Month: April 2021

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.55: Hard dough bread from Jamaica

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.55: Hard dough bread from Jamaica

Jamaicans swear by Hard dough (or Hardo) bread as being the perfect base for all manner of snacks and sandwiches: avocado, salt fish, whatever. Hardo bread is generally made in an oblong tin (aka a Pullman tin); it should be pillowy soft and airy, but with a dense enough texture to stop your sandwich filling leaking through. It may look on the surface like a simple enough white bread, but it takes a level of skill and care to get that perfect texture.

If I do a bit of extrapolation, the history goes like this: French bakers take pain de mie to the Far East, where it’s taken up by Chinese bakers, who then migrate to the Caribbean. From there, West Indian workers take it to Africa, where something very similar turns up in Nigeria in the shape of Agege bread.

Like Agege bread, commercial hardo bread is often made using a dough brake – a set of rollers through which the dough is forced as part of the kneading and forming process. Following this video from Keshia Sakaria, I’ve approximated to the dough brake by rolling the dough out with a rolling pin in between its first and second rises.

It’s fair to say that there’s less than general agreement on the recipe. Most recipes call for white bread flour, but all-purpose and wholemeal flour get used. Some recipes use butter; others insist that vegetable shortening is the only way to go. Some use milk, others don’t. Wikipedia quotes authoritative references stating that hardo bread is usually brushed with sugared water before baking, but I haven’t seen any current Caribbean recipes that do this. And proportions are highly variable – I’ve gone for the less sweet end of the scale.

I’ve sized my recipe for my 30cm x 10cm x 10cm loaf tin, gone for strong white bread flour to try to get the springiest texture, and used butter and milk. I’ve also added a generous grind of black pepper for flavouring – a trick from Apollonia Poilâne’s pain de mie, which probably isn’t in any way authentic but which I’m confident Jamaicans would approve of.

  • 320 ml milk
  • 35 ml lukewarm water
  • 8g dried yeast
  • 25g sugar
  • 600g strong white flour
  • 15g salt
  • 60g butter
  • Optional: a generous grind of black pepper, to taste
  • Sunflower oil for greasing
  • a small amount of beaten egg for the egg wash
  1. Warm the milk to around 40℃. If it goes hotter, let it cool to 40℃ before using, or you’ll kill the yeast.
  2. Weight out the yeast and sugar into a jug or small bowl, add the water and the milk and leave for a few minutes until it all goes frothy.
  3. Cut the butter into small cubes; put it with the flour, salt and pepper into the bowl of your stand mixer and rub the butter into the flour with your fingers to blend nicely. 
  4. Add the wet mixture and mix until you have a smooth dough: it should come away from the sides of the bowl.
  5. With the dough hook, knead for around 7-10 minutes until the dough is nice and elastic. You may also want to knead it by hand for a minute or two to make sure you have the right level of springiness.
  6. Form the dough into a ball and put it into a greased bowl covered with cling film; leave to rise for around 60-90 minutes until doubled in size.
  7. Grease your loaf tin
  8. Flour a surface and roll out the dough to a rectangle that’s about 2cm thick and whose width roughly matches the length of your loaf tin.
  9. Roll the dough tightly into a sausage; fold the ends under to tidy them up; brush a little oil over the whole loaf and place it carefully into the tin.
  10. Cover the loaf tin and leave to rise for another hour.
  11.  Half an hour in, preheat your oven to 200℃ fan. If you have a dutch oven that your loaf tin will fit into, put a couple of cm of water into it and put in the oven now.
  12. When the loaf is risen, brush it with beaten egg and put it in the oven.
  13. Bake for 20 minutes, then take the top off your dutch oven and bake for another 20 minutes – the top should be golden and the inside should be dry when tested with a skewer.
  14. If you don’t have a dutch oven or a cover for your loaf tin, just bake the loaf open for 20 minutes and then cover it with foil for the rest of the baking time.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.54: Basler Kirschenbrottorte from Switzerland

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.54: Basler Kirschenbrottorte from Switzerland

The German (or, in this case, Swiss-German) habit of running nouns together does sometimes lead you to a recipe that does exactly what it says on the tin: Basler Kirschenbrottorte (cherry-bread-cake from Basel) is, er, a cake whose two main ingredients are bread and cherries. And which comes from the city on the triple border between Switzerland, France and Germany. It’s surprisingly light for something which is not so far from a bread pudding, it’s fruity, cinnamon infused and bursts with flavour. This recipe comes from the food blog Helvetic Kitchen, where it’s accompanied by a nice family story to go with. I’ve halved the quantities.

To state the bleeding obvious, it isn’t cherry season in London right now, so I’ve gone for a 500g pack of frozen black cherries. This seemed to do the job OK, with the advantage that the cherries arrive already stoned, albeit with care needed to ensure that they were properly defrosted and with most of the surplus water dried off. However, I’m going to suggest that if you have fresh cherries growing anywhere near you, the way to go is definitely going to be to make this in season.

Warning: this recipe uses a lot of bowls. I can’t see an obvious way around this.

  • 500g cherries
  • 250 g leftover bread (in my case, this was the last of my Antiguan Sunday Bread)
  • 200 ml milk
  • vanilla paste or extract to taste
  • 100 g biscuit crumbs – I used Digestive biscuits; in the US, one would probably go for Graham Crackers.
  • 60 g butter
  • 100 g sugar
  • 3 large eggs (around 200g total)
  • pinch of salt
  • 50 g ground almonds
  • 10 g flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • kirsch or fruit schnapps to taste
  1. If using frozen cherries, defrost them.
  2. Preheat oven to 180℃.
  3. Cut the bread into 1 cm cubes and put in a bowl.
  4. Put the milk and vanilla into a saucepan and scald until very warm (80-90℃). Take off the heat and pour into a bowl to cool.
  5. Remove the stones from the cherries, if this hasn’t been done for you already
  6. Prepare a 20cm springform tin: line the bottom with baking paper, grease the sides generously with butter. 
  7. Once the milk is at room temperature, pour it over the bread and squeeze it down so that all the bread has soaked up some milk.
  8. Blitz your biscuits to a powder. Take about half the crumbs and spread them evenly over the base of the tin.
  9. Cream the butter and sugar together.
  10. Separate the eggs, pouring the whites into a bowl of your stand mixer, and the yolks into the butter-sugar mixture.
  11. In yet another bowl, mix the remaining biscuit crumbs, ground almonds, flour, cinnamon and salt; stir until blended evenly.
  12. Add the bread mixture into the butter-sugar mixture and mix.
  13. Add in the flour mixture and mix until everything is very even.
  14. Add the cherries and kirsch and mix.
  15. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in.
  16. Pour the cake mix into your tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. If the cake looks like browning too far before the middle is cooked, cover it with foil for the last 5-10 minutes.
  17. Remove and cool on a rack.