Bread is something I love but can’t eat much of as it really doesn’t agree with me these days. Well, the store bought stuff in particular. Homemade bread is one of those cathartic things to make yourself though and I suspect my mild intolerance is more to do with preservatives and added extras from the processing of the bought-in stuff which are the culprits of the dreaded bloat. But moving swiftly away from digestive discussions, onto the topic in hand – homemade bread.

Like baking only perhaps more so, there is a learning curve to bread making and you will likely make a couple of dense, heavy bricks before you get a feel for it. Don’t be afraid of this! It’s part of the process – I can’t think of many, if any, foodie friends who turned out artisanal loaves with their very first try. Do read around the subject and see what different food writers say about the subject but once you’ve got the just, there’s nothing quite like getting in there and just having a go. You need to feel the dough to understand when it’s ready to move from stage to stage. It’s always worth trying a simple white loaf first for which you will find innumerate recipes online and in your cookbook libraries. Once you feel confident to move on a step or two, can I recommend this apricot bellied little boule of a loaf. My Tomato Oregano Loaf, made in a banneton or proving basket from KitchenCraft.

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What we have here is a super soft loaf which makes excellent sandwiches that is just small enough for 2 people to share over 2-3 days. As it’s just me and the Hungry Hubby down at the Apple Chapel, I find a lot of bread recipes are just too big for us to get through before they stale. 350g flour makes just the right amount for two. A simple white loaf is a guilty pleasure for a lot of people and adding too many extra ingredients can be distracting but if you go with the “less is more” principle you can achieve a loaf which is interesting to eat and adds just a little something different to your daily bread. Tomato puree is dissolved in some warm water and a healthy amount of dried oregano is added for a hint of the Mediterranean. I use ground paprika to add to that blushing orange colour but also to give it’s earthy, almost smoky resonance to the loaf too. The small quantity of butter is what helps give the loaf it’s soft texture although sour cream or an oil of your liking would achieve a similar effect.

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Whilst not necessary to prove your loaf in a wicker basket, there is something about the shape and pattern which can lift a very ordinary loaf to artisan bread status. For those of us who don’t want the commitment of a sour dough starter, know that it is perfectly acceptable to use a banneton for doughs leavened with commercially available rather than naturally acquired yeasts. We do eat with our eyes before we even taste the treat before us so don’t feel guilty for not speaking in terms of hydration levels, pre-ferments and the like. If you would like to dabble in sour dough then head over to my friend’s new blog and learn how to get your own starter started. One piece of advice I have for those of you who want to try a proving basket is you need to dust it very well, especially if you do want to use sour dough in it, which tends to be a very soft and moist bread. I say – if you think you’ve dusted it enough, you haven’t; dust it again! There is nothing more soul destroying than turning out your proved and apparently perfect dough only to tear it on the way to the oven because of sticking. You can brush off excess flour when it’s baked if you wish, I don’t though – it looks so pretty. Also, a tip I recently learned is rice flour seems to work best in producing a nonstick coating.

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As for ideas on how to eat your Tomato Oregano Loaf, apart from dipped into extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar here’s how we ate our loaf. Sliced and smeared with hummus; brushed with pesto then topped with chopped tomatoes and torn mozzarella; turned into pastrami, pickles and ‘slaw sandwiches or cheese, chilli jam and pastrami toasted sandwiches. I am about to toast a slice, rub with garlic then top with a slow roast all-in-one pan ratatouille I made last night to have for my lunch. Looks like I’ll have to make another one now so I can come up with more ways of eating it. Enjoy!

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Help yourself to my recipe 😀 xxx

Tomato Oregano Loaf
Yields 1
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Ingredients
  1. 350g strong white bread flour
  2. 1 tbsp dried oregano
  3. 1/2 tsp sea salt
  4. Good grind of black pepper
  5. 1 tsp paprika
  6. 7g fast action dried yeast
  7. 30g soft butter
  8. 2 level tbsp tomato puree
  9. 200ml warm water
Instructions
  1. Mix all the dried ingredients together then rub in the soft butter.
  2. Dissolve the tomato puree in the warm water and pour in a slow steady stream, mixing with your hand or a spatula until a soft but not sticky dough.
  3. Knead until springy, soft and feels light to the touch – I do it in the KitchenAid and it takes 5 minutes usually.
  4. Now I spray the insides of the mixing bowl from the KA with oil and cover the ball of dough with the lid until well risen, at least doubled in size.
  5. Punch down the dough then shape into a ball – once you have a tight ball shape, I find the best way to build up a bit of tension to encourage a good rise is to cup my heads around and under the dough ball, turning it by 90 degrees as I do so. Repeat several times until a smooth, spherical shape has been achieved.
  6. If using a bannetton, dust, dust then dust some more with plenty of extra flour. Pop your dough in it seam side down and dust with yet more flour before covering with cling film loosely and leaving to rise in a warm, draft free place. You could use a loaf tin or just go free form on a baking tray if not – the shaping process will build up enough resistance in the dough to form a good bloomer/boule even if made free form on a tray.
  7. Preheat the oven to 250°C – put a tray with cold water in the bottom of the oven and leave the door shut for 30 minutes if you can to really build up the steam.
  8. When the dough has risen to just a bit more than double it’s original size, gently invert the basket onto your hand then transfer the dough onto a floured baking sheet. It will feel light and you do need to be gentle but it is stronger than you think.
  9. Bake for 35-45 minutes, turning the oven down to 230°C as you close the oven door. CAREFUL – step back when you open the oven door as the steam will try to escape from the tray of water you put in there and you don’t want to scald your face or eyes.
  10. You will know when it is ready as the base will sound hollow when you tap it and the loaf will feel light as you lift it off the tray. Cool on a wire rack to prevent a soggy bottom.
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