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Easy Easy Rosemary Pull-Apart Bread

Nothing knocks the socks off dinner guests like home made bread. The wonderful taste of fresh bread is just so much scrummier than anything from a shop. Add to that the “straight out the oven” warmth and you’re onto a winner. An added bonus, as well as wowing your guests, most bread is actually ridiculously easy to make

This bread is one of those super easy types and will impress even your most severe critics. I even got it right in an oven not my own,  always a risk when baking. Its also pretty adaptable. You can mix and match your flours, although don’t go more than 50% wholewheat or you may end up with a brick rather than a loaf. You could replace the rosemary with caramalised onions or thyme and grated parmasan, drool! You can bake this as a standard 2lb loaf, solo rolls, plaited loaf, the options are endless. The olive oil adds flavour and moistness as well as helping the loaf to last a little longer. Good luck with that though, mine lasted all of 30 minutes, followed by requests for, “More please!” and that is no exaggeration.

Using just seven ingredients, and a fair amount of hands off time,  I’ll explain how to make this so that you can still go out for the day and have it ready to pop in the oven for dinner.

Ingredients:
600g bread flour. I used a mix of half strong white bread flour and half a whole wheat malted seed flour. You can use whatever mix takes your fancy,  as long as roughly half is strong and white.
1 sachet of dried yeast (roughly 7g or a rounded teaspoon)
1 rounded tablespoon sugar (or honey)
A large pinch of salt (also have a course salt grinder on hand)
A tablespoon of fresh rosemary leaves chopped (dried is also fine)
Olive oil
380ml of warm water (about a cup and a half)

Method:
First thing in the morning, put the flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well and tip in the sugar and yeast. Add the water and start drawing the flour into the center. At first it will seem like you don’t have enough water and then,  you may end up with what seems like a just too wet dough as it all comes together. Add more water or flour right at this beginning stage until you get one ball of dough that’s slightly sticky.

Knead for a good 10 minutes to develop the gluten. There are some great videos on You Tube for kneading techniques for slightly wetter bread dough. Don’t be tempted to add more flour unless it’s really not holding its shape. The dough will lose its stickiness as the gluten develops.
Once the dough starts feeling nice and elastic,  do the window pane test to check that it stretches thin rather than tears. If you’re happy with the gluten development,  form it into a ball and leave to rest on the counter.

Scrape any chunky bits out of the original mixing bowl (it must be a large bowl with room for the dough to more than double in size. Add a swirl of olive oil to the bowl and make sure it coats the base and sides. Add in your dough and flip it over once or twice so it’s all coated in olive oil. Cover with oiled cling film and pop into the fridge. Go to work, or the beach in our case.

When you get home in the early evening,  take the bowl out of the fridge and leave somewhere to come to room temperature. I did this while I fed the kids. An hour later,  get the dough out of the bowl,  it should have more than doubled in size after 8 hours in the fridge. Gently flatten it on the counter. It may feel pretty rubbery if still cold,  that’s just fine. Sprinkle the surface with rosemary and coarsely ground salt. Fold into thirds. Flatten gently and repeat twice more. Form into a sausage shape and cut into 9-11 equal pieces.

Shape each piece into a roll. There is a great video here on You Tube to show one way to do it. Place each of the rolls into a pre-greased, 28cm round cake tin. Once all the rolls have been crammed into the tin,  sprinkle on some more rosemary and sea salt before gently covering with some oiled cling film and placing in a warm spot to prove. An hour and a half should do it. Get those kids bathed and into bed.

Heat your oven as hot as it will go (260 for mine) and place an empty baking tray on the bottom rack. If you have a baking stone,  pop that on the middle shelf. If you don’t,  a Pyrex dish sans lid that will fit the cake tin will also work well. I did mine with neither and it turned out just fine. Boil your kettle.

Once the oven is nice and hot you need to do two things really quickly before GENTLY closing the oven door again. 1) pour the kettle full of water into that nice hot baking tray on the bottom shelf (be warned it will be very steamy) and 2) slide your bread in its cake tin gently onto the middle shelf. Close that door gently. Turn the oven temperature right down to 180. Bake for 30 minutes. Do NOT open the door.

After 30 minutes,  take out the bread,  turn straight out onto a rack and leave to steam while you get your soup poured into bowls etc.

Serve on a chunky wooden board and pull apart to get your piece. Delicious with a thick smear of butter or with soup. Enjoy! !!

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Slow bread is good for you! How to make a sour dough starter:

How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like kleenex? ~ Julia Child

When we first lived in London, our local (insert well known grocery brand name here) shop only stocked chorleywood-process, chemical laden, reconstituted cardboard most of us know as bread. Hey its soft, which is good right? Not so. Sure, its convenient, and we’re used to it. BUT Mike from The Fresh Loaf has this to say about generic, uniform, sliced store type bread,

” The dough conditioners and fungal amalyases are used to make up for the low amount of flour and to hold the batter together as it is whipped until fluffy and risen.  Sadly, everything about this process is designed for the profit margin of the big bakers, not to make bread that tastes good, and not to make bread that is good for you.

There is considerable evidence to suggest long rises tend to make gluten less of a problem for people with gluten tolerance issues, especially if the bread is a sourdough bread, and more evidence that the fungal amalyses and additives that are used by some bakeriers convert the gluten to a more reactive variety that causes more trouble for the people who eat it.

Until around the Second World War, England had bread as good as any in the world, as did the United States.  In the time leading up to the war, more during and then after the war, bread became a factory made commodity, not something made by artisans and mothers, and its quality deteriorated.  That was darn near 70 years ago.  Several generations have been raised thinking the white stuff sold in the shops is bread.”

So what we do know is that not only does slow, hand made bread taste better, your tummy may react better to it as well.

I’ve always been absolutely amazed whenever I have proper bread. By proper bread I mean the hand/slow made variety. Artisan bread falls into this super duper yummy category. These days there are plenty of ordinary, chemical free breads out there which have a fabulously low price tag, just check out your local bakery for a start.

I decided to try making some as well. Because there is nothing quite like home baked bread. After my 3rd loaf, I was tired of all the kneading that goes on. With 2 smalls running around, I just don’t have time to knead bread for 15 minutes. I did a little more digging and found out about slow fermented, no knead bread. Essentially sour dough. You can either do sour dough the hard core, specific hydration ratio, needs perfect feeding at the same time EVERY day way. Or you can fit it in around your busy work and family life. Enter Steve the Bread Guy. I call it my lazy bread. To make it,  you’ll need a sour dough starter, essentially a mix of flour and water that forms a fabulous ecosystem where a mix of gluten processing, bread rising bacteria and yeasts happily live. If you’re lucky, you know someone with one and you can steal a cup. Otherwise, just create your own:

You’ll need:

2 cups of plain (preferably unbleached) flour

2 cups of warm water (you can use the water from boiling potatoes to give your starter a bit of a kick start)

a tablespoon of sugar or honey

a pinch of salt.

Mix all of these together in a largish, non-metal bowl until smooth.

On day zero imediately after mixing:Then leave the bowl somewhere warm and exposed in your kitchen covered with a clean dish towel for a couple of days. The dish towel allows the yeasts you need to float on in but keeps out general dust and bugs. After a few days, you should get some bubbling and liquid and a very dodgy smell.

After 24 hours mine looks like this. Lots of nice little fermenting bubbles and some clear brown liquid on top:If it smells really bad (rather than beery) or grows mould, you should toss it and start again. But once its definitely alive and kicking, transfer to a storage container with a loose fitting lid and stick it in the fridge. You’ll notice it has quite a foamy texture, almost like its had a bit of beaten egg white folded through. That’s when you know its nice and active.

After 48 hours mine starts to get all foamy. Clearly some active yeasts here. It can take a few days to get to this stage:Keeping it in the fridge slows everything down so you only need to feed it once a week rather than daily. To feed, give it a cup each of flour and warm water and mix till smooth. Mine lives in an unsealed clip top glass kilner jar with some cling film wrapped around the top. That way I can keep the nasties out while avoiding any high pressure explosions in my fridge. Don’t forget to give your starter a name!