My first attempt at bread
Here is the result of my first attempt at making bread (not counting the time in primary school when I tried to make bread rolls, and they came out of the oven the size of Cadbury’s chocolate fingers). These are fig and toasted hazelnut wholemeal loaves from the Great British Bake Off, Big Book of Baking.
There were two reasons I decided to try to make bread this week. First, I hadn’t made it before – other than the doomed primary school rolls, and secondly, and I never thought this would be possible, I’ve been feeling a bit caked-out recently. Something a bit healthier was required. The fig and toasted hazelnut bread was, not only wholemeal, but also had fruit and nuts in it. Healthy or what?
The Big Book of Baking rates the difficulty of the recipes using one to three spoons (one is simple, three is complicated). The fig and hazelnut bread recipe is a two spooner. I don’t think I have the confidence to tackle three spoons just yet, especially given the pitfalls the Bake Off contestants inevitably come up against in bread week: over-proving, under-proving, over-kneading, under-kneading, over-baking, under-baking….
The first thing to do was toast 100g of skinned hazelnuts in the oven until they turned a light golden brown. The recipe says that this should take between 6 and 8 minutes at 180 degrees (the recipe itself only gives temperatures for conventional electric and gas ovens, but the Baker’s Guide at the start of the book explains that, for a fan assisted oven, the temperature should be set 20 degree lower). My hazelnuts were done in seven and a half minutes and they smelled delicious, a bit like the toasty smell you get from the foil inside a cigarette packet.
The recipe suggests making the dough while the hazelnuts are toasting. This involves mixing white and wholemeal flour, salt, and fast-action dried yeast with lukewarm water. I mixed the dry ingredients but waited until the hazelnuts were done before I put the water in. I know that nuts can start to burn really quickly and I wanted to keep a close eye on them once they started to turn brown.
When the nuts had toasted, I added the water slowly to my bread mix to form the dough. I found that 450ml was enough (the recipe says that about 500ml will be needed). I left the dough for five minutes uncovered. According to the book, this is so that the flour will have time to absorb the liquid properly. After the five minutes, the dough was a little wet so I added a bit more flour (I didn’t measure how much extra I used, but it wasn’t more than a tablespoon).
The next step was the part I thought would be difficult, the kneading. I decided to knead by hand because, apparently, your arms will drop off before you fall into the over-kneading pit. The recipe says to knead the dough for ten minutes, or until it is smooth and stretchy. I gave it fifteen and a bit, (a) because I am a novice kneader and it took me a while to get going, and (b) because this was when my wrists gave out. I’m not sure whether the dough was smooth and stretchy enough, but I couldn’t go on (I blame an injury sustained through over-aggressive hole-punching of a court bundle in a former life).
Adding nuts and figs
I chopped the hazelnuts and figs, scattered them over the dough. Then I and kneaded it a bit more until they were evenly distributed. This I found quite difficult because the figs were tacky. They kept breaking through the dough and sticking to the worktop. I think I’d use a bit more oil on the worktop next time.
This is what my dough looked like once I’d kneaded it, added the figs and, nuts and divided it in two.
I put the loaves onto baking sheets and into plastic bags to prove for an hour. I’m not sure whether you can get special proving bags for this stage, but Tesco’s carriers worked for me.
After proving, the loaves went into the oven at 200 degrees (fan oven temperature) for fifteen minutes and then for twenty more at 170. Actually, my loaves were in the oven for a bit longer than the twenty minutes at the lower temperature. I had to open the oven door for a while during the cooking time to unstick one of them from the grill element and shuffle the racks around.
This is how they came out…
Was it worth it?
They tasted absolutely great; sweet, nutty, crunchy, and delicious with a really ripe goat’s cheese. I had intended to freeze one of the loaves, but they were both gone before I got around to it. I’ll definitely make this bread again, and here are my tips for next time:
- Remember to check whether the oven temperatures given in the recipe are for conventional or fan ovens. If the recipe doesn’t say, read the introduction of the book to see if there’s any more information there.
- Make sure there is enough oil on the worktop so that the figs don’t stick to it.
- Remember that the bread will rise in the oven, so make sure the top shelf isn’t too high. I had fun scraping mine off the grill element.
Making the bread was nowhere near as difficult as I thought it would be. It certainly beat Kingsmill hands down.