I love bread. I have never been one if those people even slightly tempted by the lure of the low carb lifestyle. Even during brief periods when I may be half-heartedly attempting to drop a few pounds, I have (so far) never been tempted to succumb to a bread free lifestyle. A life without pillowy Naan bread dunked in a pot of steaming dal does not interest me, nor an existence without crunchy Sourdough toast with lashings of Kerrygold. I could probably live without generic sliced pan but then again, even that has its place when holding together the contents of an overflowing Club Sandwich. Pasta I could possibly never eat again, but not bread.
But until recent years, baking bread at home never interested me. I would rather leave it to the experts (of which we now have so many) and concentrate on the kitchen tasks that I enjoyed so much. Knowing my own kitchen strengths, I will admit to feeling slightly intimidated by the baking process which is so much more scientific than cooking, and spending hours kneading dough and finding appropriate resting places did not appeal. Then something changed. The more I read about baking, and the more I was paid through the nose for a decent loaf, the more I was drawn to baking my own bread without requiring the skills of a professional baker, and voila, a new string was added to my culinary bow. The best part? People are almost always impressed with homemade bread (nearly as much as homemade butter, but that’s another story). As it turns out, there are quite a few varieties of bread that require little or no effort, but will make your house smell life a home and become the best receptacle of butter you will ever know. I have compiled recipes for four easy breads to make at home, whether you need flatbread to scoop out the last of the hummus, brown bread to be slathered with strawberry jam, a rosemary scented focaccia that you throw together as a side to your Antipasti when entertaining, or a crusty white loaf that would give your local bakery a run for their money. With these four bread recipes, all eventualities are covered. Except of course baguettes, which still scare me. But that is a challenge for another day.
No Knead Bread
I first came across this recipe on Nigella Lawsons website, but it is in fact a guest recipe from Jim Lahey, proprietor of the much regarded Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC. Jim is somewhat famous in the bread baking world and his book My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method has revolutionised bread making for the home cook. This recipe produces a bakery standard loaf that although long fermented, requires little work, and will reward you with a loaf that has an open crumb, a deliciously chewy crust and a real taste of proper bread. You need to allow 24 hours for the whole event from start to finish but 99% of that time involves no work at all.
400 grams bread flour
8 grams table salt
1 gram instant or other active dry yeast
300 grams cool (55-65°F / 12-18°C) water
Wheat bran or additional flour for dusting
Stir together the flour, salt, and yeast in a mid-sized bowl. Add the water and mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. This should be a wet, sticky dough, if it’s not, mix in another tablespoon or two of water. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let sit at room temperature (about 72°F / 22°C), out of direct sunlight, until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is doubled in size. This will take a minimum of 12 hours and up to 18 hours. This slow rise fermentation is the key to the flavour of the bread.
When the dough is ready, dust a work surface with flour and scrape the dough onto the board in one piece. When you begin to pull the dough away from the bowl, it will cling in long, thin strands (this is the developed gluten), and it will be quite loose and sticky, this is what you are looking for so do not add more flour. Use lightly floured hands or a spatula to lift the edges of the dough in toward the centre then tuck in the edges of the dough to make a round shape.
Place a cotton or linen tea on the surface and dust the cloth with wheat bran or flour. Gently lift the dough onto the towel, seam side down. Lightly dust the top lightly with wheat bran or flour. Fold the ends of the towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm place to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, making an indentation about ¼ inch deep, it should hold the impression. If it doesn’t, let it rise for another 15 minutes.
Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 245°C, with a rack in the lower part of your oven and place a covered 4¼ – 6¼ litre cast iron (or equally heavy) pot on the rack.
Remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel, lightly dust the dough with flour or bran, lift up the dough, either on the towel or in your hand, and quickly but gently invert it into the pot, seam side up. (Be careful, the pot will be very hot) Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep burnished colour but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more. Carefully lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly, this usually takes at least an hour.
Easy Brown Bread
This brown bread is so easy to throw together and requires little or no effort whatsoever.
350g Wholemeal Flour
50g Porridge Oats (or just 400g wholemeal flour)
75g Plain Flour
1 teaspoon of Salt
1 level teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
1 tablespoon of Rapeseed or Olive Oil
25g Brown Sugar (or 1 teaspoon honey)
425ml of Buttermilk (if buttermilk in unavailable you can water down some yogurt with milk to achieve the same consistency or add some lemon juice or vinegar to milk and allow it to sit for five minutes before adding to the recipe)
2 tablespoons of mixed seeds
Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees C / 180 degrees C fan / gas mark 6.
Mix all dry ingredients together
Mix all wet ingredients together
Turn into a greased loaf pan
Using an oiled knife, make a slit down the centre of the dough.
Sprinkle with seeds.
Bake for 45 mins – 1 hour
Allow to cool on a rack
Slather with butter. Feel smug and eat.
Flatbreads are one of those bread that is ALWAYS better when homemade. They do not last well so shop bought versions nearly always disappoint. Luckily, this recipe (from River Cottage) never fails and is takes virtually minutes.
250g plain flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon rapeseed or olive oil
Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Add the oil to 150ml warm water, then pour this into the flour in a thin stream, stirring well to form a slightly sticky dough. Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 5 minutes, until it feels smooth and plump, sprinkling on a little more flour only if the dough feels very sticky. Cover the ball of dough with the upturned mixing bowl and let it rest for at least 15 minutes.
When you’re ready to cook and eat the flatbreads, roll the dough into a sausage shape and divide it into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Flour the work surface and rolling pin, then roll out each ball of dough into a round 2–3mm thick, using plenty of flour as the dough is liable to stick.
Place a heavy-based non-stick frying pan or a cast-iron griddle over a high heat and when it’s hot, turn the heat down a bit. Have ready a plate lined with a clean tea towel so you can put your cooked flatbreads on it to keep them warm and soft.
Shake off any excess flour and carefully lay a flatbread in the hot pan. Let it sit for a minute or two, until the dough looks ‘set’ on top and is starting to lift away from the pan. Look at the underside and, if you can see dark brown patches forming, flip it over. Cook the second side for 30–45 seconds. Wrap the cooked flatbread in the tea towel while you cook the others. If the flatbreads are colouring too quickly, lower the heat a bit.
Focaccia is another bread that is somewhat easy to make but this version is quicker than most but still utterly delicious. I found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen, the recipe and cooking blog by Deb Perlman but it is adapted from a book by Alexandra Stafford called Bread Toast Crumbs. There are a few options given for the rise of the dough but as I am all about the simple techniques, I always choose the quickest rise which is less than 2 hours at room temperature.
520 grams Plain Flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon Instant Yeast
475 – 500 ml Lukewarm Water
4 tablespoons Olive Oil
Flaky Sea Salt
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast. Add the water. Using a rubber spatula, mix until the water is absorbed and the ingredients form a loose, sticky dough. Cover with a tea towel and allow to rise in a warmish place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until doubled.
Pre heat oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Pour three tablespoons of the olive oil onto a rimmed baking tray (approx. 10 x 15) lined with parchment.
Deflate the dough by releasing it from the sides of the bowl with two forks, pulling it toward the centre of the bowl. Rotate the bowl as you deflate, turning the dough into a rough ball. Use the forks to lift the dough onto the prepared baking tray. Roll the dough in the oil to coat it. Allow to rest for a further 20 minutes. Drizzle the dough with the last tablespoon of oil and use your fingers to stretch and pull the dough towards the edges of the pan, creating dimples with your fingers as you go. If the dough is not cooperating, allow to rest for five more minutes and try again. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and rosemary and bake for 25 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
Voila, your bread repertoire is now complete.
Feature By: Ciara McQuillan