I reecently attended a cookery course as everything I have learnt about cooking has been from informal sources – consequently, I have no ‘proper’ techniques and a lot of bad habits!
The course was a great experience: spending all day learning and cooking, getting the chance to experiment and to ask an expert chef teacher all manner of questions. My teacher was called Hannah and was trained by Prue Leith. She was a good mixture of tough and fun that suited me very well.
One of the first things we worked on was bread and techniques for baking many different sorts of loaves. I have only used a bread machine to this point and had ruled out in my head ever making it by hand (too slow and old fashioned…). I am now a convert to the more traditional methods, but I can see how this could be adapted to a machine – you won’t get such a pretty plait loaf though!
This loaf works fantastically well served with blue cheese or a nice, rich homemade pate. My father in-law will not however mix ‘sweet and salt’and had his slices with butter and jam which seemd to suit him very well.
Serves: Makes 1 large loaf
2 tsp light muscavado sugar
300ml bitter beer or ale (I used Theakston’s Old Peculiar, but any silly named dark English beer will work!)
1 egg, beaten
10g fast action dried yeast (or 20g fresh yeast)
2 tsp salt
225g strong white flour
225g of wholemeal flour
40g chopped dried figs
40g chopped pecans
To glaze – 1 Tbsp of honey
- Place sugar and beer in a pan and heat until bubbling, then boil fast for 1 minute or so.
- Take beer mixture off heat and add the butter to it to melt.
- Place flours, salt and yeast into a large bowl. Make sure you have been very accurate with the measurements of the dry ingredients (less important for liquid), this is the best tip for breadmaking!
- After the beer mixture has cooled a little more, add the beaten egg and cool to the temperature of a newborn baby’s bath water (hey, I am a daddy!).
- Add around 2/3 of your liquid egg/beer/butter to the dry ingredients. Get your hands in and work this into a nice soft dough. You may need to add more of your liquids to get the right consistency.
- Get the dough onto a floured work surface and knead it for 10 minutes or so (a surprisingly good work out…). You will know that you have kneaded enough when the dough springs back slowly when you lighly place your fingertip to it.
- Place dough in an oiled bag in a warm place to prove until it has doubled in size). This should take between 30 mins to an hour depending on temperature, flour used, age of yeast, which way the wind is blowing, etc…
- Take dough out of bag and knock it back with a couple of gentle punches.
- Add your figs and pecans and knead them in well for a couple of minutes.
- Shape the loaf into your chosen form – a plait gets lots of ooos and ahhhhhs. Place on an oild baking sheet or tin and loosely cover in oiled cling film.
- Place in warm place again and let rise until pillowy and nearly doubled in size – around 40 mins.
- Place loaf carefully into preheated 200C oven for 15 minutes.
- Take out loaf and brush with honey. Place back in oven for anoth 10 minutes or so. Loaf is done when it sounds hollow when knocked and it feels light for it’s size.
Enjoy fresh and warm with Dolcelatte cheese or toasted with a rich duck liver pate.