Sunday, 20 January 2013

Snowy Day Baking

This is how it looks outside my house today:

Snowy Day Baking by Feminist Cupcakes

At lunchtime I realised we had run out of bread, and as we live at the top of a steep hill which hadn't been gritted there was no way we could get to a shop to buy any more. Luckily I keep a huge stock of bread flour, so I made some of my own.

Snowy Day Baking by Feminist Cupcakes


This is so simple to make, but it does involve kneading. It's worth it though because it tastes amazing.

700g bread flour (plus extra for dusting)
2 teaspoons salt
1 7g sachet dried yeast
450 - 500 ml lukewarm water
Baking tray and baking paper

Put the flour and salt in a bowl and stir together. Add the yeast and stir again. Make a hollow in the centre of the bowl and pour in your water. I usually start with 450ml of water and add more once it's mixed in. I find it easier to add more water than more flour. An important thing to note about the temperature of the water is that if it's too cold the yeast won't activate and if it's too warm the yeast will die. I test the temperature by closing my eyes and dipping a couple of fingers in (get your minds out of the gutter!); if I can't tell how far in my fingers are, it's about right.

Before you start mixing in your water, make sure you remove any rings you're wearing because you're going to be doing this by hand. Just put your hands into the bowl, squish everything together and try to ignore how it feels. If you have flour or scraps of dough left at the bottom of your bowl, add a little more water and mix in. Sticky dough is better than very dry dough.

Once you've mixed it all in and you're happy with the consistency of your dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it for ten minutes. Remember, sticky is good, so don't worry if it sticks to your hands and the worktop, just peel it off and stick it back to the dough.

When the dough is soft, smooth and stretchy put it in a mixing bowl and cover with a damp tea-towel. Leave it to rise at room temperature for about two hours. You can leave it in a warm room and it should take less time, but it probably won't taste as nice. You could probably even leave it to rise overnight in a fridge, but I've not tried it.

When your dough is fully risen it should have roughly doubled in size. To test it, poke a well floured finger into the centre of the dough. If the dough doesn't rise to fill the dent then it's done. With the dough still in the bowl, push down on it with your palms to get rid of the air. Tip it out and knead lightly for a minute or so and cut in half. Each half needs to be shaped into a round loaf. I do this by picking the dough up and turning it in my hands while tucking the sides underneath. I'm sorry if that isn't explained very well, I'll try and get a video of it, and maybe a video of how to knead too.

Once both loaves are shaped, put them on a sheet of baking paper the right size to fit the baking tray you're using, sprinkle with flour, cover with the damp tea-towel again and leave to rise for another hour.

Towards the end of the rising time put your oven on to preheat to 230C (450F or Gas Mark 8). I usually judge by how much the dough is risen, but roughly 40 minutes into it should be fine. While the oven is preheating, put a roasting tin on the bottom of the oven and the baking tray you intend to use on the top shelf (which should be roughly in the centre of the oven rather than right at the top.)

Once your dough has finished rising sprinkle on some more flour and slash the top of each loaf using a very sharp knife. Before you do anything else, run a mug of very cold water (I know it seems weird, but trust me). Remove your baking tray from the oven (make sure you close the oven door) and slide the baking paper with the loaves onto it. As quickly as you safely can, open the oven door, put the baking tray on the top shelf, pour the mug of cold water into the roasting tin at the bottom and shut the oven door. The cold water on the hot roasting tin creates a cloud of steam inside the oven which gives your bread a lovely chewy crust.

After a couple of minutes you need to turn your oven down to 200C (400F or Gas Mark 6) for 15 minutes. I usually use the couple of minutes to clean up the water that I've spilled all over the floor instead of in the roasting tin. After 15 minutes, turn your baking tray around to colour the bread evenly and turn the oven down again to 180C (350F or Gas Mark 4) and bake for a further 15 to 20 minutes. To check if the bread is done turn the loaf over and tap on the bottom. If it sounds hollow it's done! Leave on a cooling rack to cool competely, or do what I do and wait until it's just cool enough to touch, cut a nice thick slice and eat with lots of butter melting into it.

I also made some gorgeous oat and raisin cookies while waiting for my bread to rise. I used this recipe from Deb at Smitten Kitchen and it's the easiest cookie recipe I've ever used. The only adaptation I used was to replace the butter with a dairy free substitute. They taste incredible, but it's hardly surprising because every recipe I've tried from Smitten Kitchen has been amazing.

Snowy Day Baking by Feminist Cupcakes

Snowy Day Baking by Feminist Cupcakes
It's a pain in the arse, but it does look pretty.

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