I am often asked if I repeat the breads I bake and the answer is that of course I do, but just as no two days are the same, no two breads that I bake are ever quite the same, I’m a home baker after all!
We have favourites and variations on themes so this is what I am going to call a Breadbox post, it will probably have a bread I’ve blogged about before but these posts will have nice pics ( I hope) of those and any half baked thoughts that are floating around in my head.
This bread uses the formula that you can find here. I used Felin Ganol’s white wheat flour where I would normally use rye, that’s the only change to the mix of the formula. I mixed the dough the night before, chilled it overnight, and shaped and baked the following day.
This time I divided the dough into three lots, to see if I could squeeze them all on the baking stone at the same time. It’s always a fight to get two boules on at the same time in my domestic oven.
At the moment I am a little concerned with finding a balance between making too much bread for my and my neighbour’s needs and having to freeze it all and between using the oven efficiently. It isn’t cheap to heat an oven up for an hour to bake one loaf of bread, I estimated with the help of a kind Twitter person that it costs me approximately 40 p or so each time. That adds up quite considerably if you are baking one loaf each day so as to have ‘fresh bread’ each day. Luckily I like bread when it has matured, so I eat my bread at all stages of its usable life, turning it into breadcrumbs and croutons when it really gets too hard to slice.
Personally I think that being exhorted to bake your own bread on TV is all very well, but it has to fit in with your life and your finances. These programmes rarely talk about energy costs and how to use your oven efficiently, I think they should address this more. Boules look beautiful, but tins are far more efficient, as indeed are flatbreads cooked on top of the stove in a short time, which use far less fuel to bake. The roti I baked recently took less than two minutes to cook. One reason why flatbreads are so popular and widespread in many countries in the world is that they are fuel efficient, though time consuming to make.
At other times and places people have taken their bread to communal ovens to bake and still do as these photos Allison sent me show, people paid a small amount to have their bread baked for them and certainly wouldn’t have expected to have the luxury of fresh bread every day. I wonder if we will ever go back to those days, or will we all sit in our own houses guzzling fuel like there’s no tomorrow until we run out…
I am not naive, I don’t think that one person baking a full oven’s worth of bread is going to solve global warming and our fuel crisis, but I do think that sometimes we overglamorize the home production of food without thinking through the whole process. To maximise efficiency we need to be accepting of the need to eat bread that is more than a day old, that has got a little dry and have a less fetishistic attitude towards the cult of ‘fresh’ food.
Many writers make a virtue of using their leftovers; to me it’s second nature, nothing out of the ordinary, food is food and should all be treated with equal respect. I don’t know when things changed, somewhere between my childhood and now. In the UK food rationing didn’t finish completely till the 1950s and the legacy of that period and the habit of using your leftovers with respect was taught me by my parents and grandparents.
One of the problems for me about eating in restaurants is that I am in effect wasting food by so doing. The amount of food that is thrown away in restaurants on their journey towards creating perfect platefuls is staggering, not even talking about the food that people leave on their plate.
I use all sorts of things in my breads that people would call leftovers, from staling crusts, to whey from draining yoghurt and I check the fridge before I start cooking and make small salads or starters from bigger dishes from previous days. It’s just a habit.
Going back to my attempts to use the oven better and still have the pleasure of making hand shaped bread, I dug out my couche cloth and went for a fattish baton that fitted the length of the baking stone so I could fit three in side by side. I also used this little flipping board to slide them onto the stone, so I could position them where I wanted them without distorting their shape too much. If you start moving the dough around inside the oven at the beginning of the bake, they end up in all sorts of funny shapes.
As you can see I didn’t shape them as evenly as a pro baker would, but I think they look lovely just as they are and I am not that fussed these days about achieving a shop look to my bread. I will write a little more about the Felin Ganol mill and their flour when I have baked a bit more with it as I am still feeling my way. It does seem to give an excellent spring in the oven even when used in addition like this and the flavour is excellent.
I tried to take pictures and slash at the same time, as people are always curious about the slashing, unfortunately my slashing suffers a bit when I try and multi task, but I hope the photos gives you some clues as to how to do it.
Things to consider
- Don’t let the bread overprove but don’t think that baking under proved is the answer either.
- Observe your dough every half an hour or so and experiment with baking loaves at different stages to see what the result is. You will find that if you bake the bread relatively early it will often rise more in the oven, but that the crumb may be a mix of close small holes and large more open ones, with a thicker dense layer at the bottom of the loaf; that loaf should have proved for longer, it is under proved. I see a lot of loaves like that being shown in photos. They look beautiful and dramatic from the outside but inside they could be airier and more evenly developed. This maybe is the hardest thing to judge, when to put the dough in the oven. I don’t always get it right I have to say. The loaves in this post could have gone for another half an hour to forty five minutes I reckon and the crumb would have been more open which is why I am talking about this.
- Dusting the top of the loaf with a little flour before slashing can be useful; dusting protects the top of the loaf in the oven and provides a nice colour contrast between the open area of the slash and the top. I think it dries the skin slightly as well and can help the knife not to stick to the top of the dough, though if it is a very hydrated dough the knife will drag inside anyway. There is a certain element of sang froid involved in slashing and I know, from experience, it can be one of the most frustrating moments for a home baker.
- Slash down the middle of the loaf, in the top centre third.
- Resist the temptation to slash across the loaf, the slashes tend not to open so widely if you do that. Remember that the spring of the loaf and the curve created will pull the slashes across the loaf for you. What you see at the end of the bake is different from how it looks when it goes in.
- Keep the slashes the same length and parallel to each other for the neatest look.
- Be extra careful and plan before how you are going to move the dough around at the final stage. Use the back of a tray or make a flipping board, dough is fragile at this stage. Or use a tin (loaf pan) of course!
- Use your oven space to its maximum capacity if you possibly can.
- Put a small tray on a lower rack to heat in the oven that you can pour boiling water into after you have loaded the oven with the breads. This creates steam in the oven which helps the top of the loaf to stay soft while the inside is springing and helps prevents the loaf from cracking at the sides if there is spring still going on when the top has already set. There’s a big battle going on in that oven, with the crust setting at the same time as the live yeasts become super active creating huge amounts of gas before they expire.
Discussion Points :
- Do you worry about your carbon footprint and how much energy you use in the home?
- What is your strategy for making best use of your oven ?
- Would you use a communal oven if one was available to you?
- And what is your attitude towards how ‘fresh’ you want your bread to be? Will your family eat bread that is a couple of days old?
PS Do feel free to comment on each others’ comments by the way ! I’ll be back later to chat. Thanks for reading!