Life's better with cake and a sprinkle of fairy dust
I bought a pack of Maldon Smoked Sea Salt recently, thinking it would add a little something extra to our steak dinners. Sadly, the smokey flavour was hardly detectable when the pack was opened, and totally lost on the savoury meat. I’ll be sticking to the regular Maldon from now on and save myself a couple of bucks. Nonetheless, the big, brown crystals could still work as a pretty garnish on a homemade French loaf or to zing up some macarons (more on that later).
I built this basic recipe to make a single 500-gram loaf by hand. This bread contains no bread improver and hence, stales within a day or two. I also needed the room in my fridge for more caking adventures and didn’t want bowls of extra dough lying around.
Ingredients: 330g bread flour, 200ml cold water, 3g instant dried yeast (1 teaspoon), 6g salt (I used fine sea salt, about 1.25 tsp)
1) Mix the flour and water to hydrate completely, then blend in the yeast and salt.
2) Knead until smooth and elastic. By hand this took me about 10 sweaty minutes.
3) Form a ‘gluten cloak’ (an invisible but tangible mesh of gluten network that wraps itself around the dough and helps to retain gas during proofing) by tucking the dough under itself until it forms a tight ball.
4) First rise: Place it smooth side up back into the lightly oiled mixing bowl and cover lightly to prove until doubled in volume.
5) Second rise: Punch down the dough to degas and fold it over itself and leave until doubled in volume again.
6) Final Proof: Lightly degas the bigger air bubbles in the dough with fingertips and shape into a loaf either in a loaf tin, on a baking parchment-lined cookie sheet or in this case, a pizza peel with a good dusting of cornmeal. Don’t forget to form the ‘gluten cloak’! This ensures the loaf will rise nice and high, instead of spreading outwards and flatten.
7) Proof in a warm place until doubled in volume. I placed it in the microwave that was OFF on a rack over a pan of very hot water.
8) Before the final proof, preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celcius. I placed my pizza stone on the floor of the oven to preheat as that was what I was going to bake the loaf on.
9) Slide the loaf onto the pizza stone or place your loaf tin/cookie sheet in a lower rack. Spray the oven walls and loaf generously with water (optional). Bake for 20-25 minutes.
In this household, we love our bread with a good amount of crust, so I sprayed the oven walls a total of 3 times during the baking – once when I first slid the loaf off the peel onto the pizza stone and twice more 3 and 6 minutes respectively into the baking time. This forms a really thick and crusty exterior.
On hindsight, I think I could have added a touch more water and a couple more minutes of kneading, due to the omission of bread improver, which magically makes gluten work with you, not against you, shortens kneading time and creates light and fluffy loaves like commercial loaves, but it doesn’t taste so ‘homemade’. You know, the odd shape, the thick rough-looking crust and slightly dense, chewy, filling crumb? Some folks use fancy terms like ‘artisanal’ and ‘rustic’ to describe a loaf like that, but ‘homemade’ works just fine for me.
The husband and I thoroughly enjoyed this homemade loaf with steaming bowls of chowder for dinner. The smoked sea salt and poppy seeds gave a nice crunch and saltiness to each slice and the crumb was moist and chewy. It was a successful recipe. The same could not be said of dessert, though, an apple tart tatin so soggy it made me want to weep big tears. But that’s a rant for another day.
It looks deceptively nice though, doesn’t it?