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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

March 13, 2006

Confessions of a Loafer

Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.

Since getting my mixer last week, I've done a fair bit of baking. Rather than just do what I've always done, I wanted to experiment a bit, so I've followed a few recipes from the Allinson booklet, which are inspired/suggested by Dan De Gustibus. Crazy name, crazy guy.

Now, I don't know about you, but one of the things I learned very early about baking bread is that butter is not a good fat to use in a bread mix. Butter leads to bitterness and tears. Back in the old pre-healthy days, we used good ol' lard, which worked fine, but then we moved on to vegetable oil and olive oil.

But a lot of the recipes in the Allinson booklet call for butter. I suspicion that if you're using one of the overnight programmes in a bread making machine, you don't realise the slowing down effect that butter has on the raising of the dough.

When I was growing up, we wanted everything to happen as quickly as possible, so it was fresh yeast (the dried stuff isn't even in the same ballpark) and vegetable oil and so on.

So I was interesting to see if these bread-maker-era recipes would work for the old fashioned method, and they sort of do. I did a loaf using Allinson's "whole white" flour, which wasn't too bad. And then I followed the booklet recipe for a kind of corn bread - which is to say, not American-style cornbread, but a loaf of bread with some polenta in it to add crunch and texture. I have to say, that was fantastic when it came out of the oven.

But the texture of these breads, made with butter instead of oil, is more cake-like than bread like. I'm certainly not getting huge air holes, or squidgy, unappetising loaves, but the appearance and mouth-feel of them is more like a sponge cake than a loaf of bread.

So I'm not sure. Not unpleasant, but somehow wrong.

This morning, I tried Dan's "ultimate white loaf" recipe using the Allinson Baker's Grade. This involved doing a so-called overnight sponge, which is where you mix a small amount of yeast, flour, and water to make a wet dough that ferments overnight and I assume helps to start off your loaf the next morning.

This recipe included honey (instead of sugar, which is only ever optional anyway), and an egg yolk, as well as melted butter. Again, as you can see from the picture, it came out looking great, and is delicious. But it's more of a brioche type thing, what with egg and butter in it. And I can't help thinking that made with oil and water, it would be better still.

For a richer loaf, you always have the option of mixing milk and water as the liquid component, which gives you some of the richness of the butter without the cake-like results.

p.s. Also had a go at one of the recipes in last month's Waitrose Food Monthly: blueberry, pine nut, and white chocolate cookies. Now, they were fantastic!


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