Rise and shine: Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes for home-baked bread
Baking bread from scratch is nowhere near as daunting as it seems
In last weeks column, I said that bread baking is a pretty daunting proposition to many people, and that flatbreads were perhaps the ideal gateway to this wonderful art, because theyre often just cooked in a pan and need little or no fermentation. Well, Ive picked todays recipes to show that risen loaves can also be pretty simple to make, and dont require a whole lot of experience or skill, either.
The process is very straightforward indeed: you combine flour, water, yeast and salt, then knead the mix (or not, as in the case of todays first recipe) to develop the glutens, before letting time do its thing, so the yeast can produce carbon dioxide and fill the dough with gas cells. Finally, bake the dough to set the loafs structure and generate that gorgeous bread flavour.
So, just four simple steps, but with so many possibilities and choices as to what you can add to the dough, how you shape it and how it gets baked. The results are so varied that the whole process can seem like magic. As with all magic tricks, however, making this one work is nowhere near as complicated as it at first appears.
This is a wonderfully light, intensely flavoured and thick-crusted loaf. Tell the person eating it that you didnt have to knead the dough and that it does not require any fancy kit beyond a casserole pan, and watch them start to believe in magic. I first came across the method in a 2006 column by Mark Bittman for the New York Times, and its been working its magic in flour-dusted kitchens ever since. What you save in elbow grease or fancy kit, however, you will need to make up for with patience, because you need to start on the loaf a day before you want to eat it. Its this time that produces the fermentation that forms the gluten the bread needs to have its firm texture and deep flavour. Makes one large 750g loaf.
600g strong white bread flour, plus about 30g extra for dusting
tsp fast-action yeast
10g soft dark brown sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
In a large bowl, mix the flour, yeast, sugar and two teaspoons of salt. Make a well in the centre of the mix, then pour in the buttermilk and water, and stir until the ingredients are well combined and the dough is wet and sticky. Cover the bowl with cling-film and set aside in a warm-ish spot (room temperature is fine) for 24 hours. The dough will rise and then fall, and should be full of bubbles.
Line the base of a round, 23cm cast-iron casserole dish for which you have a lid with baking paper, and brush both the paper and the sides of the pan with oil. Sprinkle half the polenta evenly over the pan base.
Transfer the wet dough to a flour-dusted work surface, scraping off any bits stuck to the sides of the bowl. Sprinkle the dough with more flour, dust your hands with flour, then fold the edges of the dough into the centre. Flip the dough over, then tuck the edges underneath, to make a rough ball, dusting with more flour as you go, then lift the dough into the pan. This dough is very wet, so the folding and flipping may be a challenge the first time you make it, but dont worry: if its a bit messy and uneven at this stage, the end result will be fine. Sprinkle the remaining polenta on top of the dough, clap on the lid and leave to prove and rise for two hours.
Twenty minutes before the bread has finished rising, heat the oven to 250C (ie, its highest setting). Once the dough has proved, transfer the covered pot to the oven, bake for 20 minutes, then turn down the heat to 220C/425F/gas mark 7 and bake for another 20 minutes. Turn down the heat again to 200C/390F/gas mark 6, take the lid off the pan and bake for 35 minutes more, until the crust is dark brown (getting it pretty dark will ensure it remains crisp for longer). Remove from the oven, run a knife around the sides of the bread to release it from the pot, then turn out on to a wire rack to cool down.
While lean doughs have crisp crusts and airy interiors, doughs that are enriched with fats such as eggs, butter and whole milk have an irresistibly rich flavour. Its these added fats that also prevent the formation of a crust, which is why challah is so brioche-like soft. Dont be intimidated by the shaping of the dough here: if you can tie shoelaces, you can braid this dough. Serves eight to 10.
2 tsp fast-action yeast
200ml lukewarm water
90g caster sugar
580g strong bread flour
1 tbsp flaked sea salt
3 eggs, beaten
60ml sunflower oil, plus 1 tsp extra to grease a bowl
60g unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
Mix the yeast and water in a small bowl with half a teaspoon of sugar, then set aside for 15 minutes, until it starts to froth.
Put the rest of the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with the dough hook in place. Add the flour and salt, mix slowly to combine, then add the yeast mix, two of the beaten eggs, the oil and butter, and mix slowly until it comes together into a dough. Raise the speed to medium-high and beat for eight minutes, until smooth, soft and elastic. Transfer to a large bowl brushed with oil, cover with a clean tea towel and leave somewhere warm for about two hours, until doubled in size.
Divide the dough into three equal pieces, then roll and pull each piece into a 45cm-long x 4-5cm-thick sausage. Position the three sausages side by side on a large sheet of greaseproof paper, and press together the top three ends, to join, then braid the three sausages into a plait; to finish, press the bottom three ends together, as with the tops, to join and seal. Tuck both ends under the plait to neaten the look and stop the whole thing unravelling, then cover again with the tea towel and leave to rise for 75 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4, and heat up a 30cm x 40cm baking tray. Brush the plait all over with the third beaten egg, making sure you get it into all the crevices, then lift the bread, still on its paper, on to the hot baking tray. Bake for 30 minutes, until the top is a deep golden-brown and the underneath of the bread is also dark and sounds hollow when you tap it. Set aside to cool before serving
Read more: www.theguardian.com