I’ve recently become hooked on the Channel 4 series River Cottage, a program featuring Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s adventures as a downshifted cottage smallholder. One of the show’s main aims is to inspire people to live a more sustainable lifestyle by making simple changes to their eating habits. A recent episode featured baker “Ted” who demonstrated to busy mom “Sarah” how easy it is to bake bread.
I’ve been baking my own bread for a while, but my technique primarily relies on the no knead method which, while delicious, doesn’t quite reach the crusty, artisanal heights that I want it too (it also doesn’t toast well for some reason). Ted’s malted grain loaf caught my attention – it looked crusty and delicious, with lovely slashes on top and a dark, but light and fluffy interior. Last Tuesday, I decided to attempt this recipe for myself, and already I’m on to loaf #2: this stuff is incredible.
I’m posting the recipe here, but I highly recommend watching the video to get an idea of how it should look at the various stages of the baking process. It’s really simple. And if you wonder if you have time to spend 10 minutes kneading dough – you do. It takes more time to go to the store and buy crappy bread. This stuff toasts like a dream. Is it the flour? Is it the balance of ingredients? Is it the oven temperature? I’m not sure, but I’m looking forward to experimenting with different flours to find out.
Malted Grain Loaf
From The River Cottage.
500g malted grain flour (I used Doves Farm Organic Malthouse Bread Flour)
5g dried yeast
10g fine sea salt
300ml warm water
About 1 tbsp melted butter, or rapeseed or olive oil
Rye flour, for coating (optional)
Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the water and mix to a rough dough (I recommend using your hands). Add the butter or oil and mix well. Adjust the consistency if you need to with a little more flour or water to make a soft, easily kneadable, sticky dough.
Turn the dough out on to a work surface and knead until smooth and satiny – roughly 10 minutes (or if you have a blender with a dough hook, use that). Cover the bowl with cling film and leave until doubled in size – anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes, possibly even longer (here’s a picture of what it should look like when ready).
Deflate (‘knock back’) the dough by tipping it on to the work surface and pressing all over with your fingertips. Then shape the dough into a loaf, dusting it with a little rye flour if you have some (the video demonstrates this very well). Transfer to a well-floured board, linen cloth or proving basket, lay a plastic bag over it and leave to prove, until almost doubled in size again.
Preheat the oven to 250°C/Gas Mark 9 (or at least 220°C/gas 7, if that’s your top limit), then put a pizza stone or baking tray in to heat up. Have ready, if possible, a clean gardener’s spray bottle full of water – you’ll be using this to create a steamy atmosphere in the oven, which helps the bread to rise and develop a good crust. (You can achieve the same effect with a roasting tin of boiling water placed on the bottom of the oven just before you put the loaf in – but the spray bottle is easier.)
Transfer the loaf to the hot tray, removed from the oven. Slash the top, if you wish, with a serrated knife. Put the loaf into the hot oven and give a few squirts from the spray bottle over and around it before closing the door as quickly as you can.
Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 200°C/gas 6 and continue baking until well browned and hollow-sounding when tapped – around 30 minutes.
Leave to cool completely on a rack before slicing.