Monday, January 28, 2013


I am going to do some posts on food.  I will try very hard to use ingredients that are available here in Atyrau.  We are all always looking for ideas and inspiration for new things to cook and recently I have had conversations that make me think that there may be some interest in this subject.  We have made bread since we came here, sometimes by hand, sometimes in the bread machine, but last year we found the answer!

Last October I was introduced to some really good bread by Chris Henderson.  Now everyone has their own thoughts on what is good bread, some like it soft others hard and crunchy, some like firm and tightly knit and others loose with big holes through it, some like chewy others melty, some like sour others sweet and so on.  The conclusion being that there is no perfect loaf, in fact, far from it.  But the loaf that Chris produced was very much to our taste, and she supplied us with several more over the next couple of months as I did not have a pan suitable for baking my own.

She made a white loaf, but I have been experimenting with the addition of whole wheat flour, and we think we prefer it, though I will quickly point out that I much prefer white bread to whole wheat bread.

The principle behind this bread is that it uses the slow rise technique that allows the flavour to develop so much better than in fast rise bread.

So this is what you do, with some pictures...

2 1/2 Cups white flour
1/2    Cup   whole wheat flour (or equivalent white flour)
1 1/2 Cups water
1 1/2 Tsp  Salt
1/4    Tsp  yeast (I am using quick rise yeast, I think normal would be better)

Mix together in a bowl (I use a table knife) for about 30 seconds

Cover the bowl and put it in somewhere that is not too hot and not too cold (I usually just leave it on the kitchen temperature), though it seems to be better to keep it cooler rather than warmer.  I even put one batch in the fridge overnight as it was coming along a bit too fast.  The objective is to let it sit for at least 12 hours, and probably more like 18 hours, by which time it should be a stick bubbly mess of wet dough about twice the volume you started with.
At this point you clean a work surface and liberally sprinkle it with flour.  You scrape the sticky dough out onto the flour using something like a rubber spatula.  You can use your fingers but they will get very gluey.  
Once the dough is on the counter sprinkle a little more flour on it and fold the outside edges into the middle working round the puddle of dough trying to form a sort of round ball!  Add a little more flour to avoid your fingers getting stuck to it all.
This will take about a minute.  When it is a sort of round shape (last two pictures above) Sprinkle some flour on top and cover with a cloth, plastic wrap or an upturned bowl.
Turn the oven on to maximum and put a cast iron pot with a lid in it!  The dough will do a second rising for about 30 to 60 minutes, and by that time you should have a nice hot oven and bowl!

Remove the cover and with floured fingers ease the dough off the counter or board, dust a little flour under it so it doesn't stick, and do a final folding of the edges into the centre.  The middle top will look quite untidy where you have stuck the edges of the dough down in the middle.  
Take the pot from the oven, take off the lid and lift the ball of dough over the pot and gently let it fall in.  This is a good opportunity to get some nice burns on your wrists so be careful.  The dough is sitting in the pot with a dusting of flour and the seam side UP.
Pop on the lid and put it in the oven for 30 minutes.  

After 30 minutes (or 25 if you are impatient!) open the oven and remove the lid.  Bake for the last 5 minutes or so with the lid off.  It is up to you how dark you like the top.  Take it out and put on a cooling rack. 
When you cut into it there should be quite large holes from the bubbles that were produced during the rise and bake.
This is a very forgiving recipe.  You can experiment with different types of flour, and the rising and cooking times seem flexible.  Do not add more yeast than 1/4 teaspoonful as you need it to work hard and produce good flavour.  The dough is wet and hard to handle.  Have well floured hands and board, and this will end up adding a bit more flour into the mix and firming it up a little.

It will also help if you can get a pan that is the right size, ours came from Ideal Schlumberger for those shopping in Atyrau, and whilst hardly a thing of beauty, actually seems perfect for this job.

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