Last Saturday I had to take the heartbreaking decision to close the restaurant that as been my life for the past eleven years with no idea when or how we will open our doors again. In the restaurant & hospitality industry, like many other businesses around the world, we are now navigating uncharted territory with no pre-existing roadmap or compass to guide us through a devastating situation that no one could ever have imagined just a short while ago.
Hospitality is coupled with words like welcome, warmth, affability and neighbourliness. It is cordial, generous and good spirited, and for those of us who find purpose and passion in bringing people together sitting around a table sharing food, wine and conversation, we have to confront the reality that togetherness may be a threat to the health and safety of our team members, guests and communities at this time.
You can’t really comprehend the lockdown until it actually happens to you and then it suddenly dawns on you that life has taken a dramatic turn for the worst. I’m still in a state of shock and I knew it was coming! All of sudden words like self-isolation and social distancing are commonplace and a simple trip to the local supermarket has become a totally weird, almost surreal experience straight out of a science fiction movie. As John Lennon once said… "Strange days indeed, most peculiar Mama”.
As everything is totally out of our control…all you can do is listen to Lennon, go with the flow, keep healthy and stay positive. It does however give us a little more time to spend in the kitchen so maybe it’s a good idea to get back to basics and start baking our own bread?
Nothing beats the taste and smell of home-baked bread and it’s so satisfying to make your own. The secret lies in a combination of elbow grease when kneading the dough and patience while you wait for the dough to rise and double in size. Then it’s as simple as sitting back while your bread bakes and the wonderful aromas fill the air. There are a few key stages when producing bread that need to be adhered to.
Firstly, the dough must first be kneaded: a vigorous massaging and stretching process that encourages the development of the flour’s gluten and makes the dough smoother and more elastic. The kneaded dough then needs to ‘prove’ (or left to rise) until it has doubled in size. The amount of time this takes varies according to the recipe and the room temperature, however 1½ to 2 hours is typical. Once the dough has risen, it’s ‘knocked back’, or pushed down into the bowl with the knuckles to dispel the air that has formed in the dough. The dough is then lightly kneaded again and shaped into the desired loaf. Often the recipe will ask you to leave the shaped dough to prove again on the baking tray or in the tin before baking.
When buying ingredients for bread, look for flour labelled as ‘strong’ flour. It contains a lot more gluten, a protein that makes the dough elastic. Regular plain flour can be used for bread, but the loaf will not rise as well, the crust will be hard and the texture more crumbly than one made with strong flour. A raising agent such as yeast is usually necessary for leavened bread. As yeast grows, it produces carbon dioxide, which makes the dough expand and rise. Recipes should specify how many grams to use, but it is usually around 14-15g for one large loaf. If you want to substitute dried or easy-blend yeast for fresh, use half the quantity specified for fresh. Powdered yeast is typically sold in sachets of 7g; so one sachet is approximately equivalent to 14-15g of fresh yeast. Water is the key to making a good dough. As a rule, 300ml of water per 500g of flour will make a firm dough with a smooth, even texture, perfect for a classic round loaf.
BASIC BREAD DOUGH
This is a simplified bread recipe, which can be adapted to create a host of different breads, pizza bases, etc.
- 1kg plain bread flour
- 10g powdered dried yeast
- 2 tsp caster sugar
- 20g fine salt
- 200ml warm milk
- 400ml warm water
- 2 tbs melted butter
Combine flour, yeast and caster sugar in a large bowl. Stir in salt. Make a well in the centre. Add warm milk, water and melted butter.
Use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture until well combined, then use your hands to bring the dough together in the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Brush a large bowl with olive oil to grease. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Set aside in a warm, draught-free place to prove for 1 hour or until the dough has almost doubled in size. Punch down the centre of the dough with your fist.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 2 minutes or until the dough is elastic and has returned to its original size. Divide the dough into 2 large or 3 small loaves, or a dozen rolls. Shape these into rounds and leave them to rest, covered, for 10–15 minutes. Switch the oven to 250C/gas 10 or its highest setting.
Bake the bread in the hot oven. Turn the heat down after about 10 minutes to: 200C/gas 6 if the crust still looks very pale; 180C/gas 4 if the crust is noticeably browning; 170C/gas 3 if the crust seems to be browning quickly. Bake until the loaves are well browned and crusty, and feel hollow when you tap them: in total, 10–20 minutes for rolls; 30–40 minutes for small loaves and 40–50 minutes for large loaves. Leave to cool on a wire rack, or anything similar that allows air underneath. Bread for tearing can be served warm, but bread for slicing must be cooled completely.
OLIVE OIL, ROSEMARY AND SEA SALT FLATBREAD
This is an easy flat bread recipe that makes a delicious side dish to any meal.
- 225g strong white flour
- 1tsp dried yeast
- 1tsp caster sugar
- 1tsp fine salt
- 160ml warm water
- 180ml olive oil
- 2tbs rosemary sprigs
- 1tbs sea salt flakes
Preheat oven to 220°C. Combine the flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add the water and half the olive oil and stir to combine. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place in a clean, lightly greased bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 40 minutes or until the dough doubles in size. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 1 minute or until dough is knocked back to its original size. Divide dough into 2 even portions. Use a rolling pin to roll 1 portion out to a 4mm-thick rough rectangle. Place onto an oven tray. Repeat with remaining portion. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over each portion and sprinkle with rosemary and salt flakes. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from heat. Serve warm or at room temperature.
BACON, APPLE, BLUE CHEESE & WALNUT PIZZA
- 250g strong white flour
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon dried yeast
- 150 ml water, lukewarm
- 1 red apple, cored and sliced
- 1 red onion, sliced
- 5 slices of bacon, diced
- 200g blue cheese
- 2tbsp chopped walnuts
- 6 fresh sage leaves, torn
- 6 fresh sage leaves to garnish
Put the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl and slowly add the water and oil and knead to a soft dough for 4-minutes. Put the dough in a bowl, cover and leave to rise for 1 hour. Heat the oven to 200 - 220°C. Fry the bacon in frying pan until cooked and slightly crisp.
Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to 1cm thick. - the thinner the dough, the crisper the base. Press into a 20cm x 30cm lightly greased baking tray. Cover first with the sliced apples and the red onion on top. Then sprinkle with crumbled blue cheese, chopped walnuts and crispy bacon. Scatter with fresh sage leaves and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Bake for 25–30 minutes or until golden and the base is crispy. Garnish with fresh sage leaves and serve.