An everyday batter bread (recipe post)

Fact:  I can’t buy bread from the market anymore.  Specifically, I can’t buy bread from the bread aisle.  If it’s from the bakery section of the market, that’s ok.  But manufactured bread?  I just can’t!  Even the smell of the bread aisle has become unappealing to me.

I’ve been making my own bread fairly consistently for the last four years.  Manufactured bread just doesn’t measure up in fragrance and flavor.  I used to post about my bread attempts but eventually stopped because I only make the same two recipes nowadays.  First and foremost is a spelt version of Richard Bertinet’s basic bread recipe.  I’m very capable of making this.  I don’t even need the recipe on hand anymore.  Mix four ingredients together, work the dough for about 10 minutes, let it rest and rise until doubled in volume, shape, let rise again, and bake.  Simple.

I am still bad at shaping this dough, but that’s another story.

The second bread recipe I use a lot is a white batter bread from Bread Made Easy by Beth Hensperger.  What makes a batter bread recipe different from a basic bread recipe?  Laziness Time.  A batter bread is just that – you mix everything into a batter.  There’s no kneading.  There’s no working the dough for 10 minutes.  You just mix it until it’s a shaggy thing (like dough with a bad hair day?  or like oatmeal gone very wrong?), plop it in a loaf pan, let it rise just the one time, and then bake.

Batter breads lack complex flavor without help.  Basic bread recipes can attribute part of its flavor from the double rise.  I’ve read that three or four rises total taste even better, but who has the time for that?  Beth Hensperger’s version adds a touch of ground ginger which is deliciously amazing and you might not know it was there if you hadn’t been told.

But… I only like it in the white bread version.  I’ve tried making a whole wheat version, a spelt version, and a spelt version without ginger.  The variations didn’t satisfy me much.

And then I came across Home Baked by Hanne Risgaard.
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My favorite breakfast treat

Let me say this upfront, this recipe is adapted from “Sesame Street B is for Baking.” It’s a cookbook for baking with kids. Originally, I got this book so that I could bake with my niece. To be honest though, I don’t think my niece has seen this book since I first got it. (In my defense, I think my niece prefers to help in the kitchen if it’s her dad doing the baking.) Regardless, I love this book so far. I’ve made a few recipes in it, and I have every intention to try some more, but I always come back to the same breakfast recipe… “the Good for Me, Good for You Oatmeal Muffins.”

I’ll admit – I am the kind of person who wakes up hungry.  So, on weekdays, I need to make sure that breakfast is already there and waiting for me in the mornings.  I’ve modified the recipe a little, so let’s call my version “Spelt Quick bread with Raisins and Oatmeal.”

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bao attempt #1

Many childhood breakfasts, for me, involved mantou (饅頭). The little soft pillows of steamy goodness cycled in and out of my eating rotation, but mostly appeared during weekends. My family never made them (my mother and my grandmother were never interested in cooking anything that seemed complicated). So, we always bought them frozen in Chinatown made by a local company. I always ate them the same way: first by removing the outer skin, and then slowly unrolling with every bite. This ritual was never broken until my mantou stopped being produced in a rolled form. Continue reading

a “duh” moment

I realized last night, that amid all of my experiments with bread, I completely forgot about the autolyse technique, which I learned about several years ago.

I’d like to try it with spelt (I’ve been working on spelt bread recently) but I’ve run out of spelt flour.  Regardless, this is something I must work with. 

You might be asking yourself what I am talking about  right now.

Autolyse is when you mix flour and water first, and allow that to rest 20-30 minutes.  This affects the gluten strands.  The reported result is a dough that mixes in less time and is stronger.  It’s supposedly also more flavorful and less acidic.  Autolyse is not considered a sponge or a pre-ferment because the yeast has not been included yet.  Also, do not add salt during autolyse because it’ll affect moisture and gluten formation.

If nothing else this holiday weekend, I’m making a loaf of bread.

(ok, ok, I’m probably making cookies this weekend too but that’s totally unrelated.)

I haven’t forgotten this blog… so here’s a bread post

I have things I want to try… a restaurant review that I should be posting for Addis Red Sea… and I just haven’t had time lately for everything.  Or least it feels that way.  Maybe I’m just being lazy?

So, in the meantime, here’s the bread recipe post that I’ve been promising since the winter.  *eep!*

I haven’t completely given up on preferments just yet, but I’m beginning to think that I’m not that impressed (Asano-mama got the CookWise book recently, so I’d like to try a Shirley O’Corriher recipe before giving up on preferments completely).  I apologize in advance if some of the measurements seem weird.  I was converting them from an existing recipe from the UK.

I did try the recipe below a second time without the barley flour.  I still wasn’t wowed as I had hoped I’d be, but your mileage may vary.

Slow fermentation, adapted from Andrew Whitley

I came across an interesting radio piece after some googling – it was about slow fermentation and bread as presented by the BBC.  It was kind of fascinating.  Half of the show was talking to a die-hard-slow-fermentation-all-natural-all-local bread maker and the other half was talking to we-are-the-bread-federation-of-Britain man.   Ok, they aren’t called the “bread federation of Britain”, but they were definitely the federation of something.  (haha!)

Basically, the whole radio show can be summed up as thus: “no one can prove that slow fermentation is healthier, but it probably does taste better although less squishy.”

Some searching gave me an Andrew Whitley recipe for a basic bread.  Since I live in good ol’ New England, I had to revamp the recipe for use with my measuring cups and such.

First, here’s the Andrew Whitley version (cut and paste):
source –
This is the way most bread was made until the dawn of the era of high-speed mixing and “no time” dough. Although it involves a long rise, it doesn’t take any more of the baker’s time than fast-made bread. It uses less yeast, too, and the long fermentation gives great flavour and additive-free keeping quality. This makes a dozen rolls or two small loaves.

1. Overnight sponge
5g fresh yeast (or 3g dried yeast)
130g water (at about 20°C)
150g stoneground wholemeal flour
[285g total]

Dissolve the yeast in some of the water and add it to the flour with the rest of the water. Mix until the dough has “cleared”, that is, all the ingredients are thoroughly combined. There is no need to knead the sponge, since time will develop the gluten sufficiently. Put the sponge in a bowl large enough to allow it to expand to at least three times its original size. Cover with a lid or polythene bag and leave it at room temperature for 12-18 hours.

2. The final dough
285g overnight sponge (from above)
450g flour (wholemeal or a mix of white and wholemeal)
5g salt
270g water (warm to the hand, i.e. 30-35°C)
15g butter or olive oil (optional, but makes rolls a bit softer)
[1,025g total]

Mix all the ingredients into a soft dough. Knead without adding extra flour until it is silky and slightly stretchy. Cover and leave to rise for 1 hour. Divide into 12 pieces (or two for small loaves), shape into rolls, dip into wholemeal flour to get a good covering, and place on a baking tray with about 2cm separating them. Cover with a large polythene bag but don’t let it touch the rolls. Let them rise until they are just touching each other, then bake in a hot oven (220°C) for 10-15 minutes. They should have a thin floury crust and feel soft after they have cooled.
© Andrew Whitley 2008.

Now, the US friendly version as adapted by me:

1. Overnight sponge
1/2 tsp instant yeast
1/2 cups plus 1 Tbsp water
1 cup plus 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

Mix until well combined.  Cover with a lid or plastic wrap (but not too tightly).  Let this fart around overnight.

2. The final dough
all of the overnight sponge from above
3 1/2 cups of flour (all-purpose, bread flour, whole wheat or any mixture of the three… I used all-purpose with one cup of barley flour out of curiosity)
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp mild olive oil

Mix all together.  Try not to add extra flour, but I found that I had to.  I added only a tablespoon at a time.  The dough should be “silky and slightly stretchy.”  Cover and let this rise for an hour.  Divide in in half, and shape into a ball.  I didn’t bother covering this with flour.  I put both dough halves on either side of my biggest sheet pan.  I loosely covered with plastic wrap that had been sprayed with oil (oil side touching the dough, duh), and let the doughs rise until about double in bulk and almost touching each other.  Cut a slash on top.

Bake in the oven at 425F for 20-25 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack.

Overall, I liked the results.  They were like giant dinner rolls, reminiscent of bread rolls from Bertucci’s.  *grin*  I have mixed feelings about the barley flour I used.  Over time, the barley flour just make the bread taste “healthy” (less noticeable when still warm from baking).  Not necessarily in a bad way, mind you, but I’ve never used barley flour before I’ve seen it described as a mild, sweet flour.  So, I guess I was a little let down.  I wouldn’t mind using the barley flour again, but I’ll have to use less than a cup.

As for the overall method, I thought the sponge (aka preferment/biga/poolish) was kind of fun.  It’s kind of cool to see the sponge be all bubbly.  It worked fine, and I’ll probably work with more preferments in the future.