My mission to bake better and easier bread continues apace and this week I found a magic ingredient. Many moons ago, when I was younger and idiotically naïve, I worked in a bar in Paris, which is probably the most impossible experience for someone who finds routine deathly, especially with eight-hour shifts. The beer was amazing though, despite the puns, as was the bread that they made with the spent grain. French hipsters and homesick British expats alike would come in just for the big slices of malty toast and the Welsh rarebits. I have never, before or since, had bread with equivalent softness and richness and, since it seems that their menu now has all the creativity of a curry club night at Wetherspoon’s, I will probably never have it again. So, if I want it I have to make it.
About a month ago I made cider bread, a mash-up of a Nigel Slater recipe in Kitchen Diaries II and Richard Bertinet’s technique and proportions. It was delicious and perfect with chorizo and cider but since I never drink cider, and rarely have it in the house, it’s a waste to use 100-150ml of a bottle if something like the chorizo is not happening at the same time. Which, since I tend to bake on a Saturday or Sunday morning is unlikely. Then I had a conversation with a friend, who is starting a micro-brewery, about the joys of that wonderful malty bread, remembered that Dan Lepard writes about beer breads in Short and Sweet, and suddenly cider bread was a distant memory.
Beer, as Lepard points out, helps ‘to colour the crumb and crust because of all the malt it contains’ but, alas, ‘the alcohol will slow the yeast down and make the rising time longer’. The solution? Use half beer, half water. Combined with Bertinet’s absolutely foolproof technique and proportions, the result was a lovely sourdoughy-esque bread which, if I’m honest, could have been a tad more malty but was, for a first attempt, close to perfect. It makes brilliant sandwiches, toast and bruschetta and, if I can get hold of some, I am going to try it with Bad Seed malt to see if I can recreate my madeleine moment.
This will forever be known as 4°C bread to me but you don’t need Bad Seed beer for this, and since it’s not on sale yet you won’t be able to get it, so use something really rich and dense, with an ABV beyond insipid and plenty of balls. I’d recommend a Kernel IPA or a Meantime Chocolate Porter. Buy something decent from somewhere decent, because who knows where else that horsemeat has ended up…
For one loaf you will need:
Cupboard (or things you might have)
10g sea salt
500g strong white bread flour
10g fast action dried yeast
175ml very flavoursome ale/beer/porter
Oh and about three hours at home (only about 15 minutes of which will be in the kitchen unless, er, you like to watch dough rising and proving).
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.
3. If your salt is quite coarse, grind it down to something finer then mix it in, again just with your fingers.
4. Measure out 175ml of water and 175ml of beer then pour it on top of the flour. Mix the lot together into a big shaggy mass, either with your fingers, a big spoon/spatula, or one of these bread scrapers.
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, 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). Every so often you may need to scrape any escaped bits back off the board into the ball/mass.
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 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 onto 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.