Back on the trail of the great, first annual TCMG/BBC Countryfile/virtuousbread.com bake off, we come to the thrilling part after the initial exploration of the look and feel of the flour, in which Fergus and I actually made the dough.
We followed the exact same recipe initially, using 300 grams of flour, 200 grams of water, 5 grams of Halen Mon sea salt (squashed up a bit using a pestle and mortar) and one sachet of Allinson’s easy bake yeast. We decided to use the simplest of ingredients and follow the most basic recipe in order to have as controlled and environment as possible. I say initially because we adjusted all of the seven different dough mixes – every one.
Making bread is a lot about touch. Every baker has his or her own individual preferred texture for basic bread dough. I like my dough pretty sticky. Tacky, if you prefer. That makes the bread itself nice and moist when it comes out of the oven. The dough does stick to my hands and to the worksurface on which it is being kneaded. I like it that way. Not running away and flowing on the floor, and not needing to be scraped off with a spatula – just – well – sticky. If I find that too much is sticking to my hands, I rinse them in water in a counter intuitive move and carry on kneading. I never add more flour if the stickiness is to my liking. Sticky, supple, velvety, elastic….You’ll just have to come round to see what I mean!
Fergus made three batches, I made two batches and, for sake of intellectual curiosity, we made two batches in the machine. A note on that: machines that have a bread hook say the dough should “come away from the sides of the bowl and leave them clean. Well, I disagree. That would be too dry for me. Sticky: get it?
So, what did we observe? Some doughs needed up to an extra 50 grams of water – that is an extra 25% for those of us who are not mathematical. One full quarter more of flour. This was due to the fact that the flour was dry and its absorbtion rate was high. The driest flour was the supermarket flour. I have my hypotheses as regards why this is so but they are best saved for another time. The most humid flour was from the watermill at Little Salkeld – it needed about 25% more flour because the flour was humid and the initial mix was like porridge and needed to be bulked up. Incidentally, when baking with it again, I have adjusted the water down, rather than the flour up – just so you know. The others were somewhere in between.
Once Fergus and I had spent 10 mintues kneading every flour, water, yeast, and salt mixture into lovely parcels of delightful dough, we tasted them. Raw dough is not as disgusting as it sounds and it is critical to develop a taste for this if you are going to bake. You may need to adjust for salt, for example, and you will only know this if you eat some of the dough. It was incredible how different the doughs tasted: some were distinctly nutty; others were rather bitter; one tasted like grass; another like malt; one was grainy – even in dough form; one was sweet; and one was utterly bland. No flavour at all. Amazing. We wondered what would happen when these loaves were baked. And once we had let
them rise, squashed and shaped them, and popped them into tins for their second rise, we were hungy and dying to find out. So we set a timer, and jumped into the car to drive to the reservoir to pick wild plums as a distraction (and a snack) before BAKING!
Next installment here.
My thanks as ever to the providers of the flour, the yeast and the salt: