I adore bread. Indeed, it is almost an addiction with me. My favourite is probably brown bread. I love its nutty taste and what can be better than a few slices of fresh brown bread with either homemade marmalade or thick slices of cheddar cheese ? It also brings back memories of childhood, when brown bread was baked daily in houses throughout the land and shop-bought bread came to the table as a treat.
Of course, brown bread is very easy to make. All that you need to do is mix the dry ingredients together with the buttermilk and then pop the mixture into the oven. I mention all this because I have often thought that it is because our traditional brown bread is so easy to bake that we Irish have been deterred from making yeast breads. My own Mother is a good example of what I mean. She was an excellent cook but dismissed any baking with yeast as “too complicated, dear”. The truth of the matter is that the baking of most yeast breads is a simple culinary task, only appearing complicated when compared to the ease with which a cake of brown bread is produced.
I am Continental in my habits insofar as I invariably eat bread with any meal that comes with sauces. I particularly have in mind pasta dishes. For example, it would be a misery for me to eat Spaghetti Bolognese without some decent white bread to mop it all up. In this case, brown bread simply will not do. On the other hand, apart from being simple to make, to the point of being foolproof, the recipe which follows delivers a bread that is perfect for this purpose and, like so many of the recipes shared with you, is much appreciated by my adult children. It has been largely inspired by Nigel Slater.
450g strong white bread flour
1½ tsp salt
1 7g packet of fast-acting yeast
400ml warm water
1 tbsp chopped rosemary leaves
sea salt flakes
Put the flour, salt (it seems a lot but focaccia is a salty bread and if you want to achieve the required taste, this is the amount needed.) and yeast into a baking bowl and stir in the water. You will end up with a sticky dough.
Flour the work surface, turn out the dough and knead lightly.
Incorporate the flour from the work surface and if the mixture is still wet and sticky (it should be wetter than a normal bread dough)
knead in a little more until it no longer sticks to the board. Knead in no particular fashion for five minutes or so, then put it into a floured bowl and set aside, covered with a tea towel, until it is has risen to twice its size.
This part of the process will take a good 40 minutes to an hour.
Lightly oil the bottom of a baking tin 30cm in diameter and sprinkle it with a thin layer of cornmeal. The tin is a requirement of the original recipe and it so happened that I had one with the necessary measurement. However, if you don’t, I can see no reason why this bread could not be cooked on a large baking tray. In such circumstances, you will then have to roll out the dough until it is roughly 30cm in diameter. Needless to say, it doesn’t matter if you fail to produce the perfect circle that is the inevitable result of using a tin. Set the oven at 240C/gas mark 8.
Remove the dough from its bowl (it will sink, but no matter) and then push it into the baking tin.
Cover as much of the bottom as possible but don’t worry if this does not prove possible.
Set aside, covered with a tea towel, for a further 20-25 minutes until well risen.
Then, using a floured finger, push several holes into the dough before brushing it all over with olive oil. Scatter on the chopped rosemary (or thyme, if you would prefer) and salt flakes and bake for 25-30 minutes until the bread is a pale gold, crisp on top and springy within.
While the bread is still warm, free from the tin, with a palette knife if necessary.
Now, I live on my own and this recipe clearly serves more than one person. Thus, as soon as it has cooled, I cut the bread into twelve triangular pieces, wrap them in cling film and shoot them into the freezer. Thereafter, I extract them as and when required. Happy eating !