Well it has been a busy week and a bit, hasn’t it? So we have had a bank holiday weekend in which we took M.D. to see her old Granddad in the West Country, she was also taken by her Bedford grandparents to the local football (her first match and her first Bedford Town football shirt – Come on you Eagles!); but before all this the three of us (wife, me and M.D.) were invited round to the neighbours for dinner with instructions to bring dessert so I thought I would catch two birds with one stone and make Paul’s doughnut recipe.
The beer bread is one I have wanted to try for a while but it has a lot of wholemeal flour and my wife is not a big fan. But, after an unexpected influx of real ale in the house I thought why not? So I gave it a go. When you do get into making bread, it is important to remember that it is a science so it is not the specific ingredients that make bread, it is the type of ingredient – specifics only give a set flavour. So any flour can be used, but if you want a nice chewy, airy bread which rises with yeast, you will need a strong flour (high in gluten). Or any liquid can be used, but water doesn’t add a flavour so is used most often – you can use milk, beer, cider, juices even, all you need is a liquid. Worth pondering on if you are looking to create your own recipes.
Mixing and Kneading
Doughnuts: Paul gives us a basic white dough recipe, ratioed in accordance to using 250g of white flour (so just half every other ingredient in your normal white dough, other than butter so it stays rich) and adds 40g sugar for sweetness. This is kneaded in the usual, easy white flour sort of way and then left to prove. Just like on the Great British Bake Off, Paul gives no proving times – just until it has doubled in size, this did not take long as the yeast quantity was 15g. The dough is knocked back and split into the relevant amounts. Paul says 75g pieces, making 5-10, but I wanted smaller ones so I made them into 16 pieces weighing about 50g. These are made into rolls, something I was taught by my mother-in-law and does take a bit of practice, and left to rise until doubled in size.
The oil was put on, roughly a litre, and then I waited until it came to temperature. As I could not find the thermometer I used the piece of bread method. Throw in a small piece of bread and when the oil is hot enough the bread will brown all over.
Beer Bread: Half white/half wholemeal makes for a very stiff and firm dough to begin with so be patient with it. I used Greene King’s Abbot Ale for my beer and it makes for a novel mixing experience. The smell of beer is quite intoxicating to work with, and the slight fizzyness is a strange sensation to get used to whilst trying to mix your ingredients, but otherwise it is just the same as using water. The knead was harder than a white loaf, so it was a two hand job with lots of technique swapping until the bread finally yielded to my will (oh yeah) and became pliable and elastic.
It was left to prove for an hour and then knocked back. Shaped into a round it was put on the lined baking tray and flattened slightly. Three lines were cut into the dough and it was left to prove for another hour whilst the oven was preheated to 200.
Doughnuts: The doughnuts are placed into the oil in batches of four and flipped once the one side has fully browned. Sometimes the air in the dough stops it from rotating, if this occurs just pierce the doughy side with a knife and it should be fine. Once both sides are cooked they are put straight into a bowl of sugar and coated. Needless to say I burnt myself, a lot! Once coated they are left to cool on a rack.
We made up a bowl of hot chocolate to dunk them in and, if I do say so myself, they were glorious! They were light and airy, with just the right amount of sugar on them. Dipping them in chocolate was ingenious, I suppose credit there is due to the Spanish for their churros which gave me the idea. These will definitely be made again, M.D. loved them which is unusual as she doesn’t really like sweet puddings like this . . . oh dear, I may have started something.
Beer Bread: The bake lasted 35 mins (Paul says to do it for 30 mins, but if it isn’t done it isn’t done, and it wasn’t). The smell of the beer added a lovely hoppy and sweet aroma to the earthy smells from the flour, coming from the oven. It rose well and, due to the low temperature, did not take on much colour.
I personally love beer bread, I think the flavour is hard to beat and it creates what I call a real bread. Not some light, airy, never-going-to-make-a-good-sandwich, delicate bread; this is a wholesome, strong bread which would be best used with soup or better yet, a pub doorstop sandwich with crisps on the side. M.D. loves it, but that is no surprise as she likes the denser breads, but my wife also likes it which was unexpected. Apparently it makes great toast, but I wouldn’t know – it was all eaten before I got to have my breakfast.
History of Bread
In the Medieval Period there was a Benedictine monastery in Clune which was very strict, even to the point of not allowing speech in certain areas of the grounds. To get around this the monks created a sign language called the Cluniac sign language. Below is a translation of how to ask for bread:
“For the sign of bread
make a circle with the thumb and
its two adjacent fingers, because
bread is customarily round.
For the sign of bread, which is
cooked in water and which is better
than that served on most days,
after making the general sign for bread,
place the palm of one hand
over the outside of the other as if
oiling or wetting.
For the sign of marked bread, which is
commonly called torta, after
making the general sign of bread,
make a cross through the middle of the
palm, because bread of this type is
generally divided into quarters.” First seen on Medievalists.net and then the translation was found in S. Bruce’s book here