Do you feel that bread is ‘the staff of life’, an essential part of your diet? In Europe we’re a ‘grain’ culture, part of the 35% of the world’s population who depend on wheat as a staple food. In other countries with different climates, different grains are used. For instance, in Ethiopia the grain is ‘teff’ with which the locals make ‘injera’, a rather addictive, slightly sour, fermented bread. Injera is eaten with most meals, is full of protein with a high iron content which, some say, is the secret ingredient for the success of Ethiopian long distance runners.
As a child in the 1950s, bread, milk, and vegetables were the mainstay of my diet. Breakfast was a bowl of cereal followed by a boiled egg and buttery toast soldiers. On holidays in Cornwall, slices of white bread were gingerly held on a fork to toast in front of a gas fire. We were rewarded with pink cheeks and toast slathered with beef dripping, kept from the Sunday roast, or fish paste from a jar.
When ill we were forced to eat crustless cubes of white bread swimming in warm milk. That made me gag. It was always white bread, as brown was despised after years of the grey-looking National Wholemeal loaf of wartime, which was so hated that it was known as ‘Hitler’s secret weapon’. The invention of the Chorleywood Process in 1960 meant that most bread produced was white sliced, with extra yeast and chemicals to improve its cost effectiveness and shelf life. It tasted like cotton wool then and, to my mind, still does now.
I need a carbohydrate fix at breakfast as well as coffee. Cereals don’t work for me. I need to chew. But, as part of growing older, I have to be careful about the bread I eat. I am not gluten intolerant, but there is something in those added chemicals that I no longer digest well. Even in France, the land of crusty baguettes, I or my digestive system revolts against whatever is included in their bread mix. No more lunches of my favourite saucisson sec baguettes for me.
“That’s because even here in France, they use additives: ascorbic acid, soy lecithin, mono and diglyceride fatty acids, and enzymes to reduce fermentation time and make the dough smoother. Plus there’s traces of pesticides in all flours – bar organic. Plus the bakers only use 30 varieties of wheat of the existing 300; the explanation being that these flours are three times more elastic than in the 1950s. The more gluten a flour contains, the more elastic it is, the more it rises. But it’s harder to digest. All rather depressing really!” – Fiona
Until my stay in Germany, I was of the opinion that the only decent bread made in these isles was in Ireland – their wheaten bread being darkly moist and compact enough to feel I was eating something substantial. But then I discovered German bread. Not the rectangles of dried, cardboard-tasting rye bread we get in British supermarkets, but their dense heavily-seeded loaves varying from dark ryes to golden sunflower seed. It was a delight to have to chew my breakfast bread and not be left with the feeling of cotton wool sticking to the roof of my mouth.
London may be booming with artisan bread makers and bakery market stalls, all of which have a crusty rusticness, suggesting authenticity. My problem is that the loaves are large and don’t keep more than one to two days. If you are just catering for two, you end up with a great deal of stale bread, and there is a limit as to how much brown bread ice-cream or bread and butter pudding I want to make from leftovers.
So the only answer for me was to have a go at making my own. I had tried before, with significant failures – more cake-like than dough-like was the result. I was therefore surprised and delighted when I tried out the recipe on the back of a Doves Farm flour package. I had to play around with a couple of types of yeast and dust off the dough hook on my trusty old food mixer, add a few seeds, but at my first go, I turned out near-perfect multigrain rolls.
I have to emphasise, I wouldn’t make my own bread regularly without a free-standing mixer. I have neither the time or the patience to hand knead dough. With a machine I produce eight rolls twice a week, keeping the rolls in the freezer until the night before they are needed. Sometimes, if I have a French visitor who requires bread with his cheese, I shape the dough into a semi-baguette, ready to be sliced or broken into chunks.
“That’s one of the pleasures of making bread – kneading it! I love the point when you can feel it becoming silky and you know it’s ready to set aside to rise.” – Fiona
Multigrain Bread Rolls – makes 8 rolls, preparation time minimum 2.15 hrs to overnight (whatever fits in with your schedule)
500 grams Doves Organic Malthouse bread flour
Pinch of salt
1 heaped teaspoon Allinson dried active yeast
50 grams of mixed seeds – Sainsbury’s have small packets
1 heaped teaspoon sugar (caster, granulated or brown)
300ml hand-hot (not warm and not scalding) water from the tap
2 tablespoons olive oil
” I tried instant yeast. It didn’t work for me. So I stick to what does. The seeds are a nice to have, if you like a crunch, but not essential.” – Judi
Into a measuring jug pour the 300ml of hand hot water, add sugar, stir until partially dissolved, then add yeast and stir until well mixed. Leave for 15 mins. The yeast should rise up to form a foamy top.
Whilst waiting for the yeast to rise, fix a dough hook to a free-standing mixer. Place flour, a good pinch of salt, mixed seeds and olive oil into the mixing bowl. Mix on low speed until the ingredients are well incorporated.
When the yeast mixture is ready, remove the froth, turn the mixer onto a low speed and add the yeast mixture to the bowl. Mix on a medium speed until the mixture becomes a smooth dough. There should be no bits or pieces remaining on the sides of the bowl, so add small amounts of warm water if needed, to ensure the sides of the bowl are left clean. Let the machine do the kneading on the lowest speed for no more than 5 minutes.
Remove the dough from the bowl, then smear the bottom and sides of the bowl with a small amount of olive oil and replace the dough, turning it around so that the surface of the dough is lightly covered with oil. Cover the bowl with a folded towel. Leave somewhere at room temperature for 1 to 2 hrs until the dough has doubled. This timing doesn’t need to be too accurate. Fit it into your schedule.
Punch down the dough (my grandson loves doing this )and place on a lightly floured surface. Form into a large sausage shape. Divide into eight pieces. You can, if you are a bit anal like me, weigh the dough, divide the weight by 8 and then weigh out eight equal portions. Sometimes life is too short!
Take one portion of the dough, knead it briefly, bring the edges into the centre and turn it over and shape it into a round form then do the same with the rest. You could also leave them as free-form shapes but that can turn into squabbles at the breakfast table as to who has the largest.
Place the rolls on a baking sheet covered with a piece of greaseproof paper, then cover with a loose sheet of cling film ( I use a plastic dry cleaning bag as I hate using non-recyclable cling film. Leave for 1 – 1.5 hrs. It really depends on the heat of the room, if you leave for longer, the rolls will just spread more. If you haven’t time to bake them for a while, then at this point you can leave in the fridge, even overnight. In the morning take them out whilst you heat up the oven.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C, placing a shallow dish of water in the bottom of the oven if you want a softer crust. Bake them on a high shelf in the oven for 15 minutes. If the rolls are cooked they will sound hollow when you tap them on the underside with your knuckles after removing from oven. Leave to cool on wire rack