Be adventurous with your home baking

One of the great benefits of baking at home is that you can “pimp” your products to your own taste. Speciality breads such as focaccia or ciabatta, or pastries such as croissants are getting more expensive and are usually the same bland factory produced rubbish.

My family (especially one of my daughters) absolutely adores freshly made focaccia. Give her a plate of pasta and a big slab of focaccia and she is happy!! And it is so easy to make!

Ciabatta is another firm favourite but it is a bit more difficult as the dough is very wet and difficult to knead. I have done this by hand but I would suggest using a food processor with a dough hook attachment if attempting this bread for the first time. It also takes longer than normal bread as you are adding glugs of olive oil over several hours so allow yourself plenty of time, but the results are well worth it.

 Try home-made croissants, adding warm spices such as clove, cinnamon or nutmeg. You just don’t get them in the supermarket. Again, they are not easy to make although they are not too difficult. If you do make croissants, make a large batch and freeze them after you have shaped them and you will have a nice supply!

At Easter, make your own hot crossed buns. These are so good straight from the oven and covered in butter!

What I am trying to say is don’t be restricted by what you see in the shops. Use your imagination and have fun making breads and pastries with your own personal twist.

And above all, have fun!


Salt rising bread

 As requested by one of my readers 🙂

Salt rising bread is a relatively flat white bread that has a very fine crumb and a cheese-like flavour. It is found a lot in the Appalachian region in the United States. You can also find pockets of salt rising bread in the state of New York, Michigan, Kansas and California. Originally salt rising bread was believed to be made by pioneer women before commercial yeast was available. It is believed that they knew that they wanted to make bread although they didn’t have any yeast but they found that if they left a little bit of milk and flour in a container overnight in a warm place it would grow.  They knew that if they added this batter to flour it would rise and make bread.

This is not the easiest bread to make. It can be tricky, but is worth the effort for one who loves that very different, pungent smell of salt rising bread. On to the recipe…

Makes 3 loaves

For the Starter:                                  For the sponge:

235ml milk                                          475ml warm water 105 -1150F (40 – 470C)

60g polenta or maize meal           250g plain flour

10g sugar                                             25g sugar

6g salt                                                    40g butter


For the dough:

2g bicarbonate of soda

15ml warm water 1100F (450C)

750g plain flour


To Make Starter:

Heat the milk, and stir in the sugar,  polenta and salt. You will need to maintain the temperature of your starter at 105 – 1150F (40 – 470C) for 7-12 hours or until it shows fermentation. I have used an oven on lowest setting, a saucepan filled with water and a yoghurt maker. You will be able to hear the gas escaping when it has fermented for long enough. The bubble foam, which forms over the starter, can take up to 24 hours. This is important; DO NOT continue until the starter responds. As the starter ferments, the unusual salt-rising smell appears. You must get the foamy and smelly “rotten cheese” smell or it will not work! This is called a “raisin”.

When the starter is ready, you can make the sponge:

 Place the starter mixture in a large bowl. Stir in the warm water, sugar, butter or oil and 250g plain flour. Beat the sponge thoroughly to incorporate as much air as possible. Cover the sponge and leave it to rise until it is light and full of bubbles. Keep your sponge at the same temperature as before. It will take 2-3 hours for the sponge to rise.

On to the final dough:

Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in 15ml of warm water and mix into the sponge. Add 750g plain flour to your sponge. Knead in more flour if required to make a firm dough. Knead the dough for 5-10 min. Divide the dough into 3 and place in 3 greased 9in (23cm) loaf tins. Place covered tins in warm water. Alternatively, place uncovered tins in a warm oven with a bowl of hot water. You need to maintain a temperature of 850F (300C). Leave the dough to prove. It will take up to 5 hours for the bread to rise to twice its original size. The bread should then round to the top of the tins.

Towards the end of proving, preheat the oven to 3750F (1900C).

Bake the bread for 10 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 3500F (1750C) and bake for an additional 20 minutes or until light golden brown.

Enjoy the fruits of your labour…

I would like to ask you a question

I am trying to gather some information about why people do or do not bake their own bread at home so I would appreciate it if you could answer the quick question below. This will help to shape future posts.

Thank you for your participation!

Sour rye bread

As my post on sourdough bread seems to be quite popular here is a quick variation for a rye based loaf.

The loaf will be denser and heavier as rye flour contains less gluten, but it is very tasty and well worth trying!

The method of baking is a bit different to normal sourdough. Here is the recipe…

To make 2-3 loaves

1.1kg dark rye flour                1 ladleful of active sourdough starter

25g salt                                        1tbsp sunflower oil (optional)

Mix the flour, salt, water and starter in a large bowl adding the sunflower oil if using.

Turn the dough out and knead for 5 mins; you may need extra flour as it is quite a sticky dough. Also, the dough will not tend to relax or stretch whilst kneading, like normal dough. This is due to the low gluten content and you shouldn’t be worried.

After kneading, divide the dough into 2 or 3 and shape your loaves. As rye flour tends to flatten out if unsupported, I would suggest using loaf tins or proving baskets. Leave to double in size, again this may take 1-4 hours.

When the dough has doubled in size, bake as per normal sourdough. I wouldn’t bother slashing the tops as the cuts will barely open up.

Leave to cool and enjoy…

I have nearly finished my FREE guide!

As mentioned in a previous post, I tend to get asked the same questions about baking; Why didn’t my loaf didn’t rise very much? Why did my loaf expand too much? etc.

Well, I have nearly finished a short guide to deal with the most common problems encountered whilst baking bread and I will be giving it away to all my email subscribers.

If you are interested in receiving the guide, all you need to do is pop your email address in the box to the right and when it is finished and uploaded I will let you know.

This is a big thank you to all those people who take the time out of their busy day to read my musings!

And remember, if there are any topics you wish to discuss please feel free to email me or leave a comment here.

And just to gauge interest from any casual visitors, I would be most grateful if you could answer the quick poll below.

Thanks for reading…

Baking Sourdough bread

Sourdough bread is made using the “sponge method.” This recipe will make 2-3 decent sized wholemeal loaves.

For the sponge:                                                For the dough:

500g strong wholemeal flour                    600g strong wholemeal flour

600ml warm water                                        25g salt

1 Ladleful of very active starter

Make your sponge the night before. Mix all the sponge ingredients in a large bowl till it forms a smooth batter like consistency and leave in a warm place overnight.

The following day, mix the 600g flour and salt into your sponge mixture till you get a nice soft kneadable dough – you may need to add a bit extra flour or water to achieve this. Now knead the dough for 5-10 mins to develop the gluten.

Shape the dough into a tight round shape, dust with flour or spray with a little oil and place in a clean bowl. Cover with a plastic bag or cling film and leave to rise for an hour. After an hour remove from the bowl and shape into a round again – it may not have risen much at this point but don’t worry. Leave to rise for another hour and shape again. Repeat the shape and rise again; you will notice that the dough will become increasingly light and airy.

After the final rise, deflate (or “knock back”) the dough, and divide the dough into 2 or 3 and shape your loaves as required. Dust them liberally with flour, cover and leave to prove till they have doubled in size. This may take up to 4 hours depending on the temperature and the vigour of your starter.

When your loaves have almost doubled in size, preheat your oven to 2500C/Gas Mark 10 and place your heaviest baking tray in the oven to heat up.

When the loaves are ready for baking, remove the baking tray from the oven. Place the loaves on it and return to the oven as quickly as possible. You may want to slash the tops of your loaves first. When you place the loaves back in the oven toss a handful of ice cubes into the bottom of the oven to give a nice burst of steam.

Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 2000C/Gas Mark 6. If the crust is quite dark you may want to reduce this to 1800C/Gas Mark 4. Bake for another 30 mins until the loaves are well browned and crusty. The loaves should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. If not, return to the oven for another 5-10 mins.

Leave your bread to cool, for at least 20 mins on a wire rack before you slice it. This is the hardest part!! Cut a slice, slather with butter and enjoy…