempt using this technique and I am getting much better results with this recipe. It's much easier to juggle bread making with uni and having a life as it needs so little attention. I tend to mix the sponge either in the morning before lectures or before I go to bed then leave for the day/night covered in clingfilm. I then add the rest of the ingredients when bubbles are nicely formed and leave for another day/night in a coolish place. I have also repeated this step when I didn't have the time to bake the bread, worked fine. Remember to oil the clingfilm!! ESSENTIAL. Then allow the dough to rise once more for a few hours before baking in a fairly hot oven (mine has no temperatures on the dial anymore so I guesstimate).

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