Thursday, 6 February 2014

The Ranelagh Kitchen Diaries - part three

A rye and spelt loaf!

God, isn't the weather so unremittingly shit at the moment. Every time I think I should get out on my bike for a bit of exercise I see a torrent of leaves rush past the door being chased by a squally rain shower. Thus, I close the door and return to the chocolate digestives and season five of Friday Night Lights (best TV show ever made - and that includes The Wire).

Ideal conditions you might think for spending extended periods of time in the kitchen, indulging in my second favourite activity outside the bedroom. Speaking of which, I have just returned from a couple of days skiing (my favourite activity outside the bedroom) in Courmayeur, where I had some really excellent food. If you are ever there I heartily recommend going to Maison Vielle for lunch - apparently it is one of Heston Blumenthal's favourite places, so don't just take my word for it.

Anyway, less skiing and more food because I have promised you my finalised bread recipe and it is just about ready for public view...

I have been making bread once or twice a week since Christmas and can see why people can become obsessed with it. It can be both immensely satisfying and immensely frustrating at the same time. I can't pretend that every loaf of bread I have made has been a success, indeed at least one rye and spelt loaf has ended up in the bin because of a series of cock-ups.

But when it does all work out, I really do feel a warm glow of achievement that few other kitchen-related activities can provide. Moreover, the bread is much better for you and tastes great - nicer than anything other than the best quality commercially-made loaves.

There are all manner of different methods for making bread and I have tried quite a few, but the best results I achieved were using the most traditional one, i.e. knead, rise, knock-back, prove and bake. So this is the method I am going to recommend below.

I decided not to bother making white bread, because I tend not to eat it anyway and if I am going to bake my own bread I want it to be as healthy as possible. Thinking about other types of flour, I have tried wholemeal, spelt and rye in varying quantities. Of these, my favourites have been a rye and spelt combo and the spelt only loaf. Baking with these flours isn't as straightforward as using plain flour, but the flavours you get are more complex and it is worth persevering with.

There you have it, follow the recipe below and you should emerge with a pretty decent looking rye and spelt loaf. Perfect for toasting, sandwiches and whatever other bread-related activities you indulge in.

Rye and spelt loaf

200g rye flour
200g spelt flour
130g strong white flour
7g instant yeast
10g fine grained salt
2 dessert spoons caster sugar
1/2 vitamin C tablet, ground into a powder (this is a baker's trick to stop the bread being too heavy)
300ml lukewarm water
a neutral tasting oil, e.g. rape or sunflower

You will also need a standard 2 lb loaf tin

  1. Start off by combining the warm water, yeast and sugar in a warmed mixing bowl large enough to take all the flour. Stir until the sugar and yeast have dissolved in to the water. Now add the flour, vitamin C and salt, and stir until the flour and water have combined into a sticky dough.  
  2. Pour a small amount of oil onto a clean work surface and at the same time grease up your palms too. This is so the dough doesn't stick to you while you knead it. Then turn the dough out on to the oiled surface and knead it for as long as you can manage - seven to ten minutes should suffice. The purpose of the kneading is to stretch the gluten strands in the flour and make them all elastic and bouncy.* 
  3. After the knead you are ready for the second stage of my process - the rise. Roll the dough into a ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film, a tea-towel or plastic bag and leave in a warm place to rise for at least an hour. Ideally you would leave it a bit longer though.
  4. When it has risen and more or less doubled in size, turn the dough out onto a work surface, give it a bit of a bash to expel the air out of the dough and knead very briefly. This is called knocking-back. Then shape the dough into a rectangle the width of your loaf tin and roll tightly, as if you were making a Swiss roll. Now put the bread into the loaf tin, seam side down, cover again and leave in a warm place to prove. While the bread is proving heat the oven to as hot as it will go  and ideally heat up a sturdy baking tray in there too (this helps the bread cook from the bottom up as well).
  5. Proving is just another name for the bread rising for a second time, which is easy enough. But the key is to catch the dough at the right time to put in the oven. Too short a time and it will turn out all doughy and too long a time and the bread will collapse when it is baking or when you take it out of the oven. The best way to do this is via the "prod-method". If you poke the dough and it springs back straight-away it needs a bit longer. If you poke it and it stays poked, it has proved for too long. Ideally, when prodded, the dough will spring back slowly to its original position. As is often the case, you want the happy medium.
  6. When the happy medium has been reached place the bread on the pre-heated baking tray and place on the middle shelf in the hot oven. Leave it at max temperature for 20 minutes, then turn the heat down to 210c and cook for another 20 minutes.
  7. There are a couple of ways to check if the bread is ready. The old fashioned method is to tap the bottom and if it sounds hollow it is ready. This is a bit imprecise though, so you can also use a temperature probe as well. Insert the probe in to the middle of the bread and if the internal temperature has reached 90c it should be done.
  8. Take the bread out of the oven a leave to cool on a rack before cutting in to it. If you do cut in to it while it is warm you will let all the steam escape and the texture of the crumb can change.
That, folks, is it. Don't be too disheartened if your loaf doesn't turn out perfect the first, or indeed, every time. Persevere, because bread-making is well worth your time and effort, even if the supermarket loaf is just a short stroll away.

Stage three - pre-rise

Another one of the finished article

* n.b. There is another kneading method that I have had some success with. This involves a series of three or four very short kneads (15 seconds) punctuated by 10 minutes intervals when you let the dough rest, before finally leaving the dough to rise properly. This method can be substituted happily for the more traditional one mentioned in stage 2 if you fancy experimenting.

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