Category Archives: Breads

Simnel cake, Mothering Sunday and mutating feast days

Simnel cake slice

Simnel cake is the traditional British Easter cake. Or is it? Laura Mason and Catherine Brown write in The Taste of Britain that this light fruit cake with marzipan “was originally associated with a Mid-Lent Sunday when the Lenten fast was relaxed to allow the consumption of richer foods, adding variety to an otherwise monotonous diet. This was known as Mothering Sunday…. Later the holiday developed into the secular festival of Mother’s Day.”

I’m not sure it developed into, but it’s certainly been conflated with Mother’s Day, a 20th century North American celebration. Both are moveable feasts, but while the North American Mother’s Day is usually the second Sunday in May, the older Mothering Sunday is based on the date of the spring or vernal equinox and this year is on Sunday, 15 March.1

Like so many Christian feast days, Mothering Sunday, or Laetare Sunday (from the Latin “rejoice”), may have its origins in pre-Christian celebrations. At the spring equinox the ancient Greeks celebrated the mother goddess figure they called Kybelis, who originated in what is today Turkey, but who migrated across the Mediterranean to become the Romans’ Cybele, with the feast day of Hilaria2.

As they do, the traditions evolved and migrated further over history, but the “mother” aspect was retained, getting tweaked into signifying the “mother church” for Christians.

Cake, boiled and baked
The tradition of eating something called simnel cake on this feast day emerged in Medieval England. Initially it was an enriched, yeasted wheat bread. Indeed, the word simnel may derive – like the Scandinavian semlor – from the Latin simila: fine wheat flour. But no one is sure.

The early modern versions, according to Mason and Brown, were a dough enriched with fruit, almonds and spices then “enclosed in a pastry crust and… boiled before being painted with egg yolk and baked, giving a very hard exterior.” Feast Day Cookbook by Katherine Burton and Helmut Ripperger mentions such a cake was so hard it gave “rise to the story of a lady who used one for years as a footstool”.

In English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Elizabeth David writes “At one time simnel cakes were… baked with a layer of almond paste in the centre of the cake.” She they says they these were “gradually superseded by ordinary cake batters and the strip of almond paste or marzipan moved from the centre to the top of the cake, which was originally made for Mothering Sunday.” In the 19th century, servants and apprentices were allowed Mothering Sunday off to visit their families – and take a cake to their mothers.

Burton and Ripperger describe simnel cake as “a yeast cake very yellow in colour because of the saffron and candied peel it contained”. I can’t find other mentions of saffron being an essential ingredient, though I suspect it would have been included in some parts of the country, possibly where saffron was cultivated such as Stratton in Cornwall or the famously named Saffron Waldon in Essex.

Indeed, different parts of the country had their own variations, most notably the towns of Devizes (“which produced a star-shaped version without marzipan”3), Bury (“Where a rubbed-in mixture, giving a result rather like a very rich scone, was baked in a long oval”4), and Shrewsbury. This regional varation, still so common in countries like Italy, is something that was largely lost in the era of industrialisation, neutralisation and homogenisation that’s defined British food that past 70 or so years.

Simnel cake hyacinths

Balls not eggs
The best known form today, developed from the Shrewsbury type, is decorated not just with a coating of marzipan but with 11 balls of almond paste. These balls represented Jesus’ apostles. Sometimes there are 12 balls – to include Jesus himself. Both counts exclude the notorious Judas. I feel somewhat sorry for Judas. Some poor sod was fated to be the fall guy right? Lowest circle of hell seems a bit harsh, especially if you believe his role was predestined.

The final shift in tradition has occurred fairly recently. The cake is now largely made for Easter, and some prefer to see the balls as eggs. Easter eggs perhaps laid by the Easter bunny… Got to to love the mutability of tradition.

A hybrid recipe for a mutant tradition
This is a yeasted version. It’s a modernisation of the version in David. She based her version on one from Cassells’ Universal Cookery Book by Lizzie Heritage, published first in 1894. I wanted to incorporate both traditions of the marzipan layer in the middle and grilled marzipan balls on top.

One batch of marzipan, about 400g-500g. See my recipe here.
15g fresh yeast / 8g active dried yeast (or 6g instant yeast. See instruction 5 below)
180g milk
200g strong white flour
250g plain/all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
80g caster sugar
3 medium eggs, beaten (about 160g beaten egg)
125g butter, softened
160g currants or raisins
60g candied peel
1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg (or 1 1/2 tsp mixed spice)

1. First make your marzipan. You could buy some but it really is easy to make.
2. Grease a 23cm round tin, ideally springform.
Simnel cake ingredients

3. Warm the milk slightly, then add the yeast (if using fresh or ADY) and a dessertspoon of the sugar.
4. Allow this mix to sit or until frothy and lively.

Simnel cake dough 1Simnel cake dough 2Simnel cake dough 3
5. Add the yeast mix to the flour, along with the salt, the caster sugar, and the egg. (If you’re using instant yeast, mix it with the flour at this stage.)
6. Bring to a dough, turn out onto an oiled or lightly floured work surface and knead until well combined. It will be quite sticky5, but try to use extra flour sparingly as adding too much extra will make for a dry, dense cake.
7. Form the dough into a ball, put in a clean bowl, cover and rest for about 10 minutes.
8. Give the ball another quick knead then allow it to rest again for another 10 minutes. Repeat this once more.
9. While the dough is resting, mix together the softened butter, fruit and spices.
10. Take the dough out of the bowl and stretch it out.

Simnel cake dough 4
10. Smear the buttery fruit mix over the stretched out dough, then wrap the dough around and carefully knead it all together to combine. Again, it will be sticky, but try to be sparing with any extra flour. A dough scraper is your friend.
11. Form the dough into a ball again and put back in a clean bowl.

First prove
12. Cover and leave to rise, until doubled in size.

Simnel cake, divide in two
13. Take the dough out of the bowl. It should weigh about 1250g. Divide into two equal pieces, and form these into balls.
14. Leave the balls to rest for about 10 minutes, covered, then squash them down into discs.

Simnel cake dough and marzipan discSimnel cake second disc
15. Put one of the discs of dough into the bottom of the tin and cover it with a disc formed of less than half of the marzipan, rolled and cut out, using the tin as a template.
16. Put the other disc of dough on top.
17. Cover and leave to rest again, until nearly doubled in size.
18. Preheat your oven to 200C.
19. Bake for about 20 minutes then turn the oven down to 180C. Continue baking for another 20-25 minutes. If the top starts to brown too much, cover it with foil.

Simnel before bakingSimnel after baking
20. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then remove and cool completely.

Simnel after baking, side
21. When cool, brush the top with warmed apricot jam.

Brush and balls
22. Roll out the marzipan, keeping a bit back, and make another disc for the top. Brush with beaten egg.
23. Use the remaining marzipan to make balls (mine weighed about 10g each), placing them in a circle on the top of the cake. Brush with more beaten egg.
24. Preheat your grill or light a blow torch, and brown the top marzipan and balls slightly.
25. Take the cake to your mother, or enjoy with friends and family, hopefully welcoming the spring with a sunny day.

Simnel cake grilled

Notes
1. The Spring/vernal equinox itself, when the sun is over the equator and the lengths of day and night are roughly equal, isn’t until Friday 20 March 2015. In Western culture, its annual celebrations have been moved around between the date fixed by the ancient Romans, in the Julian calendar, then the later Gregorian Christian calendar, which most of the world uses today. Pope Gregory XIII introduced the latter because the date of Easter, which also takes it takes from the Spring equinox, was drifting and the Catholic church authorities wanted to recalibrate it. It’s quite a complicated issue, and still controversial among some Christians; read more here.
2. Hilaria means “cheerful” and relating to the modern English word “hilarious”.
3. and 4. Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food, p726 (2006 edition).
5. In terms of baker’s percentages, the 450g flour = 100%. So 180g milk = 40%. The beaten egg at 160g = 35%. So the hydration – treating the milk and egg combined as the total liquid – is 75%.

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Filed under Baking, Breads, Cakes (yeasted), Feasts

Barm brack for St Brigid’s Day, or Imbolc

Barmbrack

Also called barmbrack, barnbreak, bairín breac or bairínbreac, this is the Irish cousin of the Welsh bara brith, with both names meaning “speckled bread” – bread dotted with speckles of dried fruit.

It’s traditionally eaten on Halloween as well as on 1 February, the feast day of one of Ireland’s patron saints: Brigid or Brigit of Kaldare.* This is one of those Christian feast days, in combination with Candlemas on 2 February, that was a rebranding of an older, pagan festival: Imbolc, the mid-point between winter and spring equinoxes. Indeed, although Brigid was nominally a historical figure who lived in the 5th-5th centuries, there was also an older, Irish, or Celtic goddess of the same name and the feast effectively amalgamates the two.

It’s not a big feast day for us Brits, but as Fran and myself both have Irish great-grandparents, it’s a good excuse to try a recipe.

Barm brack is one of the breads that originally would have been made with yeast from brewing, but these days you can either make a yeasted version, ie more an enriched bread, or a chemically leavened one, ie more a fruit cake. Several months ago I accidentally bought an 8kg sack of self-raising flour, so as much as I like yeasted breads, I made the latter, as part of my efforts to use it up.

If it’s not St Brigid’s Day or Imbolc or Halloween, don’t worry – you can still make this brack, and just call it a tea brack, a relative of the other similar baked goods known as tea breads in English.

Oh, and while researching recipes, I found some that were adamant you had to bake in a round tin, some that were free-form (yeasted) loaves, though the consensus seems to be to bake in a loaf tin, which makes sense as you can then slice it and spread it with butter and eat it for afternoon tea.

250g dried fruit – currants, raisins, sultanas or a mixture
300g black tea. We used Earl Grey for that citrus tang from the bergamot
1 medium egg
50g butter, melted
150g sugar, soft brown
270g self-raising flour, or 260g plain/all-purpose flour sifted together with 2 tsp baking powder
Some spice, to taste
Pinch salt
50g candied peel

1. Put the currants/raisins/sultanas in a bowl and pour over the hot tea. Leave it for a few hours, or overnight, so the fruit plumps up a bit.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C, or 160 if you have a fan. That said, my fan oven is pretty puny, so 170C seemed OK. Basically, a medium oven.
3. Grease and line a 900g/2lb loaf tin.
4. Put the flour in a large bowl, add a bit of spice if you like (I used cinnamon, a few grates of nutmeg and a pinch of black pepper, which is probably unconventional, but seemed appropriate) and the salt.
5. Add the sugar. I used soft brown and a bit of dark muscovado that was hanging around.
6. Add all the rest of the ingredients, and stir to combine. The resulting batter will be pretty sloppy.
7. Pour into the tin and bake for about one and a quarter hours, turning down the heat slightly and covering the loaf with foil if the top is browning too much.
8. When it comes out of the oven, you can brush it with a simple sugar syrup made from a few tablespoons of water and a few of sugar, dissolved then boiled quickly.
9. Turn out, allow to cool and serve.

Funny, I never much liked fruit breads and cakes, but I’m increasingly enjoying them, and this was lovely. We ate several slices, sitting around with our friend Liv, drinking gallons of tea. I was tempted to open an ale, as one source I read insists you have it with ale; which would make sense, but only a rich, malty ale, without too much newfangled hoppiness.

I’ll make a yeasted version come Halloween, but we’ve got spring and summer first, so I’m not wishing the year away on this cold late winter day.

Barmbrack 2

 

 

* Her name is also spelled Bride, and some suggest Saint Bride’s Well, and Bridewell Palace (mostly destroyed in the Great Fire of London) and St Bride’s Church in the City of London take their name from her too, possibly via Irish monks who came to England to convert the heathens.

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Filed under Baking, Breads, Cakes, Feasts, Recipes

Making bread in The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead 127, gardens at Alexandria Safe-Zone

Those who read this blog will know I like bread. You may not know, however, I’m also a lifelong comic book reader. One comic I’m following avidly is zombie apocalypse saga The Walking Dead, which has recently taken an interesting turn. They’re still fighting zombies of course, but they’re also growing more food too.

Although many people started reading The Walking Dead comics when the TV series (2010-) became a hit, I’ve been there since the beginning, 2003. I can’t remember how I started but it was possibly thanks to my friend Dr Jamie Russell, a screenwriter and author of Book of the Dead: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema. We’re both pretty into apocalyptic fiction. I grew up with stuff like John Christopher, John Wyndham and JG Ballard. My mother was partly responsible, as she likes it too: novels like these, but also TV like the BBC’s Survivors (1975-1977). My childhood was also the era of cinema classics like Mad Max and The Terminator or repeats of The Omega Man or Logan’s Run on TV.

I’m one of those apocalypse geeks who likes to discuss how things would change, what you’d do when human civilisation collapses. I like to fantasise about fortifying my parents’ place in the country, building up its traditional southwest of England hedge-banks into a proper defensive palisade to keep the zombie hordes at bay. Or whatever.

Reality check
It’s all daft, obviously, as the collapse isn’t coming in one neat cinematic fell swoop, it’s coming slowly, now, as we speak, from our excessive consumerism, our unquenchable thirst for fossil fuels, supported by “greenest government ever” pawns who support fracking when our focus should be on energy efficiency and renewables. Such backwards policy furthers climate change, which destabilises agricultural, which causes famine, which results in population movement and increased tension in an overpopulated world. But slowly. We’re living the slow apocalypse. Which just doesn’t make for such great fiction.

Still, while all this is happening, we lap up the sudden apocalypse fiction, the bombs, the plagues, the zombies: The Walking Dead TV series is huge how, and a new trailer for the long-awaited fourth Mad Max film has just emerged via the ComicCon event in San Diego, etc, etc, etc.

I’d got a bit behind with The Walking Dead comics, but now I’ve caught up again. Thankfully, with issue 126, creator Robert Kirkman ended the protracted ‘All Out War’ storyline, which IMHO revisited too much ground already covered by the Governor storylines. With issue 127, Kirkman and artist Charlie Adlard refresh the series with a neat ellipsis. The issue is called ‘A New Beginning’ and about two years have passed since the war. The community of survivors seems to be flourishing, focussing on their food security by cultivating food, not just relying on scavenging food from before the zombie plague.

Post-apocalyptic practicalities
As much as I love the action element of apocalyptic stories, I much prefer it when they look at the practicalities of living in a changed world. This is why the BBC’s 1975 Survivors is superior to the 2008 remake. The former got stuck into the important business of how to survive after a plague had wiped out most of the population and nature was taking over again. The 2008 version, meanwhile, mostly just had its survivors bickering like soap opera characters. When they did try to do something practical – eg build a chicken coop – it was pathetic and cursory, physically and dramatically. Compare that with the original TV series, where they look at things like medical treatment, how to make candles, and even how to maintain a watermill.

The latter is particularly significant as water and wind provided the (sustainable) energy for milling grain for centuries. And milling grain means bread, the historic staple food.

Today, most people go to a supermarket, buy something sliced and wrapped in plastic and eat that. That’s not bread. That’s a post-industrial filler, a culinary deception and dietary disaster. There’s no way western civilisation could have achieved all that it has achieved (for better or worse) if we’d had white sliced as our staple.

For a community to thrive it needs a decent staple, and real bread is just that. So it’s great to see the survivors in The Walking Dead during that two-year ellipsis are farming, have built a windmill and are baking their own bread in their home, Alexandria, Virginia, not far from Washington DC.

TWD 128 windmill

Burning issues
In issue 128, Eugene, the community’s resident dorky genius, says he just read a book about how to do it, but Rick, the increasingly physically maimed but mentally sharp leader, won’t hear it. He realises the importance of the mill and the bakehouse in his vision for rebuilding civilisation.

Although we don’t see the more extensive grain fields you’d need to feed the comic’s community of, I dunno, a hundred-ish, you do see gardens and a glimpse of orchards. Unfortunately, the way Charlie has presented the mill and bakehouse is a bit of a bodge. The artwork is as great as ever, but it’s not a credible layout. The bakehouse seems to be inside the windmill. I have never encountered such an arrangement, and suspect it rarely, if ever, happened historically. If a mill did have an associated bakehouse, it would have been a separate building due to the fire hazard of cranking a wood-fired oven near chaff, wooden structures and valuable grain and flour.

The Walking Dead 128, bread fresh from the oven

The bread itself is portrayed slightly strangely too. The baker, Olivia, is handling a peel with tin loaves on it – though they’re not in tins. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say that she’s taken the loaves out of their tins then put them back in the oven to finish baking. Despite this quibbles, the scenes featuring the mill and bread are great: significant and moving.

Growing food. Grinding grain. Baking real bread. Now, perhaps The Walking Dead’s survivor’s can really thrive*.

* I doubt it though, as Kirkman generally seems to prefer his protagonists to suffer. Mistrust, human weakness and violence are the bread and butter of The Walking Dead. Not bread.

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A week in Rome: pizza and pizza bianca

Biddy on the beach, where we had pizza bianca for our lunch

A couple of my pizza or pizza-related ambitions for this trip didn’t come to fruition – a trip to the vaunted Pepe in Grani pizzeria and a chance to try the intriguing pinse. The former just felt like too much of a mission, as it’s in the sticks, a two-hour drive or doubtless convoluted journey by public transport from Rome. The latter because the place I’d been told about by Hande Leimer, not just the expert sommelier of Vinoroma, but a great knowledge on Roman eating, was closed when we passed by around midday on our way back from closing our Italian bank account. Or attempting to close it. I’ll eat my hat – okay, I’ll just nibble it a bit – if that cheque ever arrives at our UK address.

Shame really, as pinse are a kind of rare Roman and Lazio relative of the pizza, made with a dough based on grains other than wheat, such as millet, oats or barley, in a mix with older wheat varieties. Next time.

And it’s not like we were otherwise deprived.

The best meal we had was for Fran’s birthday lunch, which we celebrated at the excellent trattoria Da Cesare (Via del Casaletto 45, Casaletto/Monteverde Nuovo, 00151 Rome – at the end of the number 8 tram route). It’s an old favourite, via Rachel, Hande and her colleague Katie Parla, and the place where I had one of my most memorable meals ever, last year on Ferragosto – the public holiday that’s celebrated on 15 August, the day that’s considered the hottest of the year. For Fran’s birthday, we gorged ourselves on amazing fritti (deep-fried antipasti) and fresh pasta dishes, like these giant ravioli, accompanied by some great wines recommended by Hande (who told me the boss is also a sommelier and has a great selection). They do do pizza, though I’ve never tried it.

Giant ravioli of ricotta and spinach at Cesare a Casaletto

More basically though, we also ate a fair amount of pizza, including at one one of my favourite pizzerias. Da Remo (Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice 44, Testaccio, 00153 Rome) is isn’t a place that sells products that are entirely in line with my more ardent principles about long fermentation and whatnot, but it does offer a consistent, consistently tasty product: classic, thin Roman-style pizzas, nicely charred from their wood-fired oven and served an atmospheric slightly rough, rushed setting.

When we went there I had a pizza without tomato sauce – that is, a white pizza or pizza bianca. The topping was simply mozzarella, a few zucchine flowers and some anchovies and it totally hit the spot, washed down with dubious house wine.

Da Remo

Shades of white
The term pizza bianca can be a little confusing in Rome as the other thing it refers to is a simple snack of basic pizza dough embellished with little more than a slosh of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. I love the stuff. Can’t get enough. Which is good, as it’s ubiquitous in bakeries and pizza takeaways, which bake long planks of it and sell it by weight. It’s such a popular staple with Romans, I suspect even mediocre outlets put more effort into getting it right.

I’ve got a recipe here, but I’ll be honest – while I’m pleased with it, it’s never quite as good as the real thing, baked in a proper commercial oven oven, cut from a massive plank, eaten on a Roman street. Or nearby beach (where the old biddy, above, was our neighbour), here topped with some caciotta di pecora (sheep’s milk cheese) and prosciutto.

Pizza bianca 'sandwich'

Or as part of a simple lunch, here accompanied by burrata – not a Roman cheese, but from Puglia, and one of the most stupidly indulgent simple pleasures that exists.

Simple lunch

We bought ours from Il Panificio Passi (Via Mastro Giorgio 87, Testaccio), which was basically underneath the flat we were staying in and fortunately does decent pizza bianca.

Pizza bianca torn open, showing its moliche - crumb or guts

Name games
Rome, and Italy in general, is a great place for getting confused about the names of foods you might previously have considered yourself well-acquainted with. So while pizza bianca refers to both plain pizza, or topped pizza, pizza rossa refers to both pizza based topped with little more than a smear of tomato sauce, and the types of topped pizzas that have that sauce along with other elements.

Furthermore, Romans even use the word focaccia to refer to a very thin, crisp, crunchy bread that some trattorie serve in their baskets of bread that accompany every meal. I love it, though I didn’t take a photo when we had some as the waiter was so grumpy about my query it put me off my stride.

The plumper flatbread us Brits (and I suspect Americans) know as focaccia, meanwhile, can be simply called pizza alla genovese, as that style is from Genova/Genoa and Liguria.

Pizza rossa, pizza bianca and (the fatter stuff) pizza/focaccia alla genovese at Passi, Testaccio.

It’s all six of one and half a dozen of another though, as arguably all flat breads can be considered focaccia. The name simply means “hearth bread”, bread cooked on the hearth, from the Latin focus. Furthermore, Wikipedia’s attempt at making a distinction between focaccia and pizza is clearly spurious as it says things like “while focaccia dough uses more leavening, causing the dough to rise significantly higher” and “focaccia is most often square whereas conventional pizza is more commonly round”, both things fairly disabused by the kind of Roman food mentioned above.

It’s also worth noting, no one really seems to know the etymology of the word pizza anyway, so sod it – if you want to make something thin or thick, round or square, with a hole in the middle or not, heavily topped or simply sprinkled with salt, I’m not sure it’s really worth any fuss if you call it focaccia or pizza. Or indeed pinsa, a word that some suggest has the same roots as pizza anyway. Or not. Chissa?

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Filed under Baking, Breads, Pizza, Restaurants etc, Rome

Cornish saffron cake

Overhead

Last week, I spent several days down in north Devon, helping my father shift part of a 14 ton pile of gravel. It wasn’t our only activity though. I also counted 80 marsh orchids in their meadow; saw my first Leworthy lizard (was it lost? Surely it’s far too soggy there for a sun-loving reptile?), visited Holsworthy Ales and tried their new honeyed golden ale, Bizzy Buzzy (very pleasant on a sunny day, despite the infantile name and label); and I even saw my first ever British kingfisher, which shot underneath me when I was standing on a small footbridge over the river Deer. Plus, this being the Etherington family, I also did a lot of eating, include a requisite cream tea.

Scones and clotted cream

Normally, when visiting my folks in that part of the world we go for a meal at The Castle Restaurant, Bude, over the Devon border, on the Cornish coast. But sadly it closed down in October 2013 after a six-year run. It’s a real shame, as it was one of the only places serving real food in that area of north Devon/Cornwall. It’s also a wider shame there aren’t more real food places in that area, as it’s got an interesting food heritage. For example, Stratton, just inland from Bude on the way back to Holsworthy, used to be one of England’s key saffron-growing centres.

The saffron grown there would have been used in, among other things, Cornish saffron cake. This is an enriched bread, something like a yeasted cousin to English tea loaf (aka tea bread), though dyed (slightly) with the distinctive orange-yellow of saffron. In ‘English Food’, Jane Grigson says, “Saffron has always been expensive, even during the Middle Ages when it was at the height of European popularity for flavouring dishes, and even more for the colour it gave them. People liked their food to look gay, so that saffron… was found in every prosperous household.”

While in ‘English Bread and Yeast Cookery’, Elizabeth David says, “Among the most costly of spices used in early English cooking, and one which has survived – that is in our true native cooking – almost solely in yeast cakes and buns, is saffron. Originally treated as a colouring rather than a flavouring agent, it was used lavishly in sauces and for almost any category of dish, whether fruit, flesh, fowl or fish, sweet cream or savoury stew, whenever it was felt that a fine yellow colour would be appropriate.” She said its use died out through the 19th century – except in the West Country for buns and saffron cake. She suggests that when WWII deprivation forced people to replace saffron with annatto, they came to realise the former “was a very great deal more than just a colouring agent.”

Price spice
Saffron is the stigmas of Crocus sativus – Saffron crocus – which have to be harvested by hand. I imagine it’s backbreaking, slow work. The little pot I’ve got simply gives that frustratingly vague “Produce of more than one country”, which may mean India, Iran, Spain, Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, Spain, probably even China and perhaps even Greece, where the plant’s presumed wild ancestor (Crocus cartwrightianus) may have originated.

Grigson says, “It has been estimated it takes a quarter of a million flowers to produce one pound,” that is 454g. So if my little pot contained just 0.5g of stigmas, that’s still around 275 flowers (I think; maths isn’t my strong point). Sheesh. Or to look at it another way, if Waitrose Spanish saffron costs £3.99 for 0.4g, that’s £9.96 for 1g, for £9,975 for a kilo. The classic comparison is with gold, which at the time of writing costs about £24,000 per kilo (depending on carat).

Grigson also says the crocus was introduced to England in the 16th century and was still cultivated here until the practise died out at start of the 20th century. One enterprising grower did, however, start cultivating it in Essex again in 2001. His works out at £15 for 0.2g, or £75,000 a kilo. This is clearly a lot more than gold, but such high prices are a reflection the labour-intensiveness of a small scale operation in a first-world economy. I wonder if anyone grows it in Devon or Cornwall still? Or at least has Crocus sativus in their garden without realising the worth of its tiny red stigmas, despite how excruciatingly hard they are to extract.

For this recipe, I referred to the one in ‘English Food’ and another recipe from one of those little old-school ‘Favourite recipe’ books published by J Salmon Ltd (“Britain’s oldest post card and calendar publisher”). Despite the (somewhat haphazard) recipes, given with pounds and ounces only, and the cute watercolour wash illustrations, the books are a great repository of traditional British recipes. David also has a recipe, but I didn’t look at that till afterwards. In it she says one “valuable detail” she learned in her research was that “the little bits of saffron in the infusion which colours the cake are not strained out”. I hadn’t. They really help maintain the flavour, and just go to prove you didn’t use any old yellow colouring.

1 good pinch of saffron
A few tablespoons of boiling water
250g strong white bread flour
200g plain white flour
200g milk
7g instant yeast, or 20g fresh
100g butter
100g lard (or just use 200g butter)
1/2 t fine salt
60g caster sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
A few grates of fresh nutmeg
150g currants
50g candied peel

Saffron strands

1. In a small bowl, cover the saffron filaments with the boiling water and leave to infuse – for at least 5 hours, or overnight.

Saffron, infusing
2. Make a sponge or pre-ferment by mixing 150g strong white flour, the yeast and the milk, warmed to about body temperature. Don’t agonise about this. If it’s cooler, it’ll simply ferment slower. Just don’t get it too hot.
3. Let the sponge ferment until it’s nice and frothy.
4. In another, large mixing bowl combine the other 100g strong white bread flour and the 200g plain flour.
5. Cut the fats into cubes, then rub into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs, more or less.
6. Add the salt, the sugar and the spices to the fatty floury mixture.

Ferment, flour mix and saffron infusion
7. Add the sponge along with the saffron and water to the floury mix.

Combine
8. Combine all the ingredients to form a dough. You want it moist; if it’s too dry, add a little more water or milk.
9. Give the dough a good knead, for 5 minutes or so, until it’s nice and smooth.
10. Stretch out the dough, add the dried fruit, then give it until gentle knead to distribute the fruit.
11. Form the dough into a ball and put back in the bowl, cleaned and oiled slightly.
12. Cover the bowl with a cloth or shower cap and leave to prove in a draught-free place until doubled in size. Time will vary depending on the temperature and the mood of your yeast.
13. Remove the dough and form it into a ball again, then rest this for another ten minutes or so.
14. Preheat your oven to 220C (200C fan oven).

Final prove
15. Form the dough into a baton and place this in a greased loaf tin. Cover it and leave to prove again, until it’s risen again and the dough re-inflates slightly when you push a finger into it.
16. Bake for about 20 minutes, then turn the oven down 20 degrees and keep baking for another 30 minutes. Watch it doesn’t colour too much – if it looks like it’s going to burn, cover it with foil.
17. Once baked, take it out of the tin and leave it to cool completely on a wire rack. (Or if you don’t mind a bit of indigestion, eat it while it’s still warm. Bakers don’t recommend this as a loaf that’s still warm is effectively still baking.)
18. Serve at tea time, generously buttered. It’s nice for breakfast or elevenses too.

Cut

Anyway, having done all that, I also subsequently noticed that David gives recipes for Cornish saffron cake and a Devonshire cake, a “variation” that can be made with one of my favourite foodstuffs – clotted cream. So I really ought to do that next time, considering my folks’ place is actually in Devon, and Fran, the missus, is a Devonshire girl. Although my mother’s mother was from a Cornish family (the Olivers of St Minver), and I developed a strong love of Cornwall after several childhood holidays, so I suppose I’m allowed to feel torn.

A note on the flour
I’ve just bought some supplies from Stoates in Dorset. Or “Stoate & Son / Established since 1832” as it says on their site, though I’ll overlook the grammatical strangeness as they’re producing quality stone-ground products using a proportion of locally grown grain. The site also says, “We take great care in selecting our wheat much of which is sourced locally but is always blended with a proportion of Canadian wheat to achieve an end product with consistent baking and eating qualities.”I contacted Stoates about the specific blend and Michael Stoate got back to me saying “The mix at present is about 65% local UK grain (Paragon spring wheat) and 35% Kazakhstan high protein wheat. This is giving a protein content of about 12.50% – 13.00%.”

Stoates flours

The Stoates white flours, being stone-ground and less heavily sieved retains more the bran than more industrially produced flours. It’s also not bleached. So it’s not so bright white, meaning my “white” loaves will never quite achieve that gleam like a Hollywood film star’s teeth. But they will be healthier and more wholesome.

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Real Bread Maker Week, 10-16 May 2014

Sliced overhead
Earlier this week I had a fantastic bike ride up from Lewes to Wapsbourne Manor (44km there and back along verdant Sussex country lanes; route here), home of the renowned campsite also known as Wowo. There, I met owner Paul Cragg along with Andy Forbes of the Brockwell Bake, who is working to restore British heritage wheats and has a crop at Wapsbourne.

Our conversations were informative and wide-ranging and I’m still trying to work out how to write a blog about it all. This is partly because the Brockwell Bake is involved in a fascinating range of activities, all interconnected around questions of grain and bread, cultivating and baking, but each with its own detail and complexities. Among the activities are educational projects, encouraging a wider understanding of what goes into bread and how it’s made. And when I say bread, I mean real bread, not that wheat-based garbage wrapped in plastic you find on supermarket shelves.

Real Bread Campaign
In this respect, the Brockwell Bake’s work overlaps with that of the Real Bread Campaign. The campaign is part of the charity Sustain – the alliance for better food and farming. Their primary remit involves education about what constitutes real bread – a healthy item that’s been a part of the human diet for millennia but has been tarnished by the grotesque compromises of the mid-20th century industrialisation of food production. And how you can make it. Or where you can buy it. Or indeed, how you can set up your own business making and selling it. You can find out more about what the campaign here.

Anyway, tomorrow, 10 May, marks the start of the campaign’s Real Bread Maker Week: “The annual celebration of Real Bread and its makers: on your high street, in the back of your kitchen cupboard and at the ends of your sleeves.” Furthermore, according to the site, “The main aim of the week is to encourage people to get baking Real Bread or buying it from local, independent bakeries.” Various events are taking place around the country. Find out more here.

RealBread_MakerWeek_small

Red casserole bread
In the meantime, here’s the latest real bread I’ve made. I’m really loving using an old red casserole dish I acquired from my mother, who inherited it from her mother. It’s a heavy Danish cast-iron piece of kit that lends itself really well to the technique of pre-heating it as hot as your oven will go, then adding the bread, putting the lid on and baking.

Rye and wheat casserole bread

This is sourdough made with the sponge-and-dough technique. This involves making a pre-ferment – the sponge – with some of the flour and the liquid, letting that ferment, then adding the rest of the flour and salt and forming your dough.

Sponge:
100g rye leaven/sourdough starter (at 100% hydration)
320g water (filtered)
270g flour (I used 170g local wholegrain wheat, 100g slightly less local strong white)

1. Whisk together the water and leaven.
2. Add the flour and mix well.
3. Cover with a cloth and leave to ferment for 9-16 hours. Say while you’re at work.

Dough:
11g salt
270g flour (again, I used a mixture of wholegrain wheat and strong white).

Sliced, angle

4. Combine the salt and flour.
5. Add to the sponge and bring together with a spatula or wooden spoon or you can even get your hands in there if you want.
6. Bring to a dough with a quick knead, to make sure everything is well combined.
7. Form a ball and return to the bowl (cleaned and oiled slightly). Cover again and leave for few hours.
8. Take out the ball of dough, stretch it and give it a fold – that is, folding up one then, then the other down to form a kind of enveloped. Return to the bowl, then repeat this process again a few more times every 15 minutes.
9. Cover the bowl with cling film or put it in a plastic bag, then put it in the fridge for about 8-10 hours – I did it overnight.
10. Take out the dough, and allow it to come back to room temperature.
11. Gently form the dough into a ball, then rest it for 15 minutes.
12. Form the ball into a baton – but gently as you don’t want to de-gas it too much. (I really must do a series of photos or some videos of shaping dough.)
13. Give the dough one final prove (or proof) in a basket lined with floured cloth, with the seam of the baton upwards. I did this for about an hour in the airing cupboard, which is 24C.
14. Preheat the oven – I did mine as hot as it’ll get, 250C.
15. Put the casserole in the oven to get to the same temperature – I left mine for 30 minutes.
16. Take the casserole out and quickly and carefully invert the dough into it, so the seam goes to the bottom.
17. Put the lid back on, and bake for 30 minutes.
18. Take the lid off and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the top is nicely coloured – I like nice “high bake”, a dark colour.
19. Take out the loaf and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Oh, and while you’re baking, what better item to wear than a snazzy Real Bread Campaign apron? You can get a limited edition “I [loaf] Real Bread’ apron from Balcony Shirts here, with £3 from every sale going to the campaign.

Real Bread Campaign apron

 

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Holey-er than thou

Holey bread 1

A lot of my recent bread has been fairly dense, with a close crumb. I like bread like this, especially with wholegrain breads like the 100% wholegrain wheat and spelt I’ve been making recently. They’ve tasted great and when fresh aren’t bad for open sandwiches and when a bit old they’re perfect for toast. But the favoured style of “artisan” bread these days is all about the open crumb. A nice crisp crust and an open, irregular crumb with a variety of big holes.

I know I’ve made holey bread like that in the past, but, I dunno, through all my experiments the past few years with seriously rustic flours, bought from farmers’ markets in Rome and here in Sussex, I seem to have lost the knack slightly. Learning to bake is one of those life-long challenges, especially if you’re a home baker and aren’t churning out massive batches. But it’s funny to feel you’ve learned something then forgotten it again.

High extraction challenge
It does seem that holey breads are a particular challenge if you’re using flour with a high extraction rate. The extraction rate is the amount of the grain that remains in the milled flour. So a genuinely wholegrain flour in principle should be 100% extraction. Modern, industrial, nominally brown flours, however, may only be about 80-85% extraction, whereas white flours, which have been sieved or bolted1 may be closer to 70% extraction – with the bran and germ (ie, the healthiest bits) removed and just the starches and proteins remaining. 

I’m sure the masters of the contemporary bread scene, especially those who work with ancient and heritage grains (like Chad Robertson of Tartine and the bakers producing the great looking results of the Brockwell Bake) could get a nice open, irregular holey crumb from 100% extraction flours, but not me. The wholegrain flours I’ve been buying lately have been very branny, stoneground, and I suspect probably close to 100% extraction. They taste great, but I need to get at it to open that crumb out.

I did go back to a classic Dan Lepard 100% white sourdough recipe the other day, and did get a holey crumb. Bit it’s wholly too holey. Holey-er than though. With giant crazy giant holes. So I’ve gone from one extreme to the other.

I reckon the next few weeks, I’m going to try and make breads that are 50/50 white and wholegrain and try the so-called “no knead” method. This seems to be very popular among US bakers and does seem to give holey crumb loaves. It involves mixing up the dough, resting it, and giving it a few stretch-and-folds over time. This does seem very similar to Dan L’s method of mixing, doing a short knead, resting it, and doing another short knead, then repeating, as those kneads basically just involve folding over the dough. I generally use Dan L’s method, with a few stretch-and-folds anyway. And there’s arguably a fine line between “kneading” and “folding”.

In the meantime, here are some pics of my comically holey bread. The flour was nothing fancy2, but the loaves still tasted pretty good. Even if they weren’t idea for making sarnies.

Holey bread 2

 

1 Etymology geek chums, bolting generally means sieving – or indeed sifting – through cloth. The word comes from 12th century Middle English bulten, from the old French bulter, which is probably from the Old High German būtil, meaning bag.)

2 Strong white from Waitrose supermarket. Although Waitrose/John Lewis does has its own farm,  the Leckford Estate in Hampshire, my home county, and to the west of Sussex in the south of England, they don’t seem to grow wheat that produces a strong white bread flour. The Waitrose own brand strong white is “produce of more than one country” – they, and even the likes of Dove’s Farm and Shipton Mill, Britain’s two big organic flour brands, don’t seem to be forthcoming about which countries. Presumably Canada, Kazakhstan, India, etc. I’ve now ordered some strong white flour from Stoate & Sons now instead. I believe they do manage to locally source and mill  a strong, high protein variety of wheat  in Dorset, the next country along from Hampshire.)

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Hundred per cent local spelt loaf

Spelt loaf 1

The collection of different flours in my cupboard is getting a bit silly (again). I just can’t resist it when I see a new type I’ve not tried before. In this case, it was some spelt flour, grown and milled by Toos Jeuken, who I buy a lot of my veg from at the weekly Lewes market.

There’s a full profile of the Dutch-born Toos here on The Guardian site, from 2004, and a more recent profile on the market site here. They say she arrived in England on a bike in 1978 and has been farming in Sussex, specifically at Cuckfield, 16 miles from Lewes, since.

I hadn’t really registered that she sold grains as she always has such a wonderful selection of veg at her stall, even now, in the hungry gap. (Spring might be verdant, but traditionally March and April were the time of year when, as Paul Waddington puts it in Seasonal Food, “winter stores ran low and new produce had yet to mature.” Sure, there is still a selection of local produce – last week the farmers’ market had its first asparagus – but it’s a long way from late summer.)

Anyway, at her Laines Organic Farm, alongside all the veg, Toos grows several grains, including oats, barley and spelt. Last week I bought some of her rolled oats (hand-rolled!) and wholegrain spelt flour.

Too many chromasomes
Spelt (Triticum spelta) is an older variety of wheat, less manipulated1 than modern strains of bread wheat (Triticum aestivum). Though they are closely related, with spelt alternatively classified as a subspecies: Triticum aestivum subsp. Spelta. Both are what is called hexaploid plant species – that is, they have six sets of chromasomes. By comparison, more ancient wheats have few sets of chromasomes: einkorn (Triticum monococcum) is diploid, with two sets. Emmer (Triticum diococcum) is tetrapolid, with four sets, as is Durum wheat (Triciticum durum, or Triticum turgidum subsp. Durum) – the wheat most commonly used for pasta, which was domesticated from emmer.

In the issue 19 of ‘True Loaf’, the magazine of the Real Bread Campaign, Penny Williams of the Artisan Bakery School, highlights the importance of long fermentation of proper bread, but also looks at the issue of wheat varieties and how they may affect digestibility. She quotes a 2011 Indian study2 and concern about a potential “impending epidemic” of coeliac and other wheat protein related issues as India transitions from older diploid and tetraploid wheats to hexaploid wheats, notably modern strains of Triticum aestivum. She goes on to quote a 2010 study3 that looks at a broad selection of wheat varieties, with an eye to their “antigenic gliadins” – that is, the gluten proteins that may be responsible for “triggering autoimmune response in people with coeliac disease.”

“The findings suggest,” she writes, “that modern wheat breeding practices may have led to an incresed exposure to these coeliac ‘trigger’ proteins. While they also identified a few modern wheat varieties that had relatively low levels of antigenic proteins… I question whether tinkering with modern wheat is really the right direction to be going in.”

Less tinkered with
I would have to agree with that. Although I can’t really entirely avoid using modern wheat as I like to made cakes and enriched breads that rely on white flours too much, and these are hard4 to replace with older wheats.

I do at least try to use older wheat varieties in my wholesome bread experiments. And while spelt may be hexaploid, it’s a lot less tinkered with than modern, industrially cultivated and processed bread wheat. Especially as I’ve been lucky enough to find an experienced organic grower so close to home in the form of Toos. Next time I see her I’ll have to ask if she’s growing any emmer or einkorn.

So anyway. This was my 100% (or 99.5%) spelt loaf.

Spelt loaf 2

500g wholegrain spelt flour, nice and branny
340g water
10g fresh yeast
10g salt
50g wheat leaven, 100% hydration

This wasn’t a proper recipe. I just made a sponge, or pre-ferment, with 250g of the spelt flour, the 340g of water and the 10g of yeast in the evening and left it overnight. I wasn’t planning to use any sourdough leaven, but was playing around with it in the morning, so just chucked a bit into the sponge. I then added the rest of the flour and the salt and formed a dough. Did the on-and-off easy knead thing, let it prove up, formed a ball, gave it a final prove, then baked it the hot Le Creuset (like this bread), spraying some water onto the top crust before putting the lid on, resulting in a shiny floury glaze.

It wasn’t my best loaf in terms of the crumb – it’s crumbly and a bit underbaked – but boy did it taste good. The 100% wholegrain spelt flour just had a nuttiness and depth of flavour that’s more pronounced than the breads I’ve been making recently with the Sussex Red wholegrain flour (from Barlow, a modern wheat variety). As I do long fermentations, and avoid foul industrial wheat-based products (white sliced “bread” etc), I don’t suffer from negative reactions to “antigenic gliadians” etc, but I suspect even if I did, this spelt bread would be perfectly digestible.

 

Footnotes
1. By which I mean selective cultivation, over many centuries, but especially accelerated since the so-called Green Revolution of the 1960s when new strains of various crops with higher yields were developed. Higher yields but, we know now, potentially higher environmental repurcussions, due to their heavy reliance on chemical fertilisers, pesticides etc. So not really very “green” in the modern, sustainability sense.

1. ‘Celiac disease: can we avert the impending epidemic in India?’

2. ‘Presence of celiac disease epitopes in modern and old hexaploid wheat varieties: wheat breeding may have contributed to increased prevalence of celiac disease.’

3. Hard, but not necessarily impossible. It’ll just be a lifelong challenge to revise favourite recipes etc so they work with these more earnest, properly old-school wheat varieties.

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Golspie loaf

Dan Lepard Golspie loaf

Over past several years, probably nearly a decade, my favourite bread book has been Dan Lepard’s ‘The Handmade Loaf’. A lot of the pics from this old Flickr set of mine are the results of recipes from the book. I had a lot of fun trying them, and the book was a real inspiration for me as I got more serious about baking. I thought I’d tried all the recipes, but looking through the book again the other day I found a few I’d missed. The Golspie loaf is one of them.

Dan explains it gets its name from a watermill in Suterhland, northern Scotland, which produces its own stoneground flours and meals. Before wheat became readily available, more common grains used for breadmaking in northern Britain were barley and oats. Traditionally, the round, flat bannock is made from oats or barley. The Golspie loaf is another disc-shaped loaf, with Dan’s recipe based on a barley or rye leaven (sourdough starter) and strong wholemeal flour. I’ve still got some of the Surrey wholewheat flour I used here, while my leaven has been mostly fed with rye lately. Dan’s recipe also used a little extra yeast, but mine’s wholly sourdough. I also added some oatmeal to the dough, as any addition of oats seems to result in a lovely most dough.

Dan Lepard Golspie loaf torn apart

350g leaven – mine was based on rye, but then fed on strong wholewheat flour and was 100% hydration (that is, made with equal proportions of water and flour)
210g water
6g salt
400g strong wholewheat flour
20g oatmeal (I used medium coarse)
Extra oatmeal to coat

1. Put the flour, 20g oatmeal and salt in a large bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the leaven and water.
3. Pour the gloopy leaven and water mix into the flour and bring together a dough.
4. Cover and rest for 10 minutes, then give it a brief knead.
5. Cover and rest for 10 minutes, then give it another brief knead. Repeat this once or twice more.
6. Cover and leave the dough to prove. I did this in a cool cupboard over about 4 hours. You want it to prove up until it’s almost doubled in size. You can speed it up a bit in a warmer place, but a slower prove allows the flavour to develop more, and the yeast to work on the wheat proteins.
7. Lightly oil a 20cm springform cake tin and spinkle the inside with oatmeal.

Dough and tin
8. Form the dough into a ball, then flatten this into a disc.

In tin, before final prove
9. Put the disc of dough in the tin, and spread it to fill with your knuckles.
10. Sprinkle the top with further oatmeal.
11. Leave to prove up again. Again, how long this takes will depend on the warmth of the spot, and also the liveliness of your leaven.
12. Preheat oven to 220C (200C fan).

Before bake
13. When the dough is nicely risen, and reinflates slowly when prodded, cut two slices thrpough it in a cross shape, all the way to the bottom. (A metal scraper or cutter like this is very handy.)
14. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down by 20 degrees and bake for another 25 minutes. Baking times vary depending on your oven too but you want it nicely browned. If you have a fierce oven, check after about 30 minutes.
15. Turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

After bake

This is a real companionable bread – the cuts mean you can tear it easily into portions for sharing. Fran’s taken a quarter to work today with some of her salt beef, a project that’s been floating around in brine the past few weeks but was cooked up on Easter Sunday.

Salt beef sarnie

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Real bread, red bread

Sliced, morning sun

The expression “the best thing since sliced bread” is profoundly ironic. Grain is packed with nutrients, but plastic wrapped sliced “bread” is generally made with flour that’s been ground with hot steel rollers, which damage and degrade the nutrients, and then baked with the Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP), a heinously misguided mechanisation of the bread-making process developed in England in the 1950s.

All that sliced, plastic-wrapped pseudo-bread they sell in supermarkets and cornershops is CBP product. It’s not bread. It’s an insult to bakers, to our baking heritage, to the farmers who husbanded grain over the centuries. It’s an insult to our constitutions.

And yet the CBP “is responsible for over 80% of the bread [sic] produced in the UK and is used in every corner of the world.” (From Campden BRI.)

One of the reasons the CBP was developed and became so dominant was because the British population grew so fast in the industrial revolution we couldn’t grow all our own grain, and became reliant on shipments, especially from parts of the then British empire, notably Canada, as well as the US. Since the late 19th century, British bakers also began to prefer using the harder, higher protein wheats grown in such places. Or perhaps prefer isn’t quite the right work. As clearly it was economics that made British bakers shift from using British wheat to using North American wheat. Discussing the sheep and arable farming on the English South Downs, Fizz Carr says, “As the new rail-roads across America linked the grain belt of the Mid-West with the eastern seaboard ports, grain started to flood into Britain and the price of wheat tumbled. The cost of shipping wheat between New York and Liverpool fell by half between 1830 and 1880, and by half again from 1880 to 1914…” 1

A story, or myth
I’d always been lead to believe that the CBP was developed as two world wars, and a dependence on shipped grain, had seriously compromised British food security. The scientists at the British Baking Industries Research Association at Chorleywood wanted to both mechanise the bread-making process, making it faster (perhaps their greatest folly, see below) and wanted to be able to ease reliance on higher protein foreign wheats. They wanted to make bread again from the soft, lower protein wheats we could grow in Britain.

Flour

Or at least, that was the story. It’s one that’s regularly trotted out, such as here, on the site of one of Britain’s biggest organic flour brands. But last weekend I bought a bag of flour from the market stall of Imbhams Farm Granary. It was their latest batch of wheat flour, called Surrey Red Strong Bread Flour. (It’s called red because of pigments in the bran.) It was grown in Surrey, about 50 miles from Lewes, stone-ground to retain the nutrients at a mill a mile from the fields and, notably, very high in protein.

Surrey strong info

The info sheet said 17%, James Halfhide of Imbhams quoted a figure slightly higher, and said it would be even higher if they sifted more of the bran out to make a lighter coloured, less wholegrain flour. For comparison, low protein plain or all-purpose flour might be 10-12%, strong bread flour about 13% plus.

It’s Barlow wheat, a hard spring wheat developed recently2 in North Dakota in the US, but James said it grew very well here, especially in the excellent 2013 season. Which quite shocked me, after years of hearing the story – nay myth – that British wheat means low protein.

Wholesomely wholegrain
Although I like and make all sorts of bread, as the Imbhams farm flour is so wholesomely branny – and wheat bran is a great source of fibre, fatty acids, iron and other minerals and vitamins – I wanted to make a 100% wholegrain bread. I also wanted to reduce the amount of yeast I usually use (10g to 500g of flour, or 2%, to about 6g to 500g of flour, or 1.2%) and do a longer fermentation – that all-important factor of bread production that the CBP neglects. Wheat needs long fermentation to be fully digestible – this whole rushed factor with CBP is the main reason so many people say they have dietary problems with wheat-based products these days.

Bread and butter

Wholegrain red wheat bread
500g Surrey Red strong bread flour or similar strong wholegrain wheat flour
350g tepid water
6g fresh yeast (so use about 3g instant/easyblend, 4g granular/ADY)
10g fine salt

This is all you need to make real bread – these four ingredients. Indeed, arguably, you don’t even need commercial yeast, you could just cultivate your own leaven with flour and water and wild yeasts.

1. Dissolve the yeast in the water.
2. Put the flour and salt in a large bowl.
3. Add the yeasty water.
4. Bring together a dough.
5. Knead briefly then form a ball and leave to rest in the bowl, covered with a shower cap or cloth.
6. After 10 minutes, knead briefly again.
7. Rest, covered for another 10 minutes then knead briefly again.
8. Repeat this once or twice more.
9. Put the ball of dough back in the bowl, cover and leave to prove in a cool place. I gave mine a turn (that is, stretched and folded it) after an hour or so, then put it in the fridge for about 10 hours.
10. Remove from the fridge, form a ball, then rest for another 10 minutes.
11. Form a baton shape and put in a tin.
12. Give it a final prove, until about doubled in size and ready to bake. This is where mine went a big wrong (see below).
13. Bake at 220C for about 15 minutes then turn down to 200C and bake for another 25 minutes.
14. Remove the loaf from the tin. Tap the bottom – you want it to sound hollow. If you get a bit of a dull thud, put it back in the oven for another 10 minutes without the tin.
15. Remove and leave to cool – to allow the interior to finish its baking process – on a wire racking.

So yes, I goofed slightly with the final prove, step 12. I left it a little long in the airing cupboard at about 24C, overproving it so that it deflated when I slashed the top and I didn’t get a nice oven-spring (that is, the final burst of yeast activity and dough growth when you put it in the oven).

Proved. Over proved

Deciding when the dough has proved enough and is ready to bake can be tricky. Many people say the to test is gently prod the dough and see if the indentation remains, but I’m not convinced by this, as it might indicate the dough is over-proved and the gluten structure is collapsing slightly. I think it’s better if your prod marks slow re-inflate. It’s not an exact science though and every dough is different, especially with different flours. There’s a good discussion here.

I might have been disappointed with the over-proving and lack of oven spring, but it’s still good stuff. Hearty and slightly nutty. It went very well with a tasty a soup (gurnard, smoked paprika – yum) I made for dinner last night and with Marmite for breakfast. And, compared to how sick, how utterly sullied, you might feel after eating a CBP product, I felt thoroughly brimming with nutrients after eating this.3

 

 

 
Footnotes
1. ‘Good Food and Drink in Sussex’, Fizz Carr, Snake River Press, 2008. It’s a nifty little book for those of us living in Sussex and interested in its food heritage. I wish she’d quoted her sources though, as I’m intrigued about these figures and this whole transformation of British agriculture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
2. So yes, it’s hardly a heritage variety of Triticum aestivum, bread wheat. But it’s locally grown, locally stoneground.
3. Yes, of course I’m imagining I can feel the nutrients going into my body, but it did just feel good and wholesome. I haven’t eaten CBP products of years, but remember feeling bloated and sluggish and sick and gastrically stuffed up when I did.

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