Thursday 7 April 2011

A Loaf or Three

I have been constantly feeling bad, ever since “Lamenting Lost Lebanese” that I did not include a Pitta Recipe.  What good are all those delicious dips without a warm piece of fresh pitta bread to dunk into them.  So here it is, and if you have never made pitta before you will be amazed how it actually works.  It puffs up, just as it should, and sinks again, to leave a perfect pocket, to be stuffed full of kebab or falafel, dollops of hummus, heaps of salad and lashings of chilli sauce. 
About 20 years ago I was lucky enough to be sent by The River Café, for a stage at Chez Panisse in Berkley, San Francisco, so I came very familiar with the sourdough concept.  And I can still remember the joy of sitting in Fisherman’s Wharf, looking out over the boats and digging into a hollowed-out sourdough loaf, filled to the brim with hot, creamy, smoky clam chowder.  In fact I can feel another post coming on! 
Then, many years later, I had the pleasure of working at Gail Stephens, Baker and Spice (sadly no more) and got used to eating fantastic Potato and Rosemary Bread or Pain au Lavain daily.  Thankfully The Bread Factory, originally Gail Force, lives on.  I own a well thumbed copy of Baker and Spice “Baking with Passion, by Dan Lepard but I am ashamed to say that my life now allows little time for Biga acida and wild yeasts. 

So, when looking for a suitable rye bread recipe for my Ultimate Salt-beef sandwich,  I was thrilled to find a fantastic “Cucumber Pickle Juice Rye Loaf” by the very same, fabulous (as Gail would say) Dan Lepard in his book “The Handmade Loaf”.  The genius of using the juice out of the pickle cucumber jar, utilizing something which used to go down the drain, as I finish yet another jar of dill pickles, is brilliant.  But even more so, is that the juice acts as the souring and therefore replaces the need of a “sourdough” starter.  I have to admit that on recommendation I added a little more yeast and I still only got one decent sized loaf but it had great texture and tasted delicious.  My brisket in still in the brine but it is ready on Saturday and I hope to share the results with you very soon.

Finally, my own tried and trusted “Challah” recipe, which I have made time and time again.  I am not a great baker but I love going to the Village Bakery, still hanging on in there, sandwiched between “Paul” and “Le Pain de Quotidien”, and buying my fresh yeast. I love the fact that it costs 30p an ounce, in an age where nothing seems to cost any less than a fiver.  I love the smell of freshly baked bread filling the house on a Friday night and there is no better way to unite the whole family, and start the weekend than the taste of that slightly sweet, deliciously soft bread, and the obligatory  glass or two of wine.  Good Shobbas!

Cucumber Pickle Juice Rye loaf
by Dan Lepard

200g toasted rye flour [40%] (see below)
300g strong white flour [60%]
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
350g cucumber pickle juice at 20ºC (70%)
1 1/4 tsp fresh yeast, crumbled (1%) (I added a little extra)
10g [2 good sprigs) fresh dill, chopped (2%)

To toast the rye flour, preheat the oven to 200'C. Spread the
rye flour in a thin layer over a baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes, or until the
flour has turned a light tannish brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Combine the flours, and mix with the salt. In another bowl whisk the pickle juice
with the yeast and dill. Mix this liquid and the flour together with your hands,
squeezing it through your fingertips. When roughly combined, cover the bowl and
leave it for 10 minutes. Tip the dough out on to a lightly oiled (with corn or olive
oil) work-surface and knead gently for 10-15 seconds. Return the dough to the
bowl, leave for a further 10 minutes, then knead once more for 10-15 seconds.
Return the dough to the bowl, leave for 10 minutes again, then knead one final
time for 10-15 seconds.

Give the dough a turn and repeat after 30 minutes and 1 hour.
Original recipe says “Divide the dough into two equal pieces, and shape each into a round” (but I didn’t, I just made one).  Place both (one) on a flour-dusted baking sheet, leaving a space between for the loaves to grow.  Cover and leave for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 210"C/'110'F/gas mark 6%.Cut a slash across the centre of
each loaf. Bake in the centre of the oven for 55 minutes, until the loaves are a
good rich brown colour and, when tapped on the bottom, sound hollow. Leave to
cool on a wire rack.

Pitta Bread

Makes 12 soft, yeasty little flat breads. Serve with a Greek salad or dips

375g white plain flour
1 ½ tsp fine-ground sea salt
1 ½ tsp white sugar
1 ½ tsp fast-action dry yeast
250 ml tepid water
1 tbsp olive oil

Mix the flour, salt, sugar and yeast together in a bowl. Stir in the warm water and olive oil and mix until it comes together as a dough.  Add extra flour if sticky, extra water if dry. Knead on a lightly floured surface for 10 min until smooth. Place in a large, clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise for 2 hours in a warm place. Punch the dough down, and knead for 1 minute. Cut the dough into 12 pieces, shape into balls, and set aside for 10 min. Heat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Roll each ball into a fine, flat oval. Bake on a lightly floured tray for 6 to 7 min, until puffy, soft and pale. Wrap in a slightly damp tea towel until cool. To serve, place in a hot, dry pan for a minute or two until warm.

This is a big batch of bread. You don’t have to make all of it.  It is about 6 loaves but  I like to freeze the ones I don’t need, once they are proved.  This way, I can remove one from the freezer, defrost, plait and bake at a later date, for perfect instant, fresh warm bread.

2oz Fresh Yeast
3 ½  cups warm water
¾ cup sugar
1 cup oil
6 eggs beaten
1 ½ tablespoons salt
13-14 cups flour
1 egg, beaten to glaze
Poppy seeds or sesame seeds to garnish
In a large mixing bowl combine yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in the warm water.  Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes.  Once the yeast starts to bubble add the remaining sugar and half of the flour.  Mix well.  Add the beaten eggs and oil and mix well.  Knead in the remaining flour and salt, slowly until the dough is light and easy to knead.  Knead well for a further 10 minutes.  Place dough in an oiled bowl.  Cover with oiled clingfilm.  Leave to rise in a warm spot for 1 ½ hours.  Punch down and separate Challah (with a blessing).

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 6 sections.  Divide each section into three.  Roll each into a long sausage shape about as long as your fingertips to your elbow.  Join at one end and plait until you reach the other end. Tuck under and place on a greased baking tray.  Allow to rise for 45 minutes.  Preheat oven to 170º-180 ºC.  Brush loaves with beaten egg and sprinkle with seeds.  Bake until golden brown, about 30 to 45 minutes. The loaf is cooked when taped on the base, it sounds hollow. Remove from tray and cool on a cooling tray.

It also makes the best toast.

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