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Christmas Brioche

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I am still cooking from James Morton’s book Brilliant Bread. James is the most common sense baker around and his recipes really work. This time, I tried his Super-Fast Brioche and it was pretty fast. From mixing to eating in half a day.

I tweaked the recipe a bit and made a lovely Christmas version with sour cherries and cranberries. And as the dough is a bit tricky to use as it’s really sticky, I put the first prove in the fridge to make the dough firm up and make it easier to handle. You can also make a normal brioche loaf without the fruit and spices.

The texture was incredibly light and airy, somewhere between cake and bread. Which make sense of Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat brioche” – not cake as the popular saying goes – Qu’ils mangent de la brioche“. And I used my wonderful sourdough starter, going strong after 6 months! I cannot recommend highly enough using sourdough starter in bread recipes where instant yeast is also used.

Here is James’ recipe, with my tweaks:

Ingredients

100g white sourdough starter (1-2 days after feeding) see here for how to make a sourdough starter

170g plain flour 30g strong white flour

One 7g sachet instant yeast

40g caster sugar ( I used 40g, double the sugar that James has in his recipe for a slightly sweeter brioche)

3 free-range eggs

5g salt

125g butter, softened and cubed

A handful of sour cherries

A handful of dried cranberries

I/4 tsp each of cinnamon and nutmeg

1 more free-range egg, for glazing at the end

Method

Preheat oven to 220 degrees C,  200 degrees C fan-forced and very heavily grease (with butter) and line a loaf tin.

Using a wooden spoon or electric mixer, beat together all dough ingredients except the butter.  (I used my KitchenAid with the dough hook.) Keep beating very vigorously – probably around 5-10 minutes – and you can see the dough become more elastic and stringy. If you are very competent with dough handling, you can attempt some stretches and folds. Beat in the butter until fully incorporated and the dough is totally smooth, another 5 minutes. You will notice the dough change – it will become firmer. Using hands or a dough scraper, fold the dough over into the middle of your bowl, tightening it.

Cover and rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. Using your hands or a dough scraper again, fold the sides of the dough into the middle, working your way all around the bowl several times. You will see the dough tightening – you want to help it hold its shape at the end.

Cover and prove the dough for at least 2 hours in the fridge.  Remove from the fridge and get ready to shape.  The dough should have firmed up enough to shape it into a   loaf to go into the tin, for a regular brioche, or roll it and fill with fruit and spices and then shape for a Christmas version.

For regular brioche, fold the dough into a loaf shape and put into the buttered tin. Be careful with handling – it’s still a fragile dough, even after being in the fridge.

For Christmas brioche, put your chilled proved dough onto a floured board and gently stretch to a rectangle. Don’t go too thin – just stretch the dough large enough to be able to fold it over a couple of times with the filling. Scatter the cherries and cranberries and spices onto the dough then fold over 1/3 from the top, and then fold the dough over onto the remaining 1/3 of the dough. Carefully transfer to the very well buttered tin.

Prove for a final 1 hour. The dough should be light and fragile, but springy on top when prodded. Eggwash the top of the loaf, and turn the oven down to 200 degrees C, 180 degrees C fan-forced, and bake for 40 minutes until dark brown on top.

When cooked, cool in the tin for for a few minutes, then carefully turn out onto a wire rack. It should be OK, but you may need to ease the brioche out of the tin, as this dough can sometimes stick. Fingers crossed!

Let cool completely before eating. I served my brioche plain with butter, and with Christmas jam* and natural yoghurt.IMG_9358

When the brioche was a couple of days old, I toasted it and served it with vanilla butter (unsalted butter whipped with icing sugar and vanilla paste) and Christmas jam*.

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*Christmas jam is made with fresh or frozen cherries and cranberries, and sugar and water as in normal jam recipes.

 

 

Very Seedy Home-Baked Bread

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This is the kind of loaf you can knock up in a few hours. Yes there is proving time, and baking time of course, but you can decide to bake bread one afternoon and have it done for dinner that evening. Of course the recipe is based on one from the wonderful baker James Morton. He has revolutionized the way I approach bread making and enriched and laminated doughs.

He is the new god of baking and his first book Brilliant Bread is my bible: http://www.amazon.com/Brilliant-Bread-James-Morton/dp/0091955602

This recipe is almost but not quite no-knead. I made the recipe using white flour and heaps of seeds and a few pecans. A bit odd, not using wholemeal flour, I know, but I kind of like this combination. You could of course use wholemeal flour, or 300g wholemeal and 200g white, which James uses in his original recipe. See here for the original.

Ingredients

500g strong white flour

A good handful of mixed seeds. I don’t measure, I put in as many or as little as I feel like of sesame, poppy, linseed, chia and pepita seeds. Nuts are good too. I threw in a few pecans

10g salt

7g sachet dried instant yeast

350g water

Some sourdough starter, about 100g (optional). If you don’t have a starter on hand, the recipe still works well.

Method

Rub dry ingredients together, keeping salt and yeast separate. Add water and starter, then use your dough scraper to combine into a loose dough. Once combined, use your scraper to pull the dough from the edge of the bowl into the middle.  You should then work your way around the bowl several times, about 15-20 scrapes.

Rest the dough, covered, for 30 minutes.  Repeat the action with the scraper, knocking the air out of the dough and returning it to its original size as you do so.

Rest the dough for a further 30 minutes, then repeat scraping action one last time.

Rest the dough a final 40-50 minutes, then shape and place on a floured board or baking sheet.

Preheat the oven to 240 degrees C.

Prove until done (springs back when poked), about 50 minutes to 1 hour. Flour any baking tin you like; a loaf tin or even a square cake tin as I used this time. Carefully transfer the proved loaf to the tin.

Score the loaf and place the tin in the oven, turning the oven down to 210 degrees C.  Place another shallow baking tin with cold water in it at the very bottom of the oven to create steam (This gives your bread a lovely crust.)

Bake for about 40 minutes or until the loaf is really brown and done.

Great with any spread, I love cumquat jam on this bread. https://thequirkandthecool.com/2013/09/15/jams-marmalades-and-conserves-2013/

PS I forgot to flour my tin, and the bread stuck in places, hence the photos show where I had to cut the bread to get it out of the tin… There’s a lesson in there somewhere!

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Cherry, Cranberry and Cinnamon Buns

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I love cinnamon buns, in fact I love any kind of bun with a filling and some icing on top. I made these buns, filled with dried cherries and cranberries, cinnamon and brown sugar, and with a drizzle of lemon icing on top.

My last post sang the praises of baker James Morton and his book Brilliant Bread. Click here for the link to buy from Amazon.

And I still revere Paul Hollywood‘s words of wisdom on all things bread. So I made my buns with a little bit from each baker.

The recipe is an enriched bread dough (butter, milk and egg added to the basic dough). Because I now have a spectacular sourdough starter, as well as instant yeast, I added a little of my starter for some extra flavour.

James recommends baking the buns in a cast iron casserole eg a Le Creuset dish. Cooking them in a pot creates lovely soft buns.

Ingredients

250g plain white flour

250g strong white flour

8g table salt

7g instant yeast

100g sourdough starter (optional)

50g caster sugar

280g milk, warmed until tepid

1 free-range egg, at room temperature

50g unsalted butter

Filling

50g unsalted butter, melted

75g soft brown sugar

2 tsp ground cinnamon

100g dried cherries

100g dried cranberries

Glaze

1 tbls apricot jam, sieved, mixed with a little warm water

Lemon Icing

Juice of 1 lemon

200g icing sugar

Method

Place the flour, salt, yeast,  sourdough starter if using, sugar, tepid milk, and egg into a large bowl and mix them together by hand or you can use an electric mixer with a dough hook. Knead by hand or in the mixer about for 10 minutes.

Melt the butter and add to your dough. Mix it in by hand or use a machine until completely combined. Cover the bowl (I use a disposable shower cap but cling film is fine) and leave the dough to rest for 60-90 minutes at room temperature, or overnight in the fridge, until it has grown to roughly double its original size.

Turn your dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll it out into a big, long rectangle. The rectangle should be about 20cm wide and up to a metre long. Melt the 50g of butter and brush over dough. Sprinkle the dough all over with brown sugar and then cinnamon. Scatter the cherries and cranberries over the dough.

Roll up the dough along its long edge into as tight a cylinder you can get, but be careful as the dough is quite fragile. Slice this cylinder into 6-9 roughly equal pieces using a knife. Line a large lidded casserole pot with a piece of baking paper and arrange the buns cut end down.

Place the lid on the casserole and leave to rise for another hour at room temperature, then check to see that buns have risen.

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30 minutes before baking, preheat your oven to 180 degrees C fan forced. Put the lid back on the casserole and place in the oven.  Cooking time seems to vary – James says 40 minutes lidded then another 10 minutes with the lid off. He says if the casserole is thinner walled, they’ll probably bake quicker. My buns took about 25 minutes with the lid on and 10 minutes with the lid off. As you can see from the photo, my buns browned too much, so I will need to watch the cooking time carefully when next I bake.

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Remove from the oven, and brush with the apricot glaze while still warm. Cool to room temperature.

For the lemon icing, mix the lemon juice and icing sugar until thick but of dropping consistency. Drizzle over the buns using a fork or spoon.

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Simple Sourdough

This is an updated post about making that most marvellous of breads – sourdough. I’ve also posted the recipe as Sourdough Ultimate Bread. It’s my current go-to method for sourdough baking.
18 May 2020

The power of natural yeast to change flour and water into a beautiful, intense flavoured loaf of bread is a wonderful thing. I began baking sourdough bread a few years ago, but this year I have embarked on a journey to develop my skills and come up with the perfect loaf. Of course, there’s no such thing, but every loaf has its value and provides a lesson in what works and what can be improved.

I make a lot of sourdough bread, and I’ve come a long way in my journey. So I thought it would helpful to write up my current sourdough process. I hope that readers of this blog will enjoy this latest account, and perhaps will be inspired to make their first – or next – sourdough loaf.

And here I should say that I have developed my sourdough skills through reading and following the procedures, advice and hands on experiences of the baking doctor James Morton. He is the high priest of sourdough, and his latest book Super Sourdough(Hardie Grant Publishing) is an instruction manual and bakers’ bible in one.

It’s also full of commonsense and incredibly helpful advice and excellent recipes. I really recommend it.

Here is the sourdough process that is producing well risen, beautiful tasting and relatively consistent loaves for me, based on the James Morton method.

An important aspect of making sourdough is the baking component. I use the cast iron pot method, of which much has been written, particularly on the internet. The principle seems to be that baking the bread inside a pot creates steam which helps the bread to rise.

A note on a sourdough starter. I’m including a method suggested by James Morton that has worked for me. My starter is incredibly active and makes my dough rise really well. There are many methods around for starters, and I don’t claim to be enough of an expert to say definitively which ones are best.

Sourdough starter
Put 100g wholemeal flour and 100g fruit juice into a glass jar and mix. Leave for about 5 days or until it develops lots of bubbles. Feed with equal amounts of flour and water, at least as much flour as is already in the jar. After the first feed, you will need to discard some starter, to maintain a reasonable size starter in the jar. The starter can be used to make bread once it consistently grows in size after being fed.

If you’re not making bread everyday, and therefore using up starter, you can store the starter in the fridge and feed once a week.

Ingredients
450g strong flour
150g sourdough starter
325g tepid water
10g salt

Method

Mix
Measure the flour into a large bowl. Add the sourdough starter and the water. Don’t add the salt just yet. Mix very roughly just enough to incorporate the ingredients.

Autolyse
Cover and leave for 30 minutes so the mixture can autolyse. I use a clear plastic shower cap as a cover, as it fits nicely over most sized bowls. A plastic bag is fine too.

Knead and Prove
Add the salt to the mixture. Now you can choose to knead the mixture using a dough hook in an electric stand mixer, knead by hand or use the stretch and fold method, essentially a no knead way of developing gluten in the dough. If you want to knead by hand, that’s fine, but I don’t, so I won’t describe here. There is plenty of information out there about ways of kneading!

If using a mixer, mix the dough for 6 minutes on the lowest speed, then 4 minutes on the next speed up. The dough should be lovely and stretchy, and pass the windowpane test if you pull and stretch a small section – it should be translucent. Cover the bowl again and leave the dough in a warm place to prove for about 4 hours. The advantages of this method are less work and you can leave the dough alone for the 4 hours.

The stretch and fold method is great if you don’t want to knead and if you haven’t got an electric mixer. Remove the cover from the dough. You need to wet your fingers for this method, to stop your fingers sticking to the dough. Gently grab one of the edges of the dough and fold over into the middle. Repeat, turning the bowl around so you have lifted up all of the dough and folded into the middle.The dough should start to feel stretchy. Do this stretching and folding of the dough about 4 or more times, covering the bowl again after each stretch and fold. The whole stretch and fold method should be done over 4 hours.

After the first prove of 4 hours the dough should have increased in size by at least 50%.

Pre-shape
Now comes the interesting part of the process for, getting the dough into a shape that can then be shaped for baking. I was very nervous of pre-shaping initially, now its my favourite part of bread making!

Carefully remove the dough from the bowl with help of a dough scraper onto an unfloured work surface. Definitely no flour needed! I use an oversized wooden board, but a bench top will work too. The dough will be stretchy, and quite delicate, so no rough treatment. Slide the scraper underneath the dough, lifting it from underneath. You will feel the scraper catch the dough as it lifts it up. I try not to remove the scraper, just move it round all of the dough in a circle. Sometimes the scraper sticks, and you need to pull it out, remove the sticky dough, and then go under again, but the more you move around the dough, the tighter the dough becomes and the less likely to stick. Do this circular movement with the scraper a few times until the dough forms a round, wobbly ball that roughly holds its shape. Leave for 20-30 minutes to let the gluten relax.

Shape
I shape my sourdough loaves to fit the 2 cast iron pots I bake in. One is round, perfect for a boule shape. The other is oval, which is fine for a batard shape.

It’s important that you are super careful with the shaping. The dough is delicate and you don’t want to damage the dough you have worked so hard to develop.

For a round boule: put the pre-shaped dough onto the work surface, lightly floured. Imagine the round of dough is a clock face. Take one edge of the dough at 12 o’clock and gently pull towards you, and fold into the centre of the dough. Move the dough around to 3 o’clock and pull and fold again. Move to 6 o’clock, then 9 o’clock, pulling and folding. Do this process a few times until the dough feels tight and a little bouncy. Turn the dough over. Scoop the dough into curved hands and rock the dough backwards and forwards, until the dough feels tight and smooth.

For a batard: put the pre-shaped dough onto the work surface, lightly floured. Imagine the dough is sort of square shape. Take the two sides of the square shape that are opposite each other and gently stretch away from each other. Fold these stretched bits over each other in the centre of the dough. Turn the dough round 90 degrees and do the same with the other two sides of the square. Now that you have folded the 4 sides of the square, fold 2 of the opposing corners in the same way, and then fold the other opposing corners. Take any side of the dough and roll up like a Swiss roll. Press the seam to seal.

For either shape, carefully move the dough into a proving basket, round or batard shaped, with the smooth side of the dough on the bottom and the seam side on top.

Second Prove
While you can prove your dough for 2-3 hours at room temperature, I advocate the retarded or fridge prove, and this method serves me well. Leave the dough at room temperature for an hour then place in the fridge for 8-12 hours. Doing this at night works well as it allows you to bake your bread first thing the next morning.

Score and Bake
For the pot method, pre-heat your oven to really hot – 250 degrees C. Put the pot in when you begin to pre- heat, and leave for 20-30 minutes. The pot will certainly be really hot after half an hour – and perhaps this is a waste of energy – but I sometimes want to be completely sure the pot is hot, so I go the extra 10 minutes.

Turn your dough out of the proving basket onto a thin flat baking tray or peel, well dusted with semolina. The pretty side of the dough is now on top. Open the oven and carefully take the lid of the pre-heated pot off. You can then slide the shaped dough into the hot pot.

At this point you can score the dough using a lame or razor blade or sharp knife. For a boule, scoring with a cross is good, however, I sometimes score with 2 parallel slashes, giving the bread more of an oval shape. For a batard, score with 1 or 2 long cuts down the length of the dough.

Pop the lid back on the pot and close the oven door. Turn the oven to 220 degrees C or 200 degrees C fan-forced. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for a further 20-30 minutes with the lid off. I have experimented endlessly with this latter cooking time, and have come to the conclusion that 20 minutes gives a lighter brown loaf, softer in the middle, while 30 minutes gives a richer, browner loaf not quite as soft.

Remove the bread to a wire rack or board and leave to cool for an hour before cutting.

That’s it. I have tried to explain what works for me. There are infinite variations on the how-to of sourdough bread making. This is just one method. I can only encourage you to try this method, or any other, to discover the joys and pleasures and the huge satisfaction of turning flour and water into a magnificent loaf of bread.

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