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Continental crusts: how to make focaccia, brioche and walnut and apricot pain de mie

Breadmaking is an art that involves much more than following a recipe: if I was to write down every last detail there would be no space for the photographs

Focaccia
Focaccia

For example, after the dough has proved initially, I may take it in my hands, hold it up and fold it several times, all the while shaping and rounding it. Another method is to flatten the dough gently and roll it up, then flatten it a second time and roll it in the opposite direction. It depends on what you want to achieve.

The purpose of folding and rolling out the dough is to expel some of the gas and expose the yeast to more nutrients. At my cookery school the bread class is a fairly physical day in the kitchen. Many of the doughs are individually slapped down on to the worktop, which is another way to expel  the air.

The best advice I can give you is this: after you have mastered a simple recipe, look for ways to ferment the dough for a longer time. Maybe you’ll use a pre-ferment that you leave in the fridge for three days.

Maybe you’ll make the dough, ferment  it for an hour and then put it in the fridge,  or perhaps you’ll leave it for a normal fermentation and fold it a lot. Whatever you do to extend the fermentation, you’ll be rewarded with bread that tastes much better. Developing your technique and understanding the doughs you are working with are lifelong exercises.

 

Focaccia

Makes 1 loaf

This Italian classic is great served with a little olive oil and a plate  of antipasti.

 

1tsp of fresh yeast or  0.5tsp dried yeast

80ml of lukewarm water

250g of strong white bread flour

0.5tsp of salt

1 egg, beaten

30g of olive oil

Extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt

16 sundried tomatoes, quartered

16 black olives, pitted

2tsp of chopped rosemary

12 small sprigs of rosemary

 

1 In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water.

2 Mix the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Gradually mix the yeast, water and egg into the flour along with the oil until you have a sticky dough. Transfer the dough on to a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, adding a little flour if necessary, until the dough is smooth and elastic and no longer sticks to your hands.

3 Oil a bowl, place the dough inside and cover with oiled clingfilm or a damp tea towel. Leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in size – this should take about 1.5 hours depending on the room temperature. Use your fist to flatten the dough, knead it again for two minutes then leave it to rest for 5-10 minutes.

4 Shape the dough by placing it in a shallow baking tray, using your hands to spread it out to a depth of about 1.5cm then leave it to rise again, loosely covered with clingfilm, for about one hour.

5 Set the oven to 180ºC/gas  mark 4.

6 Create dimples on the surface of the focaccia by pushing your fingertips gently into the surface of the dough. Drizzle a generous amount of extra-virgin olive oil evenly over the dough. Sprinkle the sea salt, sundried tomatoes, olives and chopped rosemary over the top and push the sprigs of rosemary into the dough.

7 Bake for 25 minutes or until the top is crusty and cooked through to the base, then leave to cool on a wire rack.

 

Brioche

Makes 3 loaves

Containing more eggs and butter than other loaves, this sweet-smelling bread is perfect toasted for breakfast and served with a spread of fruit conserve. I especially like it with French apricot jam.

 

500g of strong white bread flour

4tsp of fresh yeast or 2tsp  dried yeast

1.5tsp of salt

2tsp of caster sugar

6 eggs

300g of soft butter

1 egg, beaten for egg wash

 

1 Place the flour, yeast, salt, sugar and eggs in an electric mixer and mix on low speed for 4-6 minutes until the ingredients are well incorporated.

2 With the mixer running, add a little butter at a time, stopping the mixer every couple of minutes and using a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Do this until all the butter has been added, then turn the speed up a notch for a further five minutes. Place the dough – which should be sticky and shiny with no visible streaks or lumps of butter – in a plastic container and refrigerate for 2.5-3 hours.

3 After this time, roll the dough into six balls weighing about 60g each. Place these in a large loaf tin, brush with egg wash, cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place for about 1.5 hours or until doubled in size.

4 Set the oven to 190ºC/gas mark 5. Bake the brioche for about 25-30 minutes. When cooked, the loaf will sound hollow when tapped. Remove from the loaf tin and place on wire rack to cool.

 

Walnut and apricot  pain de mie

Makes 1 loaf

Pain de mie is a finely textured French bread that makes excellent toast. The addition of walnuts and apricots makes it perfect served with soft cheeses such as epoisses or brie.

 

2tsp of fresh yeast or 1tsp dried yeast

150ml of lukewarm water

130ml of water

250g of strong white bread flour

1tsp of sugar

1tsp of salt

A small knob of soft butter

50g of walnuts

50g of apricots

 

1 In a bowl, dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water then add the other water. Gradually add the other ingredients then transfer on to a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic and doesn’t stick to your hands, as per the previous recipe. Allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes.

2 Roll the dough into your preferred shape – eg a classic loaf or a baguette – then leave to prove in a warm place for around 45 minutes.

3 Set the oven to 210ºC/gas mark 6.5. Place the dough in a loaf tin and bake in the oven for 10 minutes then lower the temperature to 190ºC/gas mark 5 for a further 15 minutes. When cooked, the loaf will sound hollow when you tap the base. Place the loaf on a wire  rack to cool.

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