If we are starting on the basics, then there is no more basic foodstuff to make, or learn to make than bread. I have always been a bit rubbish at it and envy my friends who can churn out soda bread (my crust and crumb nearly always separate), sourdough (you know who you are…) and the lightest of wholemeals. Mine tend towards the heavy and worthy except when beginner’s luck saves me so I constantly try new recipes and methods, hoping for a breakthrough. And, since you are now intimately acquainted with the dimensions of my kitchen space, you can probably see that I’m not in the market for coaxing a bubbling sourdough. So far my experiments have led me to Dan Lepard (very good), Delia’s (bit heavy) and Margot Henderson (enormous!) but nothing has yet given me that posh-bakery-bought effect: a bread with big airy bubbles that tear and spring when you pull at it and a delicious sour-ish tang. Or a method that is trustworthy for the most ham-fisted of bread-makers. Until now.
I read about Richard Bertinet several years ago and lodged the name somewhere in my subconscious. Then a friend at work told me that she’d been on one of his courses and highly recommended both the class and his book, Dough, especially the DVD. Again, that went into my memory, nowhere else. Finally, I saw him making choux pastry and millefeuille (since his newest book is about such joys) at Port Eliot and I thought I have to investigate this further. When my nephew, a baker at heart, needed a carrot to encourage him to work for his GCSEs, I suggested we go to The Bertinet Kitchen. He got the grades, so we’re going but, since the next available course on a Saturday with Richard is not till May, I could wait no longer and I borrowed the book from the library (borrowed because I’m broke and because I like to test books out first, if I can, before I buy them; a question of space).
Then I put ‘watch Dough DVD’ on my list of 20 things to do in 2013 and, miraculously, found time to do it. My oh my; it is worth every second of your time and money. Here is a book that could occupy the ‘bread’ shelf on its own. Why? First, because the technique really can be learnt in 30 minutes, as it trumpets on the cover; I made my first dough, whilst simultaneously watching the DVD for the second time, in 22. Second, because my bread had bubbles and tasted bready, not cakey. And, third, the ingredients and proportions are very simple, thus easy to remember and repeat. They are, of course, all in my cupboard too. I can’t do justice to the technique (you can find a video showing it here) but I advise you to go out and buy the book, watch the DVD and start baking. Here’s the white dough recipe; I am in love with this already and there are another four types of bread to learn. Heaven is not a place on earth; it is a good piece of toast.
Cupboard (or things I DEFINITELY have)
500g white bread flour
10g dried yeast
10g fine sea salt (I grind Maldon flakes down to something a bit finer in a pestle and mortar)
350ml water (weigh it, don’t just measure it in a measuring jug)
1. Preheat the oven to as high as it will go.
2. Measure the flour out into a big mixing bowl then loosely mix the yeast into the flour with your fingers (which feels lovely!).
3. Mix in the salt, again mixing it loosely with your fingers.
4. Now pour in the water (I tend to do it in two goes) and either with your fingers, a big spoon/spatula, or one of these bread scrapers, mix the lot together into a big shaggy mass.
5. Tip the lot onto a board and, NO, don’t flour or oil it…even if it goes against everything you’ve ever done before.
6. Work the dough as follows: put your hands underneath it, lift it, slap it down on the board with a nice satisfying thwack, stretch the top of the dough out in front of you, then fold it back, taking care to do it gently, thus trapping air inbetween the layers. Do this over and over again and, I kid you not, if you keep lifting, slapping, stretching, folding, trapping air, the dough will start to form a homogenous smooth mass without the addition of anything (I urge you to watch the bloody video to get a sense of this). No, I didn’t believe it either, but it does. Every so often you may need to scrape any escaped bits back off the board into the ball/mass. And your board will be pretty clean too. Although the first time I did it I decorated my wall with some dough patterns…
7. Once you have a relatively smoothish dough, place it on the board and form it into a ball by folding the edges into the centre, pressing down with your thumb, rotating the dough, folding and pressing until you have a neatish ball.
8. Rest the dough by putting it back in the mixing bowl, covering it with a tea towel then leaving it somewhere warm and draught-free for about an hour until doubled in size.
9. After the dough has rested and doubled in size, shape it into a loaf (I just turned it a few times until it was roundish; I’m that dedicated) and leave it covered for another 30 minutes until, again, it doubles in size.
10. Whilst this is happening do three things: put a baking sheet in the oven to heat up, put a roasting tray in the bottom of the oven and fill the kettle with water.
11. When you are ready to bake, turn the oven down slightly to 240°C/220°C fan-assisted/gas 7. Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven, put the dough into the middle of it and slash the top with a sharp knife. Then boil the kettle and, once boiled, open the oven and slide the baking tray in, pour the boiling water into the roasting tray at the bottom and close the door.
12. Bake for about 20 minutes at 240°C/220°C fan-assisted/gas 7 then turn the oven down and bake for another 15 minutes at 210°C/190°C fan-assisted/gas 6. Finally open the oven a tiny bit and cook for another 5 or so. These timings may not be absolutely spot-on, since your oven will be different from mine but about 40 minutes or so should be right for this amount of dough. Check every so often after the first 30. You’re looking for a golden finish and no ‘singing’ noises from the inside.
13. Remove the bread and leave to cool on a wire rack. Then stand back and admire your handiwork…