I promised a little while… ok, long while… ago that I would divulge the secrets behind this -
And then, of course, promptly didn’t and instead wandered off and started making shortbread and suchlike. However with some very damp days over this weekend and lots of parsley to make some accompanying tabbouleh I got excited about the prospect of making some bread and actually documenting the process rather than my usual rather haphazard way of operating which owes much to the “slosh it all in and leave it” school of cookery. The thing is, bread is such a wonder that you really can just leave it to its own devices. A few hours here and there mostly doesn’t hurt and bread is such a part of my routine that I always think – “I’ll photograph it doing its thing next time”. And we all know when “next time” tends to be…! So I decided that I would do two things – firstly I would update my previous blogs about bread and secondly I would make some enriched bread doughs to demonstrate the versatility of this marvelous stuff.
Bread holds a great fascination for most people and when someone discovers that I make my own they tend to be overwhelmingly impressed – which is warming to my ego but completely disproportionate to the actual skillset involved. I think that because good bread takes a long time to make, the general assumption is that it is complicated, however the time involved is not spent caring for the dough or supervising it in any way – it’s bread, not a toddler – and in fact it’s pretty low-maintenance!
Unlike the long, delicious, flavour-filled process of home baking, manufactured bread is made with a high yeast content so that it has an incredibly short rising time to fit in with the busy schedule of commercialism. This diminishes the quality and flavour of the bread to the extent that there is now such disgusting pap on the shelves that I strongly believe it doesn’t warrant the title “bread” at all. I was unfortunate enough to have a slice of Waitrose white farmhouse loaf recently, “fresh from our bakery”, and I can honestly say it was one of the most disheartening and offputting experiences my tastebuds have had for quite some time.
However enough complaining, onwards to the bread recipes -
One of the joys of bread is that you are not restricted to using water, you can allow your yeast to ferment all manner of things. This recipe is made from “enriched dough”, ie. dough with more to it that your standard water/flour/salt/yeast combination and in this case is made by fermenting a tin of chopped tomatoes instead!
If you have never made bread before, it’s certainly worth getting some practice in by trying a basic bread dough here, first to get yourself used to the general process.
So, munching on a slice of delicious multigrain with a spot of Crab Apple Jelly on it, you’re now armed with the knowledge, experience and full stomach required for a foray into foccaccia!
Whilst you’re having another slice of multigrain (because it really is too heavenly to leave alone!), sprinkle some crumbs round the kitchen as you assemble the following -
one tin of chopped tomatoes
dessert spoon quick action dried yeast
1lb/ 454g flour (i tend to use 20/80 proportions of wholemeal/white)
handful of fresh rosemary
good handful of sundried tomatoes (dried are better for this than the sunblush ones in oil)
nice handful of olives, either from the jar or from the deli depending on your budget
coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons of Olive oil (plus a good chug more for baking)
You will also need a large baking tray.
So what to do with all these lovely ingredients? Well, firstly you’ll need to get your yeast going. It’s a live organism and it is its respiration that produces the carbon dioxide necessary to make your dough rise so make sure you keep your yeast happy. Take the tin of tomatoes and empty them into a bowl, sprinkle a little sugar on the tomatoes and a dessert spoon full of dried yeast. Leave them to do their thing.
Maybe have a cuppa or check your emails – when you return your yeast should be growing merrily on the top of your tinned toms. As it eats the sugars in the tomatoes it not only respires it also procreates which is super duper if you want some bread for dinner. So, with your frothy yeast growing away on your tinned tomatoes, get the flour, a mixture of wholemeal and white is always preferable I think, and stir your tomatoes and 3 tablespoons of the best olive oil you can afford into the flour until you have a rather wonderful mess. Flour your worktop, tip out your mess, using a spatula to scrape out all the inevitable sticky bits clinging to the side of the bowl, and sprinkle a little flour on the top of the messy splodge, then knead. At first it will seem like an impossible task but persevere. Use the heel of your hand and squash and stretch the dough, everyone kneads slightly differently, but you’ll find your own rythm and it becomes rather soothing! You’ll be able to feel the texture of the dough change, and it will become stretchy and pliable. The kneading process stretches the gluten fibres and strengthens the dough, allowing it to support itself when the yeast pushes bubbles into it. Later, in the oven as the carbon dioxide expands in the heat the gluten supports the air bubbles in the bread and creates the lovely texture we want.
Once you’ve kneaded your dough, sprinkling a little more flour on your hands if needs be, and you’ve got a nice pliable springy handful pop it back in the bowl, and cover it in cling film or a damp teatowel. This protects your dough from the outside world of dog hair and flies, and also helps to keep the moisture in.
Leave it in a warm place, a windowsill, airing cupboard… Don’t put it anywhere hot though, you don’t want it baked! I sometimes fill a small bowl with warm water and balance my dough-bowl on top, or use a hot water bottle with a little warm water in it. There’s all sorts of ways and means.
Your dough will now rise. Hopefully to twice the size. If it begins to overflow your bowl give it a slap which will knock some air out of it and it will sink back down. This takes around 3 hours, but you can leave it longer – I often forget I’m making bread and leave dough overnight so don’t worry too much about it.
When your tummy starts rumbling and you’re feeling that dinner really should be rather soon and that this was all a stupid overambitious idea go and grab your bread dough, and scrape it out onto a floured work surface. Give it a little knead and then use your knuckles to work it out into a large rectangle, about the size of your baking tray.
Chop up your rosemary, olives and sundried tomatoes and then sprinkle them over two thirds (taken from short end to short end) of the dough and press it all into the dough a little. Fold over the empty piece of dough, to cover half of the filling, then fold over the remaining visible half of filling-covered dough. If it sounds complicated imagine folding a three sided leaflet.
Place this onto your olive-oiled baking tray and use your knuckles and fingers to work it out to the very edges of the tray. Don’t pull the dough, squash it from the middle and work it outwards, pour some olive oil on top of it too to make it nice and slippery. Eventually you should have a big flat dough, with bits of filling poking out and with lots of dents and dimples in it, if there aren’t that many use your finger tips to to prod more into it – it should look like the worst kind of cellulite imaginable!
Now take your sea salt, sprinkle it all over the top, make sure the dough is lovely and oily and then leave it on the side to rise again a little (about 10-15 mins) before you whack it into the oven at 200C Fan/220C/425F for half an hour.
I always enjoy serving this bread warm and whole, on a large wooden bread board so that everyone can tear off their own piece. But it’s also lovely ripped into large chunks and served in a basket or on a platter. However you do it though, you can guarantee a feeling of warmth when everyone present says en mass – “you MADE this? WOW!”