Getting back into the swing of things.

After several months of not feeling like making bread,  resulting in a nearly empty freezer, I’ve got back into the baking habit. Yesterday I thought it was time to have another look at some of my many bread making books. My collection just keeps on growing, this one click shopping is just too easy. I wanted to make a range of breads, savoury, everyday, and something a little richer for Sunday breakfast.

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I made a large batch of sourdough for toasting and to keep the family going while I concentrated on the less practical breads. The savoury bread was the first one to grab my attention – onions and caraway could it work? Maybe so. For this one I more or less made the New York Deli Rye that features in Peter Reinhardt’s ‘The Baker’s Apprentice’. That loaf didn’t last long- hence no photos. Next time I’ll try and get some photographs of the breadmaking stages. That’s going to be fun, I could will probably end  with a camera all gunged up with dough.

A bread that I had never heard of, until I began making bread, was challah. It is normally eaten on the Sabbath in Jewish households. It is delicious and it is really straightforward to make. It’s not as rich as a brioche and not as messy to make. It also looks pretty amazing. It rises spectacularly when you’re proving it and even more so in the oven. It also delicious as toast, if there is any left it makes wonderful Pain Perdu, Eggy Bread or Gypsy Toast; whichever name you call it using challah makes it truly scrumptious. If I’m feeling good I’ll add some fresh berries along side it as well. It also makes a wonderful base for a chocolate chip bread pudding. Recipe for this can be found in Nigella’s Kitchen I think. It’s worth looking up.

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Now back to the main event how to make challah. From these quantaties I made the large loaf and four crescent rolls, these are destined for Sunday’s breakfast with some homemade lemon curd. The large loaf will be put in the freezer for a rainy day, i.e. a day when I don’t feel like making much for breakfast but want to seem as though I have. I find these days occur more often in the holidays, definitely after Up- Helly- Aa (the Shetland fire festivals held in the first few months of the year)

Don’t be put off by the lengthy instructions, they’re just very detailed.

Ingredients

900g strong white bread flour,
1 tbsp salt,
2 packets of instant dried yeast, 14g
250 ml tepid water
250 ml tepid milk
3 tbsp sunflower oil
2 large eggs, lightly mixed
3 tbsp caster sugar
1 beaten egg for egg wash.
Poppy or sesame seeds for decoration

In a large bowl, mix the yeast with the warm milk and water, add the eggs, oil and sugar and lightly mix together.
Add the salt to the flour and stir to combine
Add the flour gradually to the yeasty mixture, a couple of large handfuls at a time. At first it will be quite lumpy but it will become smoother as you add more flour.
Stir for a couple of minutes, don’t worry the mixture will look quite scruffy and will be quite sticky.
Cover your bowl with cling film or a damp tea towel and leave in at room temperature for about 20 mins.
Lightly flour your work surface and gently tip your dough out.
Rinse your bowl and lightly coat it with a flavourless oil.
Give your dough a light knead, no more than a minute is needed. If the dough is really sticky incorporate a little flour into it.  Gather the dough into a ball and place it into the oiled bowl, cover it and leave your dough for another twenty minutes.
Gently knead your dough and place it back in the bowl leave for another twenty minutes  and do a final brief knead. Form your dough into a ball place it back in your oiled bowl and cover again.
Return to your dough in about an hour it should have doubled in size, if it hasn’t leave it for a while longer till it has.
Divide your dough into two large pieces.
Place one of the pieces back in your bowl and cover it.
Challah is normally braided, if you don’t feel up to doing a complicated plait, just divide this piece of dough into two- these will be the strands of your braid. Roll and stretch each strand until its about 25 – 30cms.  Pinch the two stands together at one end. Twist the two stands together. You can now place this on an oiled baking tray,  coil it onto a crown or carefully place it in a 900g loaf tin with the ends neatly tucked underneath. Do the same with the other piece of dough. If you feel like doing something fancier go for either 3, 4, or 6 strand braids. I won’t add instructions but if you need some help look for Tori Avey’s online tutorial.
Turn your oven on to 200°c\ 180°c fan oven 400°f
Carefully cover your dough with either oiled cling film or a damp cloth. Leave your dough until it has doubled on size, probably about 40 mins. Wash your loaves with the beaten egg. Use a soft brush to lightly coat the loaves. Sprinkle with the seeds.
Bake the bread  for 35 mins then rotate the pan bake  for another  10 – 25 mins. The bread should be nicely golden and sound hollow when gently tapped. If you use a probe thermometer it should be 85-90°c in the middle.
Cool on a wire rack and try to wait half an hour before slicing and sampling.

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This is what we will be having on Sunday with a section of jams and some nice butter. If you have a go at making this I’m sure you’ll love it as much as we do.

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Some wholesome German breads and a big batch of Italian loaves.

image Thanks for looking at this, my first post. My daytime job is teaching English. So does my OH. In our twenties we decided we wanted to work overseas and set off on an European adventure. We lived in Germany for nearly five years and developed a taste for good wholesome Germanic bread. With an excellent bakery about 200m away we woke up to the aroma of freshly baked bread. Bliss!

The wanderlust took hold again and we packed our growing collection possessions and moved to near the Italian lakes. Somewhere on the way we had acquired a twenty month old, very articulate toddler, who knew what he liked food wise.  Italian bread is wonderful to eat with a meal or to munch on. However, have you ever tried making a cheese and tomato sandwich from a ciabatta? Its delicious as long as you have a full set of teeth to deal with those crackly crusts. I began making bread in Italy, at first with a bread maker. Once I’d taken it to its limits I bought some fresh yeast and began a bread making journey of my own. At first it was just the odd loaf to supplement the local bread we still enjoyed.

After ten years in Bella Italia the teaching contract with the European Schools ended and we had to move back to Britain. After months of ‘debate’ we ended up in Shetland.  Somehow or other we had acquired another son to add to our collection. I, no we, were appalled at the bread that is generally accepted here in Britain. So a hobby turned into a necessity. There was no way we were eating the doughy pap that passes for bread, now the only time I eat bought bread is on holiday, or in a chip butty – homemade bread just isn’t pliable enough to keep the chips encased properly.

I’m also a keen cook and on a few occasions I’ve catered for events that a local knitwear designer, Nielanell, has hosted. I think she’d heard about my bread and cooking through my son, Sam, who has helped her out in her studio for years. Now I make some bread for Niela as well; she is always willing to try some of the wackier breads that I produce and has even been persuaded to keep a journal with her thoughts on our baking efforts. The beer barm bread was ‘a delight’  as was the Sultana and cider – is there a theme developing here? I jest, just ask her about Niela’s buttocks though- it was two buns baked in a loaf tin – if you were wondering.

I would love to set up a bakery, at 56 I fear it will remain a hobby. I hope that my oldest son will do something in the bakery line. In the meantime look out for the journeyman bakers. It was a chance meeting with a local photographer and food blogger Elizabeth @ Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary,  who has inspired me to start a bakery blog. I realise this is a little longer than the couple of sentences needed to introduce this blog.  Feel free to read as much or as little as you want. My fingers just seem to run away with themselves. It’s a bit like when I begin a baking session, I never know when to stop – I just hope there’s enough room in the freezer.

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