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.

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