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Bread and Pastry

I used to bake a lot of bread. In fact, during the whole of my time as a graduate student at Buffalo [1969-70] we only bought two loaves, one on the day we arrived and the other on the day we left.

More recently I had almost given up baking bread as what I was making was every bit as solid and dull as the store bought loaves. Then I read what it said on the yeast packages. 'This is fast rise yeast, no waiting, no mess, contains flour improver, blah de blah' and I just wondered if this could be the reason. So now I have discovered the old fashioned sort of dried yeast you have to get 'going' first and I'm back to enjoying bread making and its products.

The other important thing about baking bread is to get the right flour, it must be 'strong' and the stronger the better. This means that it will readily produce gluten when you knead it and it is the gluten that keeps the fermentation bubbles in and gives the dough the elasticity to stay together as a loaf while it rises.



Bread

If you need a recipe, read the back of the flour package. An old Colonial American recipe I once saw said something like, mix together the yeast, warm water and a little sweet butter and pour into your flour bin. Mix in sufficient flour to allow the dough to form into a ball, remove and knead for 10 minutes. It is notoriously difficult to gauge exactly how much liquid is needed by a flour, so don't even try!

Use olive oil as the fat content to make ciabbata bread.

This is how I make bread

Pour some warm water into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle on the dried yeast. I usually get the water from the hot tap but you can get it from the kettle, try mixing equal amounts of boiling and cold water. Whatever, the final temperature should be such that if it feels pleasant to you, it will be fine for the yeast.

Add a teaspoon or so of sugar and froth up the mixture with a wooden spoon. Recently, I went to an open day at our local micro brewery, Vale Brewery where they demonstrated the brewing process and how they got the initial brew going by vigorously mixing the yeast starter before leaving it to develop. It is just the same with bread, the frothing enriches the mix with oxygen which the yeast needs to develop, so keep on giving it a vigorous stir periodically.

breadstarter

When you have a good fermentation, add more warm water and a generous quantity of salt. Don't add salt earlier as it inhibits the yeast. I usually about half fill my mixing bowl. Next add the flour, stirring and adding flour the while and keep on adding until it becomes hard work. Now mix it up with your hands and start to knead.

The dough should be sticky and difficult to manipulate at this point. If it is solid and feels 'dead', add more water. Keep kneeding until the dough holds together well and you can play with it like a concertina.

Put it back in the bowl. Most people cover it with a damp cloth at this point but I rarely do, and leave it to rise. This is much easier in the winter when the fire is lit.

bread1strise1

Leave the dough to double in volume. How long this takes depends on the temperature and the moisture content but is not critical.

bread1strise

Of course you can leave it a little too long!!!

breadover

When it has doubled, knead it again and distribute into whatever it is to be cooked in. The containers should be well oiled and the dough sort of turned over into them so that the surface is unblemished.

bread2ndtrise2

Put them to rise again somewhere warm. There is no need to cover them this time and again they should be left to double in volume. This time the timing is critical and the best way to see if they are ready is to press the top of the loaf gently with a finger. The surface should deform and then spring back again. Better to have them 'under proof' than 'over proof'.

bread2ndriseloaf

Put them in a hot oven [200 C]and keep an eye on them. They are ready when they sound hollow when knocked with a knuckle. Those of you who were at Sir John Deane's Grammar School in the '50s will remember how Joe Band [The geography master] used to do this on the heads of those who had too much to say in class. One day, Gerald Bowden copied his technique on the large world globe that hung in the geography room much to Joe's annoyance and our pleasure.

breadloaves

Let them cool until you can handle them before you turn them out.

breadcool

If you don't make Pizza with the leftover dough try what I call Stollen.


Stollen

Ingredients

  • left over bread dough
  • mixed fruit
  • sugar
  • syrup
  • cinnamon
  • mace
  • fresh apple etc [optional]
  • butter

Roll out some leftover dough as thin as you can make it. This is much more difficult than it sounds as the stuff should be really elastic and needs sort of pulling out rather than rolling out like pastry. Watch what they do in the better class of pizza parlour to see that this is an art!

Mix the ingredients and spread over the dough. Blob bits of butter everywhere. Roll the dough up round the ingredients so that you have something resembling a swiss roll. Next do your best to stretch this out as far as it will go and bend it back on itself. Place on a baking tray, dredge with sugar and bake.

When cut, you should get a spiral of bread with layers of fruit between the arms of the spiral. Even though you tried hard to get the dough thin you will probably think that you could have got it thinner still. I always think I will do better next time.


LaVraie Quiche Lorraine

Taken from Margaret and Terry's family cookbook.

Ingredients

  • 350g bread dough [as for a pizza]
  • 2 medium onions finely sliced
  • 125g rindless bacon, diced
  • 3 tbsp walnut oil
  • 1 large egg
  • seasoning

Heat the oven to 220C.

Mix the onion and bacon with the oil, black pepper and a little salt. Break in the egg and mix thoroughly. Roll out the dough into a round flat disk and put on a flat tin or baking tray. Make it a bit thicker at the edge for a border.

Spread over the topping. Leave to rise again for about 15 minutes or so until puffed up.

Bake for 15 minutes, cover with foil and lower the heat to 190C and bake for a further 15 minutes. Cut into wedges.


Pissaladière

Taken from Margaret and Terry's family cookbook.

Ingredients

  • 350g bread dough [as for a pizza]
  • 2 medium onions finely sliced
  • 1 tin of anchovy fillets
  • black olives
  • olive oil

Put the onions in a sucepan with a good slug of olive oil. Cook them until they melt almost to a puree for about 40 minutes, but do not let them brown.

Make a dough as for pizza, with a little olive oil. Place on an oiled baking sheet.

Pour the onions onto the dough and add the anchovy fillets on top. These can be decorated criss-cross if you like with an olive in each space. There needs to be a lot of anchovies.

Leave to rise for a while, then bake in a very hot oven for about 20-30 minutes.


Cross Buns

As I was about to go to do the weekend shopping in Thame, Rosemary asked me to pick up a pack of hot cross buns.

Of course the shop was full of Christmas stuff and not a hot cross bun to be seen so I came home empty handed. Musing the while [well alright ranting the while] about how our expectation is that we should be able to get things out of season AND why we call them hot cross buns when they are always cold when we buy them.

This obviously impressed itself on my sub-conscious as that night I dreamt that I had bought hot cross buns but the baker had done his best to obscure the crosses with little patches over them, but that they were too small and the ends of the crosses showed through anyway, fooling no-one.

In penance, I made hot cross buns on Sunday morning and the recipe is below.

Ingredients

Get the yeast going.

Mix all the dry ingredients together and add the yeast and sufficient warm water to make into a dough. Kneed for 5 - 10 minutes.

Lay out what look like pathetically small balls of dough in a body centred cubic array on a greased baking sheet. Allow to rise until they have doubled. [about 1 hour]

Cross buns ready for the oven

Decorate with err "crosses" or not as the fancy takes you.

with crosses

Bake in a hot oven for 15 minutes or so.

Hot and cross buns

Be careful when you take them out as unusually, they will be HOT.


Pizza

Pizza

One evening a girlfriend of Donato's joined us for a pizza. She was so impressed that she asked Don for the recipe. Don's family regarded this request with consternation for how could one have a recipe for pizza? All you do is roll out some of the dough left from making bread, put some topping on it and put it in the oven! Donato's mother did not like cheese so their pizzas never included cheese.

At the risk of being derided here are a few hints for making pizzas.

Take some of the dough left when you are making bread....ok..... Actually, I often make just pizza, and you follow the general advice in bread making to do the dough.

The variations are the thickness and the topping. White flour usually rises further than brown so from the same starting thickness, white dough usually gives a thicker end product.

  • Spread out the dough ball to cover your pizza tray
  • Brush the surface of the dough with olive oil
  • Distribute canned chopped tomatoes across the top
  • Cover with strips or mozzarella cheese and then add your topping of choice

Toppings:

I like the seafood mix that most of the supermarkets do now. I also like to add a few clams or [opened] shell mussels and/or a langoustine or two. Depends what is available.

I'm sure everyone can think of a favourite topping though I draw the line at what Sj claims a friend of hers requested ..... bubble gum!

I don't usually wait for the base to rise before baking but put the completed pizza straight into a cold oven set to maximum temperature. This lets it rise a bit and I find it works for me.

On land I have a large round metal oven tray that has perforations in it, this works very well and cooks the bottom especially well. On Cribbit I use glass plates, but this is only because they don't rust, or haven't done so far at least.


Pastry

Pastry is a mixture of fat and flour with salt and other things added to taste. You vary the strength of the pastry by changing the proportions, more fat and it becomes soft and weak, reduce the fat and you have a strong crust to hold a terrine in check while it bakes. For a soft, weak pastry, suitable for a dessert pie crust use a ratio of 1:2, ie 1 measure of fat to 2 of flour. [This is 1/3 fat] This makes a good pastry but it is not so good for you! I normally use a ratio of 1:3 which is fine for savory pies if rolled fairly thin. Use a minimum of water to just hold the flour together, too much and your crust will shrink and no longer cover your pie.

For a sort of puff pastry, measure out butter and flour for a 1:2 mix. Make up the paste with half [or less]of the butter. Roll out the paste and cut it in two, layer some of the remaining butter over one half, put the other on top, roll out to double the area and repeat. Keep on doing this until you have used up all the butter. Carry on rolling, cutting in two and stacking on top until you are tired. This is how they used to make gold leaf, by pressing a piece of gold between two sheets of leather and beating them until the gold has spread across the whole of the leather, then cutting the gold sheet in half and repeating beating and cutting until the desired thickness is obtained.

I've tried various fats over the years and have come to prefer butter over all the others, good old fashioned hard lard makes for a good solid pastry but is probably even worse for you than butter. The butter gives it a nicer taste I think. So I use butter. The only trouble with butter is that it melts easily and this makes the pastry difficult to roll out and ultimately tough. So try to keep everything cold and return the pastry to the fridge for cooling rests if you have the time.

To make the pastry, take the butter from the fridge and lay it on a dusting of flour and dredge a bit more flour over it, now cut the butter into thin strips, sort of dusting it with flour as you do it. Turn through 90 degrees and repeat twice. Try to keep it all cold and use the flour to stop the butter re-gelating. You should now have lots of little cubes of butter most which are not stuck together as they have a coating of flour.

Now you follow Herman Melville's direction for dealing with the spermaceti and work the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs. This will cure you of any incipient arthritis and you can ignore all the strictures you hear about not handling pastry dough as they don't apply at this stage of the proceedings as long as it stays cool.

Next you add the minimum amount of water you can that enables it to hold together. Resist the temptation to knead it and the less you touch it from now on the better. [Unlike bread, pastry relies on the non-production of gluten, which occurs when flour is kneaded]


Pastry shortcake

I am not really sure what to call these but they are an item I have been working on for some time, since I discovered that we were to host a family party [for 14 people] just after xmas when everyone would be expected to be full and fed up with food. Decided that I would make a reindeer stew for the adults and a chicken stew for the children. Decided on 'stews' because pies this size are at the limit of my competance and at this time of year, not everyone would relish a calorific addition to a substantial meal.

Somehow, I was remembering American experiences of strawberry shortcake and school dinners with suet dumplings. These are neither!


Ingredients

  • 300g flour
  • 150g butter
  • 75g pistaccio nuts
  • a good sprinkle of oregano
  • salt

Rub the salt, flour and butter together to produce a fine crumb and then sprinkle in the pistaccio nuts and the oregano and mix in well.

Mix in enough water to hold the lot together and then roll into a cylinder about 6cm in diameter. Cut into 1.5cm sections and bake for 40 minutes or so at 180 Centigrade.

Serve alongside the stew.


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