Soooo Year of the Bento didn’t really work out – I had a few months of honeymoon time where I was really excited about it, then I had a week off work and never got back into the habit. It’s good to try new things, but they can’t all be lifelong passions, right?
This year, spurred on by my success in making sourdough bread, I thought I’d try the Year of Bread, which unfortunately has the anagram YoB. I shall endeavour to spell out the words most times. The first YoB (damn!) post is actually from before I had my sourdough starter on the go, when I made some bagels during National Baking Week 2011. I followed this bagels for brunch recipe, and turned out a decent attempt at bagels, though they were nowhere near as chewy as I’d have liked. They were kind of like bagel-shaped baguettes more than anything, with a crisp crust. I’m looking forward to trying other recipes, including one that involves boiling the bagels with a little Marmite (are other yeast extracts available?) for a subtle extra flavour, and resting them overnight.
I’ve started using a slightly different method for rising yeast dough – instead of putting the dough inside a bowl into a sink full of hot water, I realised I could just use my massive soup cauldron to do the same job. I still put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, sealed with clingfilm, but then I put it in the cauldron, which is two thirds full of hot (but not boiling) water, then I put on the lid. This creates a warm and humid environment for the dough, without creating an unusable sink environment for however long it takes the dough to rise. The cauldron can be put off to the side, out of the way, while I get on with washing up or cleaning the inevitable excess flour off my work surface.
Once the bagel dough was risen, I shaped it into rounds – you have to start off with quite a big hole in the middle, as the dough is quite springy and will shrink back on itself and seal back up if you don’t. That said, I may have gone a little far – as with everything, shaping bagels well is all about practise.
Once shaped, you boil the bagels until they’re a bit puffed up, then you top them with whatever you fancy before baking them. I did mine with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sea salt and chili flakes – one to each bagel, you see. Boiling the bagels makes them shiny and chewy, and also helps the toppings to stick to the bread. I think I might have under-boiled them, since the final result wasn’t as chewy as I’d have liked.
Once the bagels were baked, I had one for lunch with a sort of Welsh rarebit topping. I mixed grated cheese, milk, mixed dried herbs and diced tomato together and spread over both halves of a sliced bagel, topping them with a little black pepper before putting them under the grill and toasting until bubbly and lovely.
Yum! I think this is definitely my year for learning how to make good bread, all different kinds. Two that are high on the list are challah and Welsh clay pot bread, which you cook in an actual flowerpot, how cool? My sourdough starter Louie is currently sitting next to me, split into two – one part is for making a country style loaf, if I can ever figure out when I’ll have time to do it (there may be midnight baking on the cards), and the rest is to go back in the fridge once I’ve made sure its still healthy and happy. I’m checking this by feeding Louie some flour and warm water and resting at room temperature. If he’s still going strong, he’ll be bubbly and active, and double in size by tomorrow morning – in a warmer room it’d only take four hours for him to double but it’s a little chilly in here today, so I’ll give him some extra time. I’ve been feeding him quite a mix of flours – rye, buckwheat, plain and wholemeal, as they presented themselves to me. I’ve been freestyling it a bit, in the knowledge that it’s hard to go irretrievably wrong with a sourdough starter – or so they tell me, anyway…
So, all this talk of bread – what’s your favourite kind?