Challah loaf

When I was a child, like a lot of children born in the 70s and 80s, I was a big fan of books by Judy Blume. I recall reading her semi-autobiography “Starring Sally J Freedman as Herself” with vivid interest. The book document the life of a Jewish family in Post War America and as such they mention various foods that as a 10 year old I had seldom heard of. For instance upon reading the quote:

Have some challah, fresh from the oven

I recall asking one of my parents what on earth challah was. Anyway myself, Miss M and Miss B made challah load as part of our baking club some months ago. However, being short of time meant that it didn’t really have time to rise or prove properly resulting in quite a close texture in the loaf. I made this again on one of my days off from work a few weeks ago and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a loaf of bread so fast. Half a loaf was gone in 2 days! This bread is delicious with just butter (simple pleasures!) but it also works well with a variety of sweet and savoury toppings. My particular favourites during what is fondly remembered as “bread gorging week” were good quality raspberry jam and (very much not kosher) ham.

To make your own challah you will need:

500g strong white bread flour

1 sachet instant yeast (or 1 teaspoon if you’re using a container of the stuff)

25g caster sugar

10g salt

30g butter warmed to room temperature

3 medium eggs (2 to make the dough, one as glaze)

50ml whole milk (I actually used Hazelnut milk though and it was fine)

180ml cool water (approx, you may need more or less depending on your flour)

 

In a large mixing bowl add your flour with your salt and sugar at one end and your yeast at the other. Cut your butter into small cubes and add to the mixing bowl along with your milk and two of your eggs. Turn this around with your fingers – or use your food processor with the dough hook attachment. Gradually add your water until the mixture comes away from the bowl and you have a rough dough which is nice and soft.

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Knead for about 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface until your dough is smooth and elastic.

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Allow to rise for 2-3 hours until the dough has more or less doubled in size.

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Knock your dough back and divide into three equal pieces (don’t spend ages getting them exactly the same, life is far too short). Roll into long thin sausages of equal length (at least 20cm). Join together the 3 dough sausages at one end and plait like you would plait somebody’s hair. Men, do not be afraid of plaiting! My own father plaited my hair when I was a child! At least your plaiting will result in tasty bread and not me telling you your sandwiches aren’t as nice as when my mum makes them.

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Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper or silicone sheets. Beat your third egg and brush onto your dough as a glaze. Leave your bread to prove for another hour.

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Preheat your oven to 200°C during the whole proving process.  Bake your loaf for 20-25 minutes until it sounds hollow when you tap it.

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Try not to eat too much bread at once or you will end up with a bread gut like I did! (Mind you a few spinning classes and I was more or less back to normal).

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This bread is a particular crowd pleaser so please share this gem with your friends.

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Hot cross buns

I have a confession to make. I don’t actually particularly like hot cross buns. I want to like them, I think they smell amazing, but mixed peel is seriously not for me. However, as with anything homemade, these hot cross buns are a horse of a different colour so to speak. The apricot glaze and the addition of a couple of apples add to the fruity decadence of this. I only regret not trying to finish these at 9.30 after half a bottle of wine (quality time with the family, naturally).

To make your own hot cross buns just in time for Good Friday you will need:

500g strong white bread flour

10g salt

75g caster sugar

1 sachet instant yeast

40g softened butter

2 beaten eggs

120ml warm milk

120ml cool water

230g mixed dried fruit

The zest of 2 lemons

2 eating apples (peeled, cored and cut into 1cm cubes)

2 tsp ground cinnamon

To glaze

Apricot jam

For the crosses

75g plain flour

75g water

 

Put your flour, sugar, salt, yeast, butter and eggs to a large mixing bowl. Add half of your water and begin to mix the dough by hand. Gradually add more of the water until the flour comes away from the side of the bowl (you might not need to add all the dough). Keep mixing until a rough dough has formed. The dough should be soft but not too wet.

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Knead for 5-10 minutes on a lightly floured surface until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Put into a large bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rise for at least an hour, until the dough has doubled in size.

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Knock back your dough on a floured surface. Add your dried fruit, apple, orange zest and cinnamon and knead into the dough until all the mixture is incorporated. Cover and leave to rise for another hour.

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Knock back the dough again. Divide your dough into approximately 14 equal buns (just make your desired hot cross bun size) and place on baking trays lined with baking parchment. Put your trays into clean plastic bags and allow to rise for a further hour.

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Preheat your oven to 220°C. Make a paste with the plain flour and water. Use a piping bag to pipe crosses onto the buns. Sadly, my piping bag was in Harrogate and I was at home so I tried to improvise and disastrously spilled flour pasted onto one of the trays. Hey ho!

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Bake for 20 minutes or until golden. My buns are slightly overdone (I was pretty drowsy by this point!). Heat your jam up and use a pastry brush to glaze the still warm hot cross buns. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

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Serve warm with your favourite butter and jam.

Wholemeal bread – basic, no mucking around bread

I have recently got into baking bread in a big way this year. I find it a relaxing weekend afternoon activity with the added bonus that my house is filled with the wonderful aroma of fresh bread. In addition I love that you can make a delicious loaf for a fraction of the price that you would pay for something similar inan upmarket bakery or deli.

For some reason this loaf works really well with saltier foods such as ham, smoked salmon or tuna and for this reason I tend to top it with herbs or sea salt crystals. However, I also occasionally (or more than occasionally) enjoy eating this with Nutella. For some reason the combination of chocolatey spread and salt works.

To make your own wholemeal loaf you will need

400g wholemeal bread flour – plus a bit extra for dusting

100g white bread flour

1 sachet fast action yeast

10g sea salt

40g butter

320ml lukewarm water

Olive oil

Optional

Extra sea salt, pepper or any fresh or dried herbs of your choice

Put the flour and butter in a large mixing bowl with the salt on one side of the bowl and the yeast on the other. Add 3/4 of the water and start to mix the dough with your fingers. Keep adding the water until all the flour comes away from the side of the bowl. You’re aiming for soft dough, if you need to add more water do so, but be conservative as you don’t want soggy dough.

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A hideously unflattering photo of my arm

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Add a light coating of olive oil to your work surface. Turn your dough out on the surface and knead for about 10 minutes until your dough is smooth. Dough kneading time is prime Sunday afternoon daydreaming time. Once your dough is smooth put in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to prove for at least an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

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Knock your dough back and roll it into a fat sausage shape, around 30cm long. Tie the dough into a knot and place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Leave to prove for another hour.

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My sausage looks strangely like a manatee

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Preheat your oven to 220°C and heat a baking tray in the bottom so your bread can be heated from below as well as above.

Rub the dough all over with the extra flour and whatever you want to adorn your bread with. Bake for 30 minutes until your loaf sounds hollow (like you’re tapping on a table I suppose).

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Allow to cool before eating. Serve your freshest slice with really good butter. You shouldn’t need anything else.

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Homemade focaccia

I have recently got into baking bread from scratch in a big way. The thought used to fill me with dread, thinking I would fail horribly leaving me with a loaf that was burned on the edges and raw dough in the centre. Then I discovered that all you need is confidence and time. I like to mix my bread ingredients by hand so I can really get the feel of the dough in order to gage how much liquid I’ll need.

This focaccia is an extremely forgiving bread recipe that I think is excellent for a beginner. It is one you need no special equipment for and the dough is very wet so if your hand slips it doesn’t matter as much as it would with other breads. Plus this recipe is pretty cheap to make compared with other recipes. As an added bonus it ends up looking like that artisan bread you buy in delis which makes it ideal as a Christmassy bake.

To make focaccia you will need:

1 sachet of instant yeast (around 10g)

500g strong white bread flour

10g salt

40ml olive oil (plus approx 100ml extra for kneading, lining your square container and kneading)

360ml cold water

Sea salt

Dried oregano

Line a square or rectangular container that holds at least 2 litres with some of your olive oil. Put your flour in a large mixing bowl with the yeast on one side and the salt on the other. Add 40ml olive oil.

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At this point add about 3/4 of your cold water. Use your fingers to make a claw to mix the dough. Keep adding the rest of the water gradually until your dough picks up the flour from the sides of the bowl and is very soft.

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Cover an appropriate surface with olive oil. At this point knead your dough until it is smooth and elastic. Don’t add more flour as this dough is supposed to be sticky (I ruined a washing up sponge clearing up after myself).

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When the dough is smooth put into the container and leave to rise for around 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

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Line 2 baking trays with baking paper and drizzle with more oil. Divide your dough into 2 and shape into flat even rectangles. Do this carefully so that you don’t lose too much air. The texture of the bread is way more important than having perfect rectangles at this stage.Sprinkle your dough liberally with the salt flakes and dried oregano. Leave your trays in a warm (not hot) place to rise for another hour, until the dough springs back when poked with your finger. About 30 minutes into your proving time preheat your oven to 220°C.

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Using your finger poke holes into the dough that go right the way through.

DSCN1686Bake for 15 minutes until the loaves are golden brown and the they make a hollow sound when tapped. Drizzle with more olive oil and leave to cool.