There is something very comforting about bread-baking. I am not sure if it is just the kneading process that makes me break into a sweat and gives a feeling of a task accomplished. It could also be that making something as fundamental as bread at home, could be so ridiculously easy, surprises me each time. People feel intimidated when they have to go about using yeast, whilst, I am comfortable handling yeast. So in order to enhance the little knowledge that I already have gained by reading the material available on the internet, I decided to gift myself, Dan Lepard’s ” The Handmade Loaf”.
He is an artisan bread maker and renowned for his almost no-knead technique of bread making. His book covers bakers from all across Northern Europe. It is fascinating to note, that there are so many different methods, ingredients (some I have never even heard of ), leavening agents to make hearty loaves. Stunning photographs of local bakers, their rustic ovens and handsome loaves make it such an interesting read. He stresses on making your own leavening agent at home. I find that part a bit intimidating and hence never got down to doing it. So if Dan Lepard would ever read this post, I would want to apologize to him since I have dared to use the infamous Dry Active Yeast to puff up my bread. Next time, I would show more respect and buy fresh yeast from a local bakery here in Bahrain to bake my bread.
More than the recipes it is the technique of making the bread – Dan Lepard style – that holds my attention. I tried my best to incorporate his method in baking Nigella Lawson’s Simple White Loaf of bread. The results were no doubt, spectacular.
I have Nigella Lawson’s ” How to be a Domestic Goddess” which is another fabulous book. Known for her non fussy comfort cooking, Nigella inspires home bakers like me. So in this post, I shall share with you Nigella’s recipe and Dan Lepard’s technique as simply as possible. It wasn’t possible for me to take pictures at each juncture of the bread making process but in words, I will try my best to explain how and what I did.
Recipe for Nigella Lawson’s Simple Loaf of Bread
31/2 cups of bread flour plus more for kneading ( I used the wholemeal organic bread flour)
1 package /1 tbsp of dry active yeast
1 tbsp salt
approximately 1 1/3 cup of warm water ( I could manage with less than cup of water. So it entirely depends on the kind of flour that you use to make the bread)
1 tbsp of unsalted butter, soften
2/3 cups of pine nuts or any other kind of nuts/seeds that you would like to incorporate
1. Put the flour, yeast ( dissolve the 1 tbsp of dry active yeast in little warm water and let it dissolve. Let it stand for about 7-10 minutes before you add it to the bread flour mixture) , salt in a bowl and pour in about 3/4 cup of water, mixing as you do so with a wooden spoon or your hands. Be prepared to add more water as you require to convert the flour mix at hand into a mushy mess.
2. Add the butter and pine nuts and mix in.
3. Now using Dan Lepard’s method of no kneading, transfer the mushy mass on a lightly oiled, clean patch of work surface. I used a wooden cutting board. Knead for 5-10 seconds. Stop kneading before the dough absorbs the oil and sticks to the surface. Flip the dough over and leave it to rest. Cover with a cloth. Leave it for 10 minutes covered on the work surface, which is what I did. Alternately you could transfer it to a well oiled bowl and cover it. In either case, leave the dough covered for 10 minutes.
4. Come back after 10 minutes ( which is the time , I chose to catch with “Come Dine with Me” on BBC LifeStyle) and start the kneading processes again for 5-10 secs on a well oiled work surface/wooden cutting board. You would feel that the dough is easier to work with and more resilient. I repeated this entire process of kneading for 5-10 seconds and then going away for 10 minutes 4 times. By time time, I had a very obedient mass in my hands that was ready to kept away for an hour or two to rise. I kept it, covered in a well oiled glass bowl, in the warmest corner of my kitchen so that the yeast could act faster.
5. After the designated time, I had the pleasure of punching the air out of the dough that had doubled it’s size.
6. Then preheat the oven for 425 F/ Gas mark 7. Knead the deflated dough for a scant few minutes and then round it into the desired shape. I pushed mine into a loaf tin pan which was generously greased. Leave it for another half hour and let it rise some more.
7. After the half hour lapses, push the loaf tin into the oven to bake for 35 minutes. I dusted mine with a little flour for the crusty loaf.
8. The way to check if the loaf is done all the way through is to lift up the loaf or remove it from its pan and knock with your knuckles on the underside; if it makes a hollow noise, it’s cooked; if not put it back in the oven for a few minutes. When ready, remove to rack and let it cool.
It is simply divine to have your own handmade loaf with a blob of butter. The soft interior and the crusty exterior of the slice with the nuttiness of the pine nuts is all good by itself too. By using Dan Lepard’s method of repeated kneading, resulted in the crumb of loaf having an open texture. Since I used the wholemeal bread flour, it was denser in texture but absolutely delicious.
Another point to note is that the bread quality depends on the quality of the flour you use. I found a marked difference when I used organic flour to bake bread vis-a-vis the normal wholemeal bread flour. The taste and the texture was extraordinary.
On a final note, in Nigella Lawson’s own words, ” Home baked breads can look bulging and full of cracks and fissures – but that’s fine, that’s because they’re homemade”.