I have a bit of an issue with bread. For all the calories I consume in the form of cake, I can’t help but feel bread is empty calories which leave me wracked with guilt over all that starch in the form of refined flour, salt and often added fat to soften the crumb and crust. It makes me feel guilty just to type the constituents of a classic white loaf. However, despite the niggling suspicion that I should be chowing down on ancient grains like quinoa for the carbohydrate portion of my meal, there is simple pure pleasure in a home baked loaf that you just can’t fulfil with any other carbohydrate. To make me feel better about how much I enjoy a nice soft white sandwich loaf, I like to add a little somethin’, somethin’ to distract me from the perceived evils of white flour as well as reminding me, this is something a little bit special with nothing in common to the plasticised, processed sliced whites filling corner shops and supermarkets the developed world over. Rosemary and slow cooked onions made their way into a white loaf made using buttermilk this time, down at the Apple Chapel.
I made the dough itself with mostly buttermilk, rather than just water this time. It’s one of my favourite baking ingredients and both Hungry Hubby and I love freshly baked Irish soda bread very much but it stales quickly. Using it in a more traditional loaf gives you tenderness of the crumb and a little bit of tang from this wonderful, acidic cultured milk product. A little bit of fat in the form of butter or oil really does soften the crumb down whilst cooking with steam produced by preheating the oven to very hot with a big oven proof dish of water inside gives the perfect sandwich bread crust. For some bread makers (if not eaters), it is all about the masticatory muscle challenge of sourdough but for me, yet again I am revealing my guilty soft core bread loving tendencies; I love a soft loaf very much when it comes to sandwiches for lunch or fluffy middled toast for breakfast.
I might be a little strange in liking my bread to be flavoured when it is eaten as a sandwich, whether it is open, closed, toasted or not. Recall my tomato oregano loaf which I adore toasted with Moroccan hummus or grilled and filled with slat beef and chilli cheese. The rationale is it is nice to make a feature out of the bread rather than it solely being the necessary conduit to get your bacon from butty to belly. Of course I wouldn’t spread this with jam but it did make an excellent sausage sandwich with brown sauce for Sunday morning brunch.
I’m off to dream up my next loaf, as this one didn’t survive a full weekend with a Hungry Hubby who was delighted to have bread in the house again. Once bitten by the bug, it’s hard not to bake your own bread all the time. It’s a little bit odd I carry so much guilt over a white loaf by any other name when my cake tin is rarely, if ever empty… 😉
- 400 g strong bread flour + 2 tbsp extra
- 200 g buttermilk
- 60-75 ml warm water
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 7 g dried yeast
- 2 tsp dried rosemary
- 1 tsp sugar
- Fat pinch salt
- 2 small onions very finely chopped
- 1-2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp olive oil 1 tsp butter
Mix the 400g flour, salt, rosemary, sugar and yeast (keep away from the salt as best you can) then pour in your buttermilk and the oil.
Mixing with a spatula or in a stand mixer on slow speed, pour in enough of the water to make a soft not sticky dough.
Knead for 5-10 minutes until smooth, elastic and springy.
Pop in a greased bowl and leave to prove in a warm place.
In a small pan, melt the butter and oil together then add the onion and bay leaves – cook for a couple of minutes in medium heat but don’t let the onions colour. Turn down the heat to low and cover, stirring every ten minutes or so until the onions are fully translucent and very soft. If there is a lot of liquid, take off the heat and cook on high for a minute until it has evaporated, stirring constantly to prevent them catching. Remove the bay leaves and leave to cool.
When the dough has fully proved, deflate and add in your cooled onions with as much of the remaining flour as is needed to bring it back to a nice soft, not sticky dough. Try not to add more.
Knead to incorporate the onions then form into a fat sausage and pop in a 2lb loaf tin. Spray with oil and cover with cling until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 250°C with a casserole with water on the lowest shelf – leave the door shut until you are ready to put your loaf in and it will get nice and steamy.
Pop your proved loaf into the centre of the oven, taking care to stand well back so you don’t burn your face on all that steam. Immediately turn the heat down to 220°C and cook for 45-50 mins. Keep an eye on it and if it is browning too quickly or the onions are catching, cover with foil to complete the bake. You may want to invert the almost done loaf onto an oven gloved hand and tap the bottom to ensure it sounds hollow as it approaches the end of the bake – it should slip out easily in a nonstick tin.
Cool on a rack when cooked.