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Churchmouse Altarmousefinal copySince 2010, I have been experimenting with homemade bread, using a food processor for the dough.

I’ve tried recipes requiring kneading and others which have not. I’ve spent hours reading articles and blogs about bread. I’ve watched several television shows and videos on bread. I don’t know how many loaves I’ve made. Some were better than others, but all were edible on the first day.

I ate and examined quite a lot of bread when we were in Cannes this year. I could not reproduce them with English flour reliably enough. Temperature and humidity affected the dough too often, turning the end result into a guessing game every time.

My readers who use a breadmaking machine might not be interested in this, which is fine. Unlike Paul Hollywood, who told the Radio Times that bread machines don’t make ‘real’ bread, I believe in using what works for you.

Furthermore, unlike Paul Hollywood, SpouseMouse and I do not like a crumb exclusively of small holes. We prefer a French mix of large, medium and small holes.

A couple of weeks ago, I read and reread a French cooking site’s bread recipes. One thing stood out: I was using a British amount of yeast. The French use 1 1/2 times to twice as much as yeast in their recipes. Their flour is also different. So, thanks to an English miller, I was able to order 1.5kg bags of T65 flour imported from l’Hexagone. There are a few places here which stock it, but they sell 10kg bags of it, more appropriate for a bakery than a household.

The other thing I wanted to reproduce was a hot bakery oven to ensure rise and crust. You can use either a small 2 quart size B Le Creuset or similar pot with lid — the lid is essential — or a deep, round cake pan. With this Dutch oven method, you place the loaf in it, cover and remove the lid after 20 minutes of baking. With the cake pan and baking sheet method, lift the pan off after the same period of time. I have tried both and am currently using an aluminium cake pan 8 1/2″ (21.5 cm) in diameter and 3 1/4″ (8 cm) high.

Thankfully, after further study, a few tries and some heartfelt prayers, I have a homemade recipe which will be perfect for two or three people. If you are making bread for a larger group, you can double the quantities of flour, yeast and water below.

(Graphics credit: Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod)

Notes:

This recipe uses a food processor.

Also required, as stated above, is a small Dutch oven or deep cake pan. If you use the cake pan method, you will need a medium sized baking tray.

Clean hands are essential when handling dough.

Do not work with hot ovens or bake bread if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Also keep children and vulnerable adults at a distance. The oven heat is far too dangerous.

Some home bakers use a pan of water at the bottom of the oven or wet baking stones. Whilst I did not try the wet baking stones, the pan of water was much too troublesome for the non-result it produced. That said, if you find either helpful, keep using them.

Ensure that you use scales and a measuring jug. Any variation may give unexpected results.

I add herbs where some would add a teaspoon of sugar. It’s up to you.

If you don’t have French flour, use an Italian ‘0’ or ’00’ flour which has similar properties.

Rustic no-knead bread

(prep time: 10 minutes; rising time: 4 – 16 hours; baking time: 40 minutes at 210° C (400° F); resting time: 1 hour; serves three as an accompaniment)

Ingredients:

250g (9 oz) French T65 or Italian ‘0’ or ’00’ flour

7g (0.2 oz) packet of yeast

1 scant tablespoon of oil or soft butter

1 level teaspoon of salt (I use mostly table salt with a dash or two of garlic salt)

Dash of ground pepper (five or six twists of the pepper mill)

1 tbsp chopped herbs (optional but adds to the flavour profile; anything robust will do) or 1 tsp granulated sugar

150ml (5 oz) warm water (some heat is essential — cold water inhibits yeast)

Method:

1/ Grease a medium sized mixing bowl for the dough and place to one side.

2/ Measure the flour and salt. Mix well with a spoon or clean fingers to disperse the salt. Too great a contact between salt and yeast inhibits or stops the yeast activity.

3/ Add the pepper and herbs (or sugar) to the flour.

4/ Place flour into the processor mixer bowl. Add the yeast and fat (oil or butter).

5/ Start the processor and mix without water for 10 or 15 seconds.

6/ Keeping the processor going, slowly pour the water into the ingredients at a steady trickle for an even mix.

7/ Once most of the dough comes together, keep the processor going until all the smaller bits incorporate into the larger ball of dough.

8/ The dough will be sticky (tacky). Lightly grease your hands and remove the processor blade. (N.B.: Be very careful when handling blades of any kind. Set them aside in a place far from vulnerable fingers. You need lightly greased hands here to remove any excess sticky dough from the blade apparatus.) Lift the dough out gently and place it in the greased bowl.

9/ Cover the bowl with one or two sheets of cling film (plastic wrap), depending on your film’s strength. Then cover the bowl with an old but clean dishtowel. I use an old, clean butcher’s apron.

10/ Leave to rise for a minimum of four to six hours. The longer you let it rise after this, the greater the variety of holes you will have in the baked loaf. Best results are achieved after eight to 16 hours, although you will have a bakery-quality loaf in any case. You will see uniform small holes and a light texture after four to six hours, with more variety after eight to 16.

N.B.: There is a trade-off here between dough manageability, appearance, rise and hole size. After four to six hours, the loaf is still easy to shape into a lovely high-rising boule on which you can put a few decorative slits. After eight, it is still possible although a bit trickier, as the dough starts to relax. After 16 hours, the dough is really slack, so shape the dough the best you can. You’ll still get a boule, just not as high or perfect in appearance — but you will get the rustic holes.  The perfect-looking boule (four to six hours) will have smaller holes and the less-perfect one (16 hours) will have the greater variety of holes.

For guests, I bake after four to six hours for the best looking loaf!

For those wanting baguettes with large holes, you might be better off with a recipe using sour dough or poolish. If you don’t mind a baguette with smaller holes, then shape after four to six hours. In this case, use a loaf pan to cover the baguette on the baking sheet. Follow the rest of the instructions below. After ten or more hours (depending on your kitchen temperature), this large-holed dough will be too slack to shape into a long, thin loaf. You will not be able to adjust the slackness with more flour, because the consistency will be off.

Dough development varies with kitchen temperature. Summertime gives a more reliable result for those of us in northern climes. Wintertime brings a cool kitchen, which is likely to produce more variable results, especially for those who hope to bake after four to six hours of dough rise. You might have to wait an hour or three longer. If necessary, preheat your oven to 37° C (98° F) and place the covered dough on the oven shelf, then turn off the oven. The only thing I can suggest is to experiment. Bread does not work as easily at home as it does in a warm television studio!

11/ All bakers say it is essential to release the excess gas before baking the loaf. Do this 20 minutes to 1 hour before baking it. With clean hands, remove the towel and cling film. Lightly grease your hands. Gentlydon’t abuse itfold the dough into thirds. Now do the same in the opposite direction. Repeat these two folds once more and, if you can, shape into a boule. Shaping the four-to-six-hour loaf is easy. Rotate the loaf as you round out the sides. Cover when you have finished.

12/ When you are ready to bake the loaf, preheat the oven to 210° C (400° F). It isn’t necessary to grease either the Dutch oven or the baking tray.  Use one of the baking methods below to ensure great crust and good rise. You need heat and depth for this.

If you have a four-to-six-hour loaf, gently shape for a final time by lifting the dough out of the bowl and placing it on a lightly-floured pastry board.

If you are using the Dutch oven with lid method, carefully place the boule in the centre of it. Slit the top of the boule in three places diagnonally. Cover with the lid and gently place it in the oven.

If you are using the cake pan method, carefully transfer the boule to the centre of the baking tray and cover with the cake pan. Gently place in the oven.

13/ After 20 minutes baking time, remove either the Dutch oven lid or the cake pan. Return the bread to the oven. This is an essential step. You’ll ruin the loaf if you don’t.

N.B.: The Dutch oven and baking tray will be dangerously hot by this time. Make sure children and other vulnerable people are out of the way. Ensure that you use highly durable oven gloves or mitts for this operation. Otherwise, you will burn yourself, possibly requiring medical attention. Do not use dishtowels as oven mitts for this — ever!

14/ After another 20 minutes, your loaf should sound hollow when you gently tap it. Using sturdy oven mitts or gloves, remove the Dutch oven or baking tray from the oven and carefully place the loaf on a baking rack to cool. (Observe the heat warning from the previous step!)

15/ The loaf must rest for an hour on a rack. The rack ensures even circulation of air around the loaf, which is necessary for a good crust. I have made the mistake of putting the loaf on a bread board straightaway; the crust went soggy by the time the loaf cooled.

N.B.: I watched Michelin-starred chef Raymond Blanc’s BBC2 show on baking (July 2013). He said that bread continues to bake after it comes out of the oven, which is why air circulation and sufficient resting time are so important.

16/ After an hour, slice, eat and enjoy. You can get more slices out of this loaf than you would with a store-bought loaf. Although the bread is not heavy, thinner slices give a better dining experience. To reheat the next day, place the remaining loaf on a clean oven rack for five to seven minutes at 150° C (300° F).

There is no way to make a bread-baking post short. Bread requires precision. I also wanted to explain what works for me and what does not.

Comments will be open for two weeks if you have anything to add or to ask.

The beauty of this recipe is that you can prepare the dough before you go to bed and bake a loaf in the morning. Alternatively, prepare it before you go to work and bake bread when you get home in the evening.

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