The Impossible Bread

 

 

 

Once upon a time, in a tiny, non-existent kitchen…

 

I mean, I only have a small electric oven, two hobs and a sink. That’s it. Compared to that, Julie Powell’s kitchen was huge.

Let me tell you something: I have recently moved into a new place and let’s be clear: I am absolutely thrilled with it. Absolutely nothing wrong with it.

Nothing? Well… almost.

It hasn’t got a worktop to do the cooking, you see? Zilch. Zero. Nada. No worktop at all. Desperate situation, right?

I had friends for brunch the other day and despite my kitchen situation I wanted to treat them to homemade bread. I am passionate about it. So much so that I own several books on bread alone. So having nowhere to knead it wasn’t going to stop me. It wasn’t a laugh to make olive bread there. Still, I managed. I mean, I have worked in places where the space was very limited. Like in, two in the kitchen is OK three are too many. But this is a joke.

  

Olive and fennel seed bread – © Gabriela R. 

  

700g strong white bread flour

7g dried yeast (double if using fresh yeast)

½ tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

2 tsp fennel seeds, toasted and crushed (optional)

2 tsp olive oil

7 tbsp black olives

250ml tepid water (you might need extra)

  

Whether you use dry or fresh the procedure is the same. Put the yeast in a small bowl with a pinch of sugar and a pinch of flour to feed it (about 1 tsp. each). Add very little water, just enough to make a thick paste. It doesn’t have to be too liquid. Cover it and leave it in a warm place to prove. When it starts to bubble, sieve the flour into a big bowl and make a hole in the centre. Pour the yeast into it and add the water gradually, while you work the flour with your hands to make a very sticky dough. The more you knead it, the more elastic it will become. There is no absolute rule about how long to knead or how many ‘turns’ to give the dough, it depends on feel. Hard flours require more work, they will stay grainy in texture for longer. It is usually thought that 10 minutes of vigorous hand kneading is sufficient. A soft brown flour will probably take only half the time.

When you have a smooth dough, make a hole in it and add the oil. Then brace yourself for the miracle. It will have turned into pizza dough! Right at the end, add the salt. You should never ever, whatever you do (and even if other recipe books say so), put the yeast and the salt together. They have opposite effects, you see? The salt is added to the bread for flavour but it does retard the proving process. Once you are happy with your dough, leave it next to a warm place in an oiled bowl, covered, to prove until it doubles in size. Meanwhile, place the fennel seeds in a clean pan and lightly toast them. Then crush them in a pestle and mortar. When you are ready to knock the air off it again, add the drained olives and the fennel seeds. Shape the bread and leave to prove again, covered. Bake in a 200C oven. 

The fennel seeds are optional because, frankly, I don’t think they add anything to the taste or texture of the bread. So do as you please. 

Later that day…

 

 

 

Tomato and basil bruschetta – © Gabriela R.

 

What could I do with such lovely, freshly made bread? A tomato and fresh basil bruschetta with Maldon sea salt on fresh, toasted olive bread with a drizzle of olive oil. Heaven! 

 

And now… the nerdy comment:

FERMENTATION

The starches present in the flour are broken into simple sugars, which then act as food for the yeast. The yeast “eats” the sugar and expels carbon dioxide and alcohol in the process. This feeding cycle continues until the yeast runs out of sugar, or until the bread is baked. The alcohol dissipates during the baking process.

I dedicate this post to my friend Amal, in lieu of the bread we didn’t have time to make in Reims.

 

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