Episode 2: Breads – The Technical Bake


Characters: Aodh (Irish, likes scaling baking mountains), The Muffin Man (Hard Ass, Wise Guy with a Cape)

Setting: Bermondsey & Victoria Park


I (Aodh) think that if I were to be chosen for the Great British Bake-Off, this week would reveal the casting director’s envisaged role for me: Comic Filler.

Or possibly Clueless Eye-Candy.


Okay, fine, then.

This week I drew English Muffins and so took my recipe from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum which is a cookbook as rendered as the Best Practice Guide to Performing Life-Saving Surgery on Your Only Child it’s that detail-oriented.  To illustrate my point, here are the ingredients for the starter sponge:

156 grams of unbleached all-purpose flour (use only Gold Medal, King Arthur or Pillsbury)

177 grams of water at room temperature

20 grams of honey

1.6 grams of instant yeast

This kind of specificity and the implied “turn your bowl 80 degrees in the buttery light of an October morning” instructions that were sure to follow are just a terrible match for me, sensibility-wise, and the whole affair went wrong almost immediately.

Also, I was doing my shopping on the Bank Holiday so I couldn’t get the milk powder that’s required later; I substituted the water for the same amount of scalded, then cooled lukewarm milk (AS RECOMMENDED!) at this point.

1. Dump sponge ingredients into bowl and whisk for 2 minutes, incorporating air, until it has become a smooth, thick cream.

Handy Tip: Don’t add twice the required quantity of flour and milk for some reason you can’t remember in retrospect, then throw half of the mixture in the bin like you didn’t grow up in a country that had a famine.

Flour Mixture:

156 grams of unbleached all-purpose flour (use only Gold Medal, King Arthur or Pillsbury)

1.6 grams of instant yeast

42 grams unsalted butter

1 1/4 teaspoons of salt

About 1/3 cup of cornmeal

9 grams of melted butter

2. Whisk the flour and yeast and sprinkle it onto the sponge mixture to form a “flour blanket”. My flour-yeast mixture made a disturbingly thick layer on the sponge mixture.

3. Leave it to proof for one hour at room temperature and then 8 hours in the fridge which I didn’t do because I was going to bed. I let it proof overnight in my kitchen, fridge-adjacent, with some plastic wrap.

4. After the proof, you’re meant to mix the remaining ingredients (minus the cornmeal) into the mixture and knead which I didn’t do because I have a job.  Seriously, by the end of this bake I was beginning to think my understanding of the sentiment “You can’t have a career, suffragette, so go bake some bread” had the causal progression backwards.

I did do it however after I had finished work. Knead for five minutes, Let it rest for 20. Knead for another five.

6. Spray it with oil (I chose olive), cover with plastic and let it proof at 75 degrees in buttery October sunlight for an hour and a half or until double in height.

5. Have a nap because yeah.

7. Knead it gently in the bowl with oiled fingers so it looks like a withered, denture-free grandma face.

photo (12)

Then put it covered again into the fridge for an hour to firm which I didn’t do because the episode was starting in an hour and Henry doesn’t have Sky+.

8. Cut into 3 inch wide,1 1/2 thick circles  and let them rise in the cornmeal for 45 minutes until they’re 7 inches wide and 4 1/5 inches thick (which I also didn’t do and I used a large coffee mug as a cutter because of panic).

9. Butter a griddle, heat ’til hot and fry them. The recipes  says ten minutes on each side until brown (essentially – I am not transcribing the faffing about with cooking thermometers) but this recipe and I had parted company so long ago that I just kept frying them until they looked edible which was never because the dough in the middle was always some variant of raw. I made smaller ones after the episode with the remaining dough which were better but even then Hollywood would have pitched a fit.

I felt real kinship with Lucy because we would have come last for the same reasons though to be fair to me, their recipe didn’t seem to involve disparate layers of dough and more time-consuming proofs than a mathematical theorem on the nature of the consumption of time.

photo (14)


Characters: Henry (Irish, Booked a day off work to bake this), A Guy on YouTube (He had a funny accent and he taught me how to plait!)

Setting: Henry’s Kitchen & Cyber Space


I was pretty intimidated to be making bread. Mainly because I try not eat it that much myself. I’m more of a Rye Bread, and Rice Crackers guy these days, so I thought my efforts were doomed from the outset. It’s not that I don’t like bread. I do. I like it too much. My favourite thing to do is get a nice soft loaf, a bowl of olives, olive oil, cheese, balsamic vinegar, hummus, crab pate etc etc etc, and pretty much stuff my face.

So, basically making bread is my version of dancing with the devil.

The first hurdle in making a decorative loaf is that there isn’t really a recipe for ‘decorative loaf’ per se.  There are lots of bread loaf recipes, but the ‘decorative’ bit is mainly left out. Finally I decided on a loaf that sounded decorative, and sweet, and somewhat achievable. As with most things in life (love, jobs etc) I choose the path of least resistance, and so too it was with this recipe.

I made Cherry and Pecan Plait, and the recipe was from Delicious Magazine dot co dot uk


It offers a very good step-by-step for making a plain loaf of bread and then ways in which you can alter the recipe to try more exciting varieties. I felt that the recipe was very well explained overall, and the only cofuzzing bits were in step 3, where it said to knock out the air in the dough and kneed in the cherry and pecans.

Because I’m a bit stupid and need *everything* to be explained to me, I wasn’t sure if kneeding was just the action, or if kneeding was the process, i.e. do I just press and roll the dough with the ingredients or do I have to do this action on a bed of flour. So I kind of sprinkled the flour on the dough and kneed it. I was instantly worried that I was doing something wrong (to flour or not to flour), but I figured I was striking a balance. So who was wrong? Me, or the recipe?

Step 4 was also a little confusing, do I roll the ‘long sausages’ on the counter, or again, on a bed of flour. I really didn’t know, so again I just sprinkled.

The next ‘mistake’ I made was plaiting the loaf too long (it barely fit in the oven). I wonder if i had made a smaller plait the loaf would have risen more?

Either way, by the time the loaf had arrived, I was genuinely happy with it. I served it with butter, homemade marmalade, raspberry jam (for diabetics – not sure why), and maple syrup all optional.

The most fun thing ever about this recipe is that it is in fact very simple (though the blog recommends you master the primary white loaf first – screw that – I’m an artist man! you can’t restrict me!) and involved one of the most fun things ever – which is punching a ball of dough in the face and hearing a very satisfying ‘pfff’ emerge. It was very cathartic.

So, yeah, the loaf was really yummy, and I will definitely make it again. Here are some pics. I opted not to have the icing ( I’m an artist, Man!), and instead just sprinkled some angel dust (I mean Icing Sugar) on top.

Imma going to punch you in the face, dough.


Learning how to plait on YouTube:

IMG_4368 IMG_4369 IMG_4370 IMG_4374 IMG_4373


Characters: Babs (Irish, uber prepared, that failed, started over), President of the world (expert bread maker and solver of all of life’s little problems)

Setting: Below the ground dreaming of the sun (a basement apartment)


This week I had a secret weapon, well more like a knew a guy that knows something about weapons (my Dad makes bread). Sadly this hobby for bread making began long after I had flown the coup so my 5 year old niece would make a better bread maker than I but on the positive when I googled and googled breadsticks and could only find one recipe by The Mr. Hollywood, that included olives – which I hate, ergo I refused to bake (if I ain’t eatin’ it I ain’t bakin’ it) I at least had a dependable resource inform me the word I was looking for was grissini. Very useful.

Also useful were the photos of a recipe from his bread book. As I was working all Tuesday and didn’t know when I would finish I decided to bake the breadsticks on Monday and have them ready. I think the key to this recipe was the timer on my phone (note to self invest in egg timer). I was dreading making bread because you always hear it’s really hard.

That’s probably true, but not of bread sticks. They are ridiculously easy. I say this having made none of the flavour efforts of the contestants but I did put sesame seeds on them and rosemary. Also I figure if you used flavoured oil you could do some great flavours and it wouldn’t mess with the bake. I have plans to make lemon, basil and black pepper bread sticks at some point. As this was the first foray into the bread world I kept it super simple.

Also and most importantly it was really enjoyable. There is something very calming about kneading, and also something lovely in having an active recipe, in that you’re always doing something but you’re not running around worrying about times (thank you phone timer).

On the downside on Tuesday the breadsticks weren’t crispy anymore. Having made lovely breadsticks on Monday that my flatmates half devoured. I had to fight them off so I could bring any to the bake off, and then the next day, they weren’t up to scratch, it was a little sad, but I knew now that bread sticks were extremely easy to make so I just started again and baked them before I headed to Hen’s house.


Here is the recipe. Go make yourself some breadsticks.


2 tsp dried yeast

325ml (11 fl oz) water

1 tsp malt extract

500g (1 lb) strong white flour, sifted

2 tsp salt

3 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp semolina

egg glaze, made with 1 egg yolk and 1 tbsp water

sesame seeds

If anyone has  a recipe with malt extract please send it my way. I have a whole jar of the stuff and there’s only so many bread sticks I’m willing to make.

1. Sprinkle the yeast into 125 ml (4 fl oz) of the water in a bowl. Leave for five minutes, then add the malt extract, stir to dissolve. Mix the flour and the salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeasted liquid and the olive oil.

2. Use a wooden spoon to draw the flour in from the sides. Stir in the remaining water, as needed, to form a firm sticky dough.

I just got in there with my hands, because I figured this spoon malarky was going to take an age.

3. Turn the dough out on to a well-floured work surface. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Cover with a tea towel and leave forest for 10 minutes. Knead the dough for a further 10 minutes.

In my second (Tuesday) batch I halved the recipe but then didn’t know whether to have the kneading time. I still don’t know. I just winged it, sometimes I kneaded for 10 minutes sometimes less, they turned out grand, so I figure it’s not too important.

4. Shape the dough into a rectangle, 30cm x 20cm (12 in x 8 in) and 1.5cm (3/4 in) thick. Cover with a tea towel; leave to rest for 10 minutes.

I ignored these measurements completely. I also realised there is no rolling pin in my flat so I dragged it into shape the first time and used the handle of a wooden spoon for a moment the second time, got sick of the handle and just dragged again. I’m sure my buddy P. H-woody would do the very same.

5. Lightly oil two baking sheets and sprinkle them with semolina. Cut the dough rectangle lengthways into four equal pieces, then cut each piece lengthways into ten strips. Stretch each strip until it is 25cm (10 in) long. Place the strips, about 1cm (3/4 in) apart, on the baking sheets.

I just threw the semolina at the baking sheet then evened it the way you do with glue and glitter when you’re a kid. Just shaking it about the sheet. This used more semolina then the recipe which is good because I invested in a whole packet and I am NEVER going to make semolina (worst dessert ever) pudding, so best use as much as I can. At least it’s used in pasta so I can have a go at making that. Not like my friend the malt extract, that better get very comfy in my cupboard. Once again, yummy malt extract recipe anyone?

6. Brush the strips with the egg glaze and sprinkle with sesame seeds. bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. Transfer the sticks on to a wire rack, then leave to cool.

I also threw a bit of rosemary on mine. Because I’m fancy like that.

And so it begins Dough! Fancy Rosemary  

And here we have the wonderful three creations of bread week 🙂

Bread Week


3 thoughts on “Episode 2: Breads – The Technical Bake

  1. Re the muffins: Possibly the proving time was WAY too long, especially out the fridge. also next time just use delia smith’s recipe. she doesnt use milk powder and neither would the original muffin makers i imagine.

    The Paul the Octopus bread was in fact excellent.

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