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FOOD: Yummy bread
Everyone likes fresh bread, and with supermarkets' bakeries failing to do little more than heat up their loaves, isn't it time you learned how to do it properly? BBc2’s Great British Bake-Off has inspired a whole new generation to have a go at baking. Here Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra talks about the art of bread
making and why her recent book Warm Bread And Honey Cake won Cookery Book Of The Year 2010 By Sarah O'Meara
According to food historian Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra (pictured), the texture of pre-packaged bread which is manufactured on an industrial scale for supermarkets often tastes like "cotton wool" and is packed full with additives and preservatives.
"How many additives must they add if it's still okay a week later?" asks the author of Warm Bread And Honey Cake, which won Cookery Book Of The Year 2010, at the Guild of Food Writer Awards.
"Those loaves are chock-full of salt, hidden sugar, chemical improvers - that's what makes it taste fresh; you're eating lots of things that aren't good for you."
"But because of this bread, people will complain if a loaf goes stale after a day. A fresh loaf starts to go stale the moment it leaves the oven," she adds, matter-of-factly.
The Netherlands-based author, who grew up in Guyana and has lived all over the world, says it's a shame that consumers can't access a wider range of tastes, so they can learn to love new varieties of bread.
Every country is different, she maintains.
"Germany does really good sourdough and rye bread; in Britain there are some nice farmhouse loaves; the French have their plain baguettes which no one can make as well as they can, then there are the flatbreads from India, and ciabattas of Italy."
No matter which kind of bread you'd like to make, newcomers should stick to the basics, says Pagrach-Chandra.
"You should try and keep the place as warm as possible. Use the correct flour for the bread you're making. Lots of people over-leaven their bread, so use the correct amount of yeast."
"In general, I find packets suggest using quite a lot."
She adds that if you're making a plain loaf, without eggs, butter or sugar, you'll need less yeast.
"These ingredients slow down the yeast, so you need less."
One of the main misconceptions about bread, she says, is that you need lots of space to make it.
"My baking area is not more than a metre wide. What I do use is a silicon baking mat, which keeps the bread warm."
"Put it down on your cold worksurface, then use a mixer, and finish it off by hand. You don't need to add a lot of flour, and you can concentrate your mess in small space."
Try some of Pagrach-Chandra's bread recipes...
Cheesy rings (Makes 12 rings)
250g plain (all-purpose) flour 1/4tsp salt 3/4tsp easy-blend (active dry) yeast 2 tbsp granulated sugar 1 egg, beaten (reserve 1tbsp) 25g stick butter, melted 100 ml milk 75g mature (sharp) dry cheese (such as Parmesan, Edam or Grana Padano), very finely grated
Combine the flour, salt, yeast and sugar in a large bowl. Add the beaten egg, butter and milk, then mix with a spatula to moisten the dry ingredients. Use a heavy-duty mixer fitted with a dough hook to knead thoroughly until smooth and supple. Alternatively, turn out onto a floured surface or a non-stick silicone mat and knead until smooth and supple. Bring together in a ball and return to the bowl. Cover the bowl with clingfilm (plastic wrap) or a damp tea towel (dish towel) and set aside in a warm, draught-free place until doubled in size.
Knock back the dough and knead in the grated cheese. Divide into 12 pieces. Shape each piece into a rope about 25-30 cm/10-12 in long, then shape into a ring with an overlap of about 3cm. Pass your hand through the ring and roll the overlapping part with your fingers to seal it neatly and securely. Place the rings on 2 greased baking sheets, spacing them well apart. Cover loosely with clingfilm and leave in a warm, draught-free place for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6.
Bake for 8-12 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
Eat on the day of baking, or freeze as soon as they are cool.
Fruit loaf (Makes 1 loaf)
350g strong white (bread) flour 3/4tsp easy-blend (active dry) yeast 2tsp sugar 3/4tsp salt 1/2tsp ground cardamom or zest of 1/2 lemon 55g stick butter, melted and cooled slightly 1 egg, beaten 150 ml milk, warmed 100g currants 55g sultanas (golden raisins) 2tbsp dried cranberries 1tbsp candied orange peel
Place all the ingredients except the fruit in a large bowl. Mix to moisten the dry ingredients and knead thoroughly until smooth and supple. This may be done either by hand or using a mixer fitted with a dough hook, to make a soft dough. Bring the dough together in a ball, then cover the bowl with clingfilm (plastic wrap) or a damp tea towel (dish towel), and set aside in a warm, draught-free place until doubled in size. Meanwhile, rinse the currants and sultanas in hot water. Drain the fruit, then pat dry with paper towels and leave in a warm place with the cranberries and orange peel until needed.
Knock back the risen dough and transfer to a lightly floured surface.
Knead the fruit thoroughly into the dough. Roll or flatten the dough into a rectangle that is as wide as your tin is long, and about 1 cm/ 1/2in thick. Roll up the dough, starting at a short side, and pinch the seam to seal.
Grease the tin. Place the dough roll seam-side down in the tin and remove any loose fruit from the surface, or it will burn while baking.
Cover the loaf loosely with lightly oiled clingfilm and leave in a warm, draught-free place until almost doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6.
Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. To test, remove the loaf from the tin. Tap sharply on the top and bottom; it should sound hollow. Cool on a wire rack.
Aniseed plait (Makes 1 loaf) Ingredients
2tsp whole aniseed (anise), bruised 500g strong white (bread) flour 2tsp easy-blend (active dry) yeast 3tbsp sugar 1tsp salt 250 ml milk, warmed 50g stick butter, melted and cooled 1 egg, lightly beaten 1/4tsp freshly grated nutmeg and a pinch of ground mace (optional)
To bruise the aniseed, simply put the seeds in a mortar and bang them with a pestle.
Put the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, aniseed and spices (if using) in a large bowl. Add the milk, butter and egg and mix with a spoon or spatula until the dry ingredients are well moistened.
If you are kneading by hand, turn out onto a floured surface or a silicone mat and knead until elastic. Alternatively, use a heavy-duty mixer fitted with a dough hook and knead until elastic. This dough needs to be a little stiffer than for a panned loaf because it must hold its shape during baking. Shape into a ball and place in a large bowl. Cover with clingfilm (plastic wrap) or a tea towel (dish towel) wrung out in hot water, and leave in a warm, draught-free place until doubled in bulk.
Grease a baking sheet.
Knock back the risen dough and knead lightly until once more smooth and elastic. Divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Shape each portion into a rope about 50cm long, making the middle of the rope a little thicker and the ends tapering. Pinch the tips of the three ropes together at the top to seal and plait the strands a little loosely, pinching the bottom ends to seal. Place diagonally on the baking sheet. Cover loosely with lightly oiled clingfilm and leave in a warm, draught-free place until doubled in bulk. This step is very important because if the loaf has not been allowed to expand fully, it will burst in the oven.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until brown. To test, remove the loaf from the tin. Tap sharply on the top and bottom; it should sound hollow. Cool on a wire rack.
Warm Bread and Honey Cake, by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra, is published in hardback by Anova Books, priced £25. Available now.