There are few things in life more satisfying than baking your own bread. The process of making the dough is full of violent kneading and pounding, allowing one a thinly veiled cover for expelling the weeks frustrations on a Saturday morning (because when else do you have time to bake bread?). Whilst the bread is baking the oven, the smell eminating is so delicious that the entire neighboured salivates at the prospect and admires your domesticity. Then finally, once the bread is completed you really feel very proud of yourself and utterly convinced of your own self-sufficiency. You are a domestic goddess. You have baked your own bread! What can be more wonderful.
As you may be able to tell, I don’t go through the rigmarol very often (laziness again). But as the point of this blog is to force me to do the things that I ought and want to do, I decided that I would bake some delicious bread as an accompaniment to some simple soup to feed a friend that was coming for dinner.
The following recipe is adapted (but just barely) from Jamie Oliver’s “Gennaro Bread” in The Return of the Naked Chef.
- 30g/1oz fresh yeast or 3x 7g sachets dried yeast
- 30g honey
- 625ml (just over a pint) tepid water
- 1kg (just over 2lb) strong bread flour
- 30g/1oz salt
- 400g mixed cheeses (I used parmasan, fontina, gouda and gorgonzola), grated or torn up
- 4 large egg yolks
- 10 slices proscuitto
- 1 handful of basil, torn up.
Firstly, prepare all your ingredients so they are ready to add to the flour: grate and crumble all your cheese and tear up your proscuitto and basil.
Then, dissolve the yeast and honey in half the tepid water.
In a very large bowl (or on a clean surface) make a pile of the flour, salt, cheese, proscuitto, and basil. Make a well in the centre and pour in all the dissolved yeast mixture. With four fingers of one hand, make circular movements from the centre outwards, slowing bringing in more and more of the flour until all the yeast mixture is soaked up. Then pour in the other half of the tepid water and the egg yolks into the centre and gradually incorporate all the flour to make a moist dough. (Certain flours may need a little more flour, so adjust until you have the right consistency).
Then comes the kneading! This is fun, but it don’t half get tiring. However you mustn’t stop! Roll, push and fold the dough over and over for at least 5 minutes. This develops the gluten and structure of the dough. If the dough sticks to your hands (which it will), just rub them together with a little extra flour.
Flour your hands well, and lightly flour the top of the dough. Make it into a roundish shape and place on a baking tray. Deeply score a cross into the dough with a knife – this will allow it to relax and prove with ease. Leave it to prove in a warm, moist, draught-free place until it’s doubled in size. If you want to speed things up then cover it with cling-film. This will take around 40 minutes or so.
When the dough has doubled in size you need to knock the air out of it by bashing it around for a minute. Now you can shape it into whatever shape is required. I put mine into little ramekins and made mini loafs, which were really cute. This mixture made 8 little loafs. I reckon they would make lovely bread rolls as well. Once you’ve separated the dough, leave them to prove for a second time until they double in size again.
Now cook your loaves in a preheated oven for around 30 minutes at 220°C/425°F/gas 7. Make sure you transfer the loaves to the oven carefully, you want to keep the air inside the loaves. You can tell if your bread is cooked by tapping the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow then it is cooked. If it doesn’t then pop it back in for a little longer.
We had the bread with soup and it was really good. However, it was even better toasted and smeared with butter this morning. You’ll love it!