Bahrain breakfast

March 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

When I started researching this breakfast, Bahrain was just a small Gulf State backwater brought to international prominence by its oil industry. It’s an archipelago of 33 islands close to Saudi Arabia in the western Persian Gulf. The largest, the 34 mile long Bahrain Island, is linked to Saudi Arabia via the King Fahd Causeway which is the 16th longest bridgest in the world.

A chance encounter with Lucy Caldwell’s new novel “The Meeting Point”, courtesy of BBC Radio 4’s Book At Bedtime in February 2011 put some flesh on the bones of the life of the substantial ex-pat community in Bahrain – more than 20% of the population of 1.2m are foreign nationals. And the web is littered with references to “Aramco Brats” – children of the original Arabian-American Oil Company employees who were based in Saudi and Bahrain following the discovery of oil in Bahrain in 1932.

Then Bahrain became one of the countries of the 2011 “Arab Spring” currently sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa. There had been early intimations of trouble – another Radio 4 Programme, “Crossing Continents” presciently reported in December 2010 on the heavy-handed repression, torture even, of opponents to the ruling al-Khalifa family. So far, demonstrations in Bahrain have been stopped in their tracks with the aid of troops from neighbouring Saudi. It remains to be seen what will happen.

A lot to think about over one small breakfast.

This breakfast’s menu came to us thanks to a helpful video entitled “Friday Breakfast” shot by Mahmood from Bahrain back in 2006. His Friday breakfast looks to be the equivalent of our Western Saturday or Sunday breakfast when we might make or buy something special.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7q1o7rgP9eM

Thanks to Mahmood, I decided that the menu would be khubz (Arabic flat bread, aka pitta), samboosas (which look to be similar to Indian samosas), fried tomatoes with spices, and scrambled eggs.

Making the pitta bread was straightforward enough – those little pockets appear as if by magic as long as there’s enough heat on the top surface of the bread. Very satisfying and deliciously fresh.

The samosas were, on the other hand, a complete faff. Making the filling of potatoes, peas herbs and spiceswas straightforward enough but forming the samosas was another matter…

I pride myself on having nimble fingers and being reasonably proficient with pastry, but shaping these wretched little tricorn parcels, coaxing them to stay open in order to push in the filling, then attempt to seal the whole thing up was the most technically challenging piece of cooking I’ve attempted in the last 2 years (and beyond that my memory fails me). I don’t often find myself saying this, but if you fancy a samosa, pop to your local Indian grocer and buy one.

Recipe for Khubz (pitta bread)

From Claudia Roden’s “A New Book of Middle Eastern Food” with occasional minor wording changes. Based on my recent breadmaking experience, I didn’t bother with warming the liquids, letting the yeast froth or oiling the baking sheets as specified in the recipe. The end result was just fine so by all means do the same if you are a confident breadmaker.

Ingredients
15g fresh yeast or 7g dried yeast
300 ml tepid water (approximate)
pinch of sugar
500g strong white flour
3g salt (1/2 teaspoon)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (optional) plus a little extra for greasing

Dissolve the yeast in 100ml of the total amount of tepid water. Add the pinch of sugar and leave in a warm place for about 10 minutes, or until it becomes frothy and bubbly.

Sift the flour and salt into a warmed mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture. Knead well by hand, adding enough of the remaining water to make a firm, soft dough. Knead the dough vigorously in the bowl, or on a floured board for about 15 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, and no longer sticks to your fingers. Knead in 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil for a softer bread. Sprinkle the bottom of the bowl with a little oil and roll the ball of dough round to grease it all over. This will prevent the surface from becoming dry and crusty. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place free of draughts for at least 2 hours, until nearly doubled in size.

Punch the dough down and knead again for a few minutes. Take lumps of dough the size of a large potato or smaller (according to the size of bread you wish to have). Flatten them on a lightly floured board with a dry rolling pin sprinkled with flour, or with the palm of your hand, until about 1/2 cm thick. Dust with flour and lay the rounds on a cloth sprinkled with flour. Place them a good distance apart so that they do not touch as they grow considerably. Cover with another lightly floured cloth, and allow to rise again in a warm place.

Preheat the oven set at the maximum temperature (240 degrees C?) for at least 20 minutes, and leave the oiled baking sheets in it for the last 10 minutes to make them as hot as possible. Take care that the oil does not burn.

When the bread has risen again, slip the rounds onto the hot baking sheets, dampen them slightly with cold water to prevent them from browning, and bake for 6-10 minutes, by which time the strong yeasty aroma escaping from the oven will be replaced by the rich, earthy aroma characteristic of baking bread – a sign that it is nearly ready.

Do not open the oven during this time.

Remove from the baking sheets as soon as the bread comes out of the oven and cool on wire racks. The bread should be soft and white with a pouch inside.

If your oven does not get hot enough to make a good pouch, make the bread under the grill: put it low enough underneath so that it does not touch the grill (and burn) when it puffs up. Turn as soon as it does and leave only a minute longer.

Put the breads, while still warm, in a plastic bag to keep them soft and pliable until ready to serve.

Recipe for Vegetable Samosas

From Madhur Jaffrey’s “Indian Cookery” with a few minor wording changes of mine

Makes 16

Ingredients

For the pastry

1/2 lb (225g) plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons water

For the stuffing

1lb 10 oz (725g) waxy potatoes boiled in their skins and allowed to cool
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
6 oz (175g) peas fresh or frozen (defrost first if using frozen peas)
1 tablespoon peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
1 fresh hot green chilli, finely chopped
3 tablespoons very finely chopped fresh coriander
3 tablespoons water
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt – or to taste
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground roast cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Vegetable oil for deep frying

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil and rub it in with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Slowly add 4 tablespoons of water – or a tiny bit more – and gather the dough into a stiff ball.

Empty the ball out on to a clean work surface. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes or until it is smooth. Make a ball. Rub the ball with about 1/4 teaspoon of oil and slip it into a polythene bag. Set it aside for 30 minutes or longer.

Make the stuffing. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 5mm dice. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large frying pan over a medium flame. When hot, put in the onions. Stir and fry them until they begin to turn brown at the edges. Add the peas, ginger, green chilli, fresh coriander, and 3 tablespoons water. Cover, lower heat and simmer until peas are cooked. Stir every now and then and add a little more water if the frying pan seems to dry out.

Add the diced potatoes, salt, coriander, garam masala, roast cumin, cayenne, and lemon juice. Stir to mix. Cook on low heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring gently as you do so. Check balance of salt and lemon juice. You may want more of both. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool.

Knead the pastry dough again and divide it into 8 balls (I did this with scales – each ball weighs 43-44g). Keep 7 covered while you work with the eighth. Roll this ball out into an 18cm round. Cut it in half with a sharp, pointed knife. Pick up one half and form a cone, making a 5mm overlapping seam. Glue this seam together with a little water. Fill the cone with about 2 and 1/2 tablespoons of the stuffing. Close the top of the cone by sticking the open edges together with a little water. Again, your seam should be about 5mm wide. Press the top seam down with the prongs of a fork or flute it with your fingers.

Make 15 more samosas.

Deep fry the samosas in small batches until they are golden brown and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Artisan baking part 4: tin loaves

January 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Just remembered that I still haven’t documented everything I learned at my 4 day bread baking course held at the School of Artisan Food in Welbeck, Nottinghamshire last October. I’ve already posted about wild yeasts, rye sourdough and white sourdough.

Part 1
https://rhubarbfool.co.uk/2010/10/19/four-blissful-days-of-artisan-baking-part-1-the-basics/

Part 2
https://rhubarbfool.co.uk/2010/11/23/artisan-baking-part-2-rye-sourdough/

Part 3
https://rhubarbfool.co.uk/2010/12/09/artisan-baking-part-3-white-sourdough/

Now it’s the turn of perhaps the simplest loaves to make – tin loaves made with ordinary yeast (rather than a wild yeast sourdough starter).

Day 1 of the course started with baking 3 types of tin loaf – a white, wholemeal and a malthouse. Course teacher Emmanuel Hadjiandreou introduced us to the basic techniques – the ten second knead, proving, shaping and baking at a good high temperature with the aid of steam to just the right degree of doneness. You can see these demonstrated on a short video clip here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3Iv-z6kcpU

Emmanuel’s take on breadmaking is a delightfully lazy yet extremely effective one – it lets time and the yeast do the work for you. The flour, yeast and salt are combined then rested for 10 minutes. The dough is kneaded for 10 seconds then rested for 10 minutes. This step is repeated 4 times so that, if you are efficient, the dough has only 40 seconds’ kneading in total!

Emmanuel’s recipes for white, wholemeal and granary loaves are given below, as provided by on the course with the tiniest of wording changes – I haven’t meddled with the quantities at all -wouldn’t dare!

Scanning the list of ingredients you’ll see that there is just flour, salt, yeast and water in these recipes – no lard, oil, sugar etc – bread made just from the basic raw materials. What I immediately noticed was the small quantities of yeast used. The proportions in all 3 recipes are, for whatever quantity of flour is used, 1% of its weight in fresh yeast, 2% in salt. This is the so called Bakers’ Percent system so you can feel like a real pro doing it this way.

Emmanuel’s proportions really do work and the resulting loaves are well risen with a good flavour, especially if proved overnight, and avoid the overly yeasty taste which is a common fault of home breadmaking.

We worked with fresh yeast on the course – an enormous block of the stuff. You can buy it at any kind of bakery, even supermarket instore ones. In a loosely tied plastic bag in the fridge it will keep for 2 maybe even 3 weeks.

Unlike the hurly burly and controlled chaos of ordinary life at home, we worked in a quasi laboratory style environment on the course with all the ingredients for our 3 tin loaves (white, wholemeal and malthouse) weighed out to 1g accuracy before we started:

We made the dough for each of the loaves in succession, first wholemeal, then granary and finally white. Here’s the white dough after its 4 kneads about to undergo its 1 hour resting and proving period:

We stored our proving doughs, neatly covered with plastic bowls (a trick I’ve replicated at home using transparent plastic picnic plates atop my mixing bowls – saves on clingfilm) on handy shelves underneath the work surfaces:

One hour later, the white dough looked like this:

All that remains is to shape the dough (see video clip above). With first the palm then the fingertips it’s patted then rolled before being placed seam side down in the tin.

We were given the option of adding seeds to our crust – simply sprinkle lightly the top surface of the dough with water and, cradling the loaf your hand, gently press and roll the top surface onto your chosen seeds – sesame, poppy or whatever – which you have spread out on a flat plate or tray.

The loaf is then proved, again with the tin covered by a plastic bowl, until nearly doubled in size. If you’re not ready to bake, the proving can be retarded by refrigerating the loaves overnight. Then you can have freshly baked bread for breakfast. We tasted bread that had been proved overnight and compared it to bread with a normal 1-2 hour proving. The overnight proved bread had a slightly more intense flavour – hard to describe exactly what the difference is – a subtle yet perceptible difference, a fuller flavour.

Judging whether a loaf is fully proved and being able to accelerate or retard the process using a warm place or fridge respectively is one of the hardest bits of baking knowhow to acquire. It’s something you learn by experience. In the following picture, the wholemeal loaf is clearly ready to bake whereas the granary one needs another 20 minutes or so:

These are a couple of loaves that went a bit wrong. They door of the fridge in which they were supposedly proving slowly overnight was accidentally left open. The fermentation went over the top and after a spectacular rise, the dough collapsed and flattened. In the interests of research we baked and ate the errant loaves – they still tasted fine but didn’t quite look as they should and the crumb size was uneven.

What a lot I seem to have written about loaves that are a quick and easy to make. I’ve hardly been encouraging have I? Just one final point to get across.

I’ve already written in previous artisan baking posts about the importance of a really hot oven and creating steam – just do what the recipe below says. My final point is that before the loaves go into the hot oven, you can slash them with a sharp knife. This looks attractive and helps the loaf rise evenly when baked but it’s not essential for a tin loaf (unlike the freeform rustic breads which need slashing in order to avoid bursting). The white loaf shown in the picture at the top of this post is both seeded and slashed so you can see the combined effect.

Here’s how the end results should look, first the white and then the malthouse.

Happy baking!

Recipe for white bread

Ingredients

300g strong white flour
6g salt
3g fresh yeast (2g dried)
200g water at room temperature

1. In a small mixing bowl, mix the flour and salt. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water.

2. Add the flour and salt to the larger bowl containing the yeast and water. Mix using a wooden spoon and/or your hands until the mixture becomes a dough.

3. Cover the dough with either another bowl, a plate or cling film to prevent it drying out and leave to stand for 10 minutes.

4. Knead the dough in the bowl for 10 seconds (see video clip above), form into a ball, cover as before and leave for 10 minutes.

5. Repeat step 4. a further 3 times – the dough will have been kneaded 4 times. Cover and leave for 1 hour.

6. Punch the dough down, shape into a loaf (see video clip above) and place in an oiled 1lb loaf tin.

7. Cover the tin with an upturned mixing bowl to prevent a skin forming and and let the loaf rise until slightly less than double in volume. This is likely to take about 45 minutes.

8. When the dough is almost fully proved, preheat the oven to 250 degrees C placing a deep baking tray on the base of the oven.

9. Place the loaf in the oven at 250 degrees C, throw a cup of cold water into the hot tray to produce steam, close the oven door quickly and reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees C.

10. Bake for approx 35 minutes until golden brown and sounding hollow when the loaf is turned out and tapped (refer video clip above). Turn out of the tin and cool on a wire rack.

Recipe for wholemeal bread

Ingredients

300g strong wholemeal flour
6g salt
3g fresh yeast (2g dried)
230g water at room temperature

Method as for white loaf above.

Recipe for malthouse bread

Ingredients

300g malthouse flour
6g salt
3g fresh yeast (2g dried)
200g water at room temperature

Method as for white loaf above.

Artisan baking part 3 white sourdough

December 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Pictured above are the beautiful baguettes à l’ancienne that I and my fellow novice bakers managed to conjure up after just a couple of hours tuition by master baker, bread enthusiast and all round great teacher Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. This post is the 3rd in a series describing the 4 day baking course I attended recently at the School of Artisan food on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire. Emmanuel is pictured in many of my photos and in my thrilling “white sourdough” video footage which you can find here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/Apiciusblog#p/a/u/0/Xh5CWwIOCLs

Emmanuel’s white sourdough bread recipe is given at the end of this post. What the basic recipe can’t tell you is the wealth of knowhow needed to bake the perfect artisan loaf. This can only come from time spent handling dough and actually baking. All of the bread we amateurs produced on the course was outstanding. Back home, I have to say that my results with this most apparently simple of recipes have been a little more variable. I’ll try and point out the key things we learned on the course as I describe in more detail how we made this bread.

First of all, the raw ingredients. There are so few in the recipe that they have to be good. We worked exclusively with Shipton Mill organic flour in man-sized 25kg bags:

Then there’s the all-important sourdough, this time in a classroom-sized batch, bubbling away with its distinctive acetone scent:

Here’s my ingredients weighed out and ready to go. If only real life back home turned out to be clean, tidy, prepared, all weighed out…

You can see the dissolving of the sourdough in water and Emmanuel’s trademark “10 second knead” in the video clip referred to above. I like the idea that there’s very little work involved in preparing this dough – the wild yeasts quietly get to work and all you have to do is be patient and create the right conditions for this living organism to thrive. Time and a degree of patience are the things needed here.

Once the dough is prepared, it’s time for the fun bit, the shaping into loaves, baguettes or whatever. Artisan loaves obtain their distinctive appearance from the patterns left by natural cane or wicker proving baskets – also known as bannetons in French or Brotförme in German. Here’s a stack of them photographed at the commercially run Welbeck Bakehouse adjacent to the School:

The baskets need to be liberally dusted with flour before you pop the bread in – we used a mix of white flour and semolina for this purpose which gives a bit of crunch to the baked crust. The cane or wicker baskets can be used just as they are, no need for the washable liners you see advertised sometimes – this way you cut down on washing and get the beautiful cane spiral marks on your bread which mark it out as being the real deal.

There’s no need to invest in a stack of pricey proving baskets before you start making bread – I’ve been managing at home lately with a couple of ordinary small wicker baskets lined with (freshly laundered) waffle teatowels. I have a notion that the plastic basket from my salad spinner would also be fit for purpose. That said, I’m now hooked on breadmaking and have just ordered myself an early Christmas present online – 6 cane baskets from specialist artisan baking supplies website

www.bakerybits.com

You can see Emmanuel demonstrating how to shape a loaf before popping it in a proving basket in the video clip above. It may look nonchalant but the folding and tightening of the dough at this stage is key to a well risen and shapely baked final result. As Emmanuel says “don’t be shy to use a little bit of force”.

If you’re feeling adventurous, why not try shaping your own baguettes? It’s not as daunting as it looks and you don’t need any special equipment or tins as it’s only industrial bakers that shape their baguettes in tins. Real bakers look in scorn at the telltale spot marks on the base of an industrially baked baguette which come from the tins used to shape and bake them.

What you need to do is divide you dough into 4 equal pieces (scales are needed to do this accurately). As the video clip shows, each piece of dough is rolled into a tight sausage shape and is placed seam side down on pleated calico liberally dusted with the flour/semolina mix to prevent sticking. Back home, I’ve found that a pleated linen or waffle cotton teatowel works well here though I had to shorten the length of my baguettes to fit the size of my domestic linen. Here’s a photo of Emmanuel’s baguettes nestling in their floured calico:

Once the loaves have proved and are doubled in size and the oven is hot, there’s one more key procedure – slashing. This is not merely decorative but also vital to make the loaf rise evenly and to promote what those in the know call “oven spring”. You’re looking for a plump, pert loaf rather than something too flat and pancakey.

For slashing, a medium sized really sharp blade and a deft swift and not too light touch are needed. You don’t want to just scratch the surface as you need to make a proper incision I would say at least a centimetre deep. A really sharp blade will mean you cut the dough cleanly rather than drag and stretch it which in turn will cause your beautifully risen dough to deflate demoralisingly.

In the video clip you can see us delivering the 5 traditional diagonal slashes to a baguette. Here’s me attempting the alternative scissor and twist technique for shaping the show-off épi baguette pictured at the beginning of this post.

Getting the bread into the oven is a little tricky, especially for baguettes. At the School, we baked this first batch of sourdough loaves in the professional Tom Chandley deck oven which has several stacked ovens which delivers a really good all over crust because of the direct heat at the base.

The proved loaves were turned out onto peels – thin wooden trays – thence straight onto the base of the oven with a deft in and out sliding motion. Think of the trick of whisking away a tablecloth but leaving all the china and cutlery on it intact. Back home I’ve not gone to the trouble (yet…) of investing in a small domestic peel and baking stone but instead have preheated metal baking sheets and have tipped out my proved loaves directly into these and popped them straight back into the hot oven.

One further point on technique – the steam referred to in the recipe is absolutely essential as it delays the formation of a thick skin on the loaf which will turn into an unpleasantly thick crust.

You can see the baked baguettes at the beginning of this post. This is what the baked artisan loaves should like, each decorated with its own individual slash mark:

And finally, what do you see when you cut into your freshly baked loaf? This is the perfect uneven, open crumb and elastic texture.

All that’s needed now is a wedge of your favourite cheese and glass of red wine…

Recipe for white sourdough bread

Ingredients

500g strong white flour
150g white sourdough
+/- 300g water
8g salt

Mix the flour and salt in a small mixing bowl. In a larger mixing bowl, dissolve the sourdough in the water. Add the flour mixture to the water and mix until it forms a dough. Cover the dough with the small mixing bowl and leave to stand for 10 minutes.

Knead the dough, still in the bowl, for 10 seconds. Shape into a ball, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Cover and leave for 10 minutes. Repeat these two steps until the dough has been kneaded four times. Cover and rest the dough for an hour.

Remove the dough from the bowl and portion into the required sizes. This quantity of dough will make a single rustic loaf or 4 baguettes. Shape the loaf/loaves into proving baskets or into pleated calico for baguettes or into a greased tin.

Allow to prove for 3-6 hours or until approximately doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees C with a deep tray in the base of the oven. Once the bread is ready for baking, slash with a very sharp knife. Place the loaf in the oven at 250 degrees C, put a cup of water in the hot tray to form steam then lower the oven temperature to 210 degrees C.

Bake for +/- 35 minutes until golden brown. Turn out of its tin (if you have used one) and cool on a wire rack.

Artisan baking part 2 rye sourdough

November 23, 2010 § 2 Comments

This post is the second of series describing the inspiring 4 day bread baking course I attended in last month at the School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire. I’ve decided to forget about describing the course contents in logical chronological order but instead to write about what inspires me at the moment. This week, that just happens to be rye bread, specifically rye sourdough.

Before the course, the inner workings of rye bread were a mystery to me: it remained an occasional eccentric supermarket purchase – cellophane-wrapped packets of pumpernickel containing dark brown strips of cardboard textured slices which seemingly last for ever had a certain masochistic expeditionary appeal.

I hadn’t appreciated that organic stone-ground rye flour was widely available and as a result I’d never have dreamed of trying to bake it myself at home. Since the course, all that has changed.

Our teacher, bread guru Emmanuel Hadjiandreou was brilliant and packed in so much information over the 4 days that it’s taken a while to sift through my photos and video clips. I’ve taken a crash course in basic video handling and editing in my latest One to One session at the Apple Store in Manchester and my very first little movie, imaginatively titled “Rye Sourdough” can be viewed by clicking on the following link.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qUNKKO1ULU

Now you can see yourself Emmanuel’s deft handiwork, the exact consistency of starter and finished dough and even hear the sound of a perfectly baked loaf.

Let’s start with Emmanuel’s recipe. The ingredients and quantities are exactly as on his beautifully typed-out recipe sheets handed out on the course but I have on occasion put his methods into my own words.

Recipe for dark rye sourdough bread

Ingredients

For the ferment

150g dark rye flour
100g rye sourdough
200g water

For the bread

1 quantity ferment (see above)
200g dark rye flour
6g salt
150g very hot water

Optional flavourings

For apple rye – add 200g chopped dried apple
For apricot rye – add 200g chopped dried apricots
For sultana rye – add 200g sultanas
For prune and pepper rye – add 200g prunes and 10g pink peppercorns
For onion rye – add 200g chopped onion, lightly fried

Begin the day before you want the bread by mixing together the ferment ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Cover with a smaller mixing bowl and leave to ferment overnight at room temperature. In another bowl, weigh out the remaining flour and salt and mix thoroughly. Set aside.

The following morning, when you’re ready to make the bread pour the flour and salt mix over the ferment in the first mixing bowl. Then pour over the measured quantity of very hot water (from a just boiled kettle). The layer of flour will protect the hot water from scalding and killing the yeast within the ferment. Mix thoroughly and add any optional flavourings at this stage. Shape into a greased tin.

Allow to rise/prove for about 2 hours. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees C. Place the proved loaf into the oven at this high temperature; add a cup of water on a hot tray in the base of the oven to form steam then lower the oven temperature to 220 degrees C.
Bake for about 30 minutes. Turn out and cool on a wire rack.

And now for the raw materials.

What we have here is a bowl of ferment (noun) – a wet dough mixture made the night before and left to ferment (verb) to activate the wild yeasts and develop the characteristic background sour flavour of good rye bread. Next to it is the weighed-out rye flour and salt. And that’s it. The rye flour had a silky texture and the prettiest more-than-pastel grey-green colour which when baked is transformed into a dark chocolate-brown loaf.

Here’s fellow student Jethro inspecting the small bubbles which have formed overnight in his ferment. Being able to see what’s going on in your dough from all sides was a bonus of using the semi-translucent plastic bowls we were provided with on the course. These lightweight bowls can be upturned and used as protective covers over fermenting doughs, another useful home-baking tip potentially saving metres of clingfilm and faffing with damp teatowels.

You can also see fellow student Diana carefully weighing out dry ingredients on the “My Weigh” (geddit?) scales we were provided with on the course. These were brilliant and so quick and easy to use and of course accurate to within a gram too – essential especially for getting the right quantity of salt in a recipe. We weighed everything on the scales, the water too, as of course 1ml of water weighs 1g and it’s much more accurate not to say speedy to weigh the water rather than use a measuring jug. Since coming home I’ve bought a set of these scales (Amazon marketplace) and consigned my retro scales with their dinky brass weights to the cellar.

Here is my brandy new all-singing, all dancing set of My Weigh scales on the kitchen table at home:

It seems very odd adding near-boiling water to a bread recipe. Rye bread is unique in requiring this step and Emmanuel talked about this causing a process within the flour called gelatinisation – the dough takes on a porridge like consistency. He showed us how to protect the ferment containing the essential wild yeasts from the hot water by using the flour as an insulating blanket with the hot water being poured over the top.

The rye dough doesn’t look very inspiring when first mixed – more like a building material. I quipped to Ben, a young chef from South Africa who was sharing my workbench that the dough reminded me of childhood holidays on the beach in Wales. He looked puzzled – it seems that beaches in South Africa are of the pure white sand variety rather than the grit, shingle and mud we’re used to over here!

The wet dough mixture is shaped by being tipped into the oiled tin and patted and smeared using a dampened plastic scraper into a mounded loaf shape. Emmanuel advised being careful not to let water from the scraper run down the sides of the tin as this will cause the loaf to stick.

After two hours or so, the rye loaves had increased in size dramatically. We were given the option of sprinkling the top with rye flour and you can see the effect this produces in the loaf on the left in the picture below:

I’ve not stopped making this recipe since returning home after the course. I’ve been using Bacheldre organic stoneground rye flour which gives really good results (sorry Jethro but Ocado don’t stock your stuff). It’s become a bit of a weekend routine to resuscitate the rye starter on a Thursday night ready for a Friday night ferment (sounds more exciting than it really is!) and a Saturday baking session. Here’s a pic of a couple of loaves I baked at the weekend. The resulting bread is moist, flavoursome and delicious, makes fantastic sandwiches and toast and is nothing like those cardboard pumpernickel slices….

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