I made bread today.
I make bread 2 or 3 times a week, but it’s usually in a breadmaker. I’m pretty good at making bread maker bread into something very tasty. The trick is (as ever) to start with the best ingredients. And when your ingredients are just flour, oil and water (ok and some yeast, milk powder, sugar and salt) you want to make sure you have the best flour you can find.
Stoneground flour with added seeds is my flour of choice, from Bacheldre Mill. I know, it seems ridiculous to buy flour from Wales, and cause it to be shipped up to the Clyde Valley. But it’s delicious. And I don’t necessarily like to promote amazon, but you can subscribe to Bacheldre Mill flour on amazon and get it automatically delivered to you as often as you want, and for about the same price as you’d pay at your local supermarket for an inferior mass-produced product.
One of the things I discovered early on is that you need about 20% more water than you expect when you are using stoneground flour. I don’t know why. You just do. Trust me on this.
Anyway, as I said, today I made bread. By hand, not in the breadmaker. And not a sourdough. I’ll come back to sourdough, perhaps in the summer, but for now I’m afraid I’ve killed my starter, so more sourdough will just have to wait till I can be bothered nurturing a jar of gloop again.
This morning I was inspired by that lovely Mr Hollywood. You know, him with the gorgeous twinkly blue eyes, and the assertive kneading hands. And the knowledge, held within his hands as much as his brain, on how to bake. As someone who has loved baking all my life, I appreciate what that lovely Mr Hollywood has to offer. OK, as a warm blooded woman I appreciate what that Mr Hollywood has to offer!
My mother sent me the free Hollywood Bakes booklets she’d got in the weekend Telegraph, and it seemed sensible to start at the beginning, with a white cob loaf. But I’m not very good at following recipes to the letter, and I don’t have weighing scales which enable me to weigh 10g of yeast, so my white cob loaf is I guess a Valley Variation of Mr Hollywood’s recipe.
But it works.
It works brilliantly.
I will be making this bread again. And again. So should you.
White cob loaf
- 500g strong white flour, preferably stoneground
- 2tsp instant yeast, plus a wee bit more
- 1 lge tsp Maldon sea salt
- about 30g softened butter
- 350ml tepid water
- Tip the flour into a very large mixing bowl. If you have one of those really big wide mixing bowls, that is what you should use
- Add the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other
- Add the butter and 3/4 water in the middle and start mixing it around with your fingers, using them like a paddle
- You’re aiming to incorporate all of the flour into the doughy mixture around your fingers – you may need to add all of the water, but perhaps not, depending on your flour. Or the where the moon is in its cycle. Or the equinox. Or if you live next door to a witch. Bread is fickle like that.
- When the dough has come together and is soft (not too stiff, and not too soggy, although soggy is better than stiff in this instance) clean the inside of the bowl with the dough.
- Coat your work surface with a little olive oil (or whatever unflavoured oil) and tip the dough onto it.
- Knead for around 5-10 minutes until the dough seems to form a soft smooth skin, and it all feels softer and silky to the touch
- Oil a large bowl and place the dough in there, cover with cling film. Or a shower cap if you’ve been away in a hotel recently and have taken the free shower cap with you
- Leave to rise in a warm place, if you have one.
- Go and do other things
- Do some more
- Once it has doubled in size you can get going again.
- Line a baking tray with parchment, or butter it with a leftover butter paper
- Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and shape it into a ball by repeatedly folding it inwards with your hand. Once all the air is knocked out of it and the dough is smooth, form it into a round, smooth cob (dome) shape
- Put the dough on the prepared baking sheet and leave to prove for about an hour. If you can, cover it, but you don’t want anything that will touch the surface of the dough or it might rip the skin off the dough when you remove it
- When it’s nearly ready, pre-heat your oven to 450F / 230C / GM8.
- Once the dough has doubled in size again test to see if it springs back quickly if you prod it gently with a finger. If it does, you’re ready. If not, leave it a bit longer. Or cry.
- Fill a roasting tray half full with water and place it in the bottom of your hot hot hot oven
- Dust the dough with some flour and the slash its top deeply with a knife. Don’t be scared, just do it.
- Pop your bread in the oven and bake for 30 mins, or until it’s cooked through and sounds hollow when tapped on the base.
- Cool on a wire rack
Eat with unsalted butter. Or cheese and pickle. Or ham. Or really with anything you want. It will be delicious.