Tag: Bread making

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.53: Kozunak – Bulgarian Easter Bread

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.53: Kozunak – Bulgarian Easter Bread

Most Christian countries have some form of enriched bread that they bake for Easter: there’s the Greek Tsoureki, Italian Pane di Pasqua, German Osterbrot, Russian Kulich, English Hot Cross Buns, Paraguayan Chipa – there are dozens more. Since it’s coming up to Easter and I needed a country that I haven’t yet visited on this round the world trip, I’ve gone for Kozunak, the version that’s popular in Bulgaria  (and, indeed, in Romania, Serbia and other Balkan countries.

This is a braided loaf, not so far off a Jewish Challah, but sweeter and with the addition of  lemon and rum-soaked raisins. It’s not massively difficult in essence, but set aside a good amount of time for the three rises that will be needed. I’ve started with a recipe from The Spruce Eats (another of Barbara Rolek’s), halved the quantities as best I could, and broken the recipe up into several stages so that it’s easier to see which ingredients you need for which stage.

My one moan about this recipe is that it uses heroic numbers of small bowls. If you hate washing up, this probably isn’t one for you, or you might want to reshuffle the exact order of the processes a bit.

The raisins

  • 1 lemon
  • 30 ml rum
  • 50g raisins
  1. Grate the lemon zest into a small bowl
  2. Juice around half the lemon and add it to the bowl (I ended up with about 30ml)
  3. Add the rum and raisins to the bowl and mix
  4. Leave to stand until needed

Yeast mix

  • 90ml milk
  • 1 egg (you’ll use half at this stage, half later)
  • 7g yeast
  • 10g sugar
  1. Warm the milk to just below boiling – say 80℃. Pour it into a small bowl. (Note: it’s sensible to put this straight into the bowl of your stand mixer, which I didn’t do)
  2. Beat the egg in a small bowl
  3. Once the milk has cooled to around 40℃, add the yeast, sugar and around half the beaten egg. Keep the rest of the egg: you’ll be using it shortly.
  4. Leave to stand for 20-30 minutes until the mixture is frothy.

The dough and final baking

  • 120ml milk
  • 100g sugar
  • 30g sunflower oil, plus some more for greasing
  • 30g butter
  • 2 eggs, plus the half left over from earlier
  • vanilla essence to taste
  • 600g flour
  • 10g salt
  • 20g flaked almonds
  1. Put the milk and sugar into a saucepan; warm until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat.
  2. Melt the butter and mix with the oil (I use 20 seconds in the microwave, but if you don’t have one, you’ll want to use a  pan).
  3. Separate one of the eggs: reserve the yolk in a small bowl, add the white and the other egg to the half a whole egg that you had left over earlier. Add some vanilla essence and beat them together. Keep the yolk aside, covered: you’ll use it for a wash before baking.
  4. Once your sweetened milk is cool and the yeast mix is frothy, you can get started on the dough. With the yeast mixture in the bowl of my stand mixer, I used the standard beater and set it going at low speed.
  5. Add the milk mixture.
  6. Add the butter/oil mixture.
  7. Drain the raisins and add them.
  8. Add the flour and salt. Mix until all the ingredients are combined.
  9. Switch to the dough hook and knead for around 5 minutes until the dough is very elastic
  10. Grease a bowl with oil.
  11. Form your dough into a ball and transfer it to the bowl. Coat the dough in oil, either by turning it or by brushing some more oil over the top.
  12. Cover with cling film and leave to rise until doubled in size – probably 1-2 hours.
  13. Punch the dough down and leave to rise again – probably 1-2 hours.
  14. Preheat oven to 190℃ fan (I used 200℃, and my crust is too dark)
  15. Separate your dough into three parts (actually, as many parts as you fancy for your favourite braid: now create your braid as shown in this video.
  16. Cover and leave for another 30 minutes.
  17. Spread the loaf with your beaten egg, scatter the almonds over the loaf and put in oven (photo disclaimer: I forgot the almonds!)
  18. Bake for around 25-30 minutes
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.50: Tabun or Pita bread, from Jordan

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.50: Tabun or Pita bread, from Jordan

This blog post is a two-in-one, because these two flatbreads are the same for the whole process up to the final bake, where different techniques get a different structure. I’ve labelled them as Jordanian because the first recipe I looked up claimed to be from Jordan, but in all honesty, you’ll find these all over the Arab world. I was actually making them to eat with lamb shawarma, in a recipe from Sami Tamiri’s wonderful Falastin.

If your idea of pita bread is the small oval slices of cardboard bought from supermarkets, think again. Freshly made pita crisps and puffs up like a ball, perfect for stuffing with the filling of your choice: shawarma, falafel, muhamarra or any other Middle Eastern goodies. Tabun (or taboon) is softer and flatter: use as open sandwich rather than trying to stuff it. (The tabun is the name of the wood-fired open-topped oven in which the bread is traditionally baked, similar to the indian tandoor.)

Since  I don’t have a tabun, I’m improvising, using one of two techniques. For pita, I’m putting a pizza stone in the oven and winding the temperature as high as I can get. The sudden heat applied to the dough makes the moisture in the centre evaporate, resulting in the characteristic pocket. For tabun, I’m approximating to the stones on which the bread would traditionally be made by pouring ceramic baking beads into a frying pan (or skillet), and laying the flatbread over the top and using a lower temperature oven (you could also do this on the hob).

Here’s an updated round-up on the list of flatbreads in this blog:

  • Aish baladi (Egypt): the wholemeal version of pita or tabun
  • Focaccia (Italy): flavoured with olive oil, salt and other ingredients such as rosemary, olives or tomatoes. Thickness varies from one baker to another (it can be very thick)
  • Lavash (Armenia): similar dough to tabun, but rolled or thrown to be wafer thin before baking
  • Naan (India): between a tabun and a focaccia in thickness, often flavoured with ghee, nigella seeds or other ingredients.
  • Pita: thickness somewhere between lavash and naan, baked quickly at high heat to puff up into a pocket for filling.
  • Tabun: thickness starts similar to pita, but baked more slowly for a more pillowy texture.
  • Finally, there’s Persian flatbread (Nan Barbari), which is probably my favourite of the lot of them, which has the generous softness of a focaccia but with Middle Eastern flavours instead of the oil. I’ve already done a Persian bake in this series, so I’ll just point you at Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana as the source of a fabulous Nan Barbari recipe. The Afghans do their own version (Nan Afghani), so this may appear in a future post – but first, when I stop being worried about lockdown, I want to go and watch them at the Afghan shop a few km from my home.

The dough

The quantities here make four flatbreads.

  • 5g dried yeast
  • 10g sugar
  • 200g lukewarm water (around 40℃)
  • 25g olive oil
  • 300g strong white flour
  • 10g salt
  1. Combine yeast, sugar and water, leave for a few minutes until frothy.
  2. Combine flour and salt. Add the wet mixture and the olive oil and mix until smooth.
  3. Knead until stretchy. I found these quantities too small to work properly with the dough hook in my stand mixer, so I did the kneading by hand. If you double the recipe, the stand mixer should work fine.
  4. Leave to rise until doubled in size (1-2 hours depending on ambient temperature and the temperature of the water you used).
  5. Divide the dough into four, roll into flat circles of around 5mm thick. Personally, I seem to be incapable of rolling a perfect circle, so mine tend to end up oval, heart-shaped or some crazy irregular alternative. This doesn’t seem to matter too much.

The Pita version

  1. Place a pizza stone in your oven and preheat the oven to 250℃ fan
  2. When you’re ready to bake, give a circle of dough an extra roll (it’s probably shrunk a bit).
  3. Working quickly, open the oven, take the stone out, place the circle of the dough on the stone and put back into the oven. If you have space for two at a time, great.
  4. Bake for around 8 minutes (you can turn the bread half way if you want, but that’s not essential) until puffed up and crisp.
  5. Repeat for the remaining flatbreads.

The Tabun version

  1. Pour baking beads into a skillet. If using an oven, preheat it to 200℃ fan. If using the hob, heat your skillet until everything is very hot.
  2. When you’re ready to bake, give a circle of dough an extra roll (it’s probably shrunk a bit).
  3. Lay the circle of dough over the beads. If using the oven, put the skillet back in.
  4. The flatbreads should each take around 10 minutes to cook. You’ll want to turn them over half way.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.43: Sunday Bread from Antigua

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.43: Sunday Bread from Antigua

OK, so I can’t travel to Antigua right now. Or anywhere else, for that matter. But I can imagine myself on an Antiguan beach tucking into a breakfast of salt fish, eggplant and Sunday Bread.

I don’t eat that much white bread at home – our staple fare is more the rye sourdough that I make weekly – but I’ll make an exception for this Antiguan luxury version, which uses shortening to make it very puffy and soft. I’ve started with  a recipe from a Caribbean Cookbook by Freda Gore, which comes by way of food website Cooking Sense. I’ve reduced the quantities by around a third (this is only for a household of two right now) and reduced the water further, because the dough would have been far too wet without this. I’ve also modified the order slightly by blending the shortening in at the end of the mixing process in the way the French do for making brioche.

Warning: this isn’t a complex bake, but you need to handle the dough very gently: any rough treatment on this kind of bread risks a collapse.

  • 25g sugar
  • 10g yeast
  • 400 ml warm water (around 40℃)
  • 10g salt
  • 600g strong white flour
  • 125g vegetable shortening (Stork or Trex in the UK, I believe the U.S. equivalent is Crisco), at room temperature
  • 30g butter, at room temperature
  1. In a small bowl, mix sugar, yeast and water; leave for a few minutes until frothy.
  2. Cut the butter and shortening into small cubes
  3. Mix the flour and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer, then pour in your wet mix
  4. Mix gently with the dough hook or with a wooden spoon until combined. Make sure that you’ve taken the flour from the bottom of the bowl and blended it in.
  5. One third at a time, add the butter/shortening and mix on medium speed with the dough hook until most of it has been incorporated.
  6. The dough should come off the sides of the bowl pretty easily now. Form it into a ball with your hands and transfer it to an oiled bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until approximately doubled in size.
  7. Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface, flour your hands and give it a brief knead, stretching one surface of the dough and tucking the sides into the bottom, before transferring it back to the bowl.
  8. Leave to rise again until pillowy and soft. Some time during this, switch on your oven to 190℃ fan.
  9. Line a baking tray with a silicone sheet.
  10. Transfer the dough back to your floured board. Cut it into two pieces, then take a small piece of the end of each.
  11. Form each large piece into a loaf, again stretching the surface and tucking it underneath, being extra careful to preserve the airiness. Transfer your loaves to the silicone sheet.
  12. Roll each small piece into a long thin cylinder, then use this to create a decoration of your choice.
  13. Leave to rest for 10-15 minutes.
  14. Brush lightly with a little water.
  15. Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden. Use your favourite test for done-ness: hitting the back and seeing what it sounds like, poking a skewer in, or just your sense of taste and colour.
  16. Cool on a rack.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.40: Coconut cornbread from Pitcairn Island

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.40: Coconut cornbread from Pitcairn Island

So this is it: we’ve reached bake no. 40, in other words half way round the world. To celebrate, here’s a bake that’s truly from half way round the world: Pitcairn Island, roughly equidistant from New Zealand and Chile. It’s a tiny island which is truly in the middle of nowhere, so much so that you can’t a can’t even fly there: cargo boat is your only option. The island’s main trade is conducted by a dangerous looking process of taking goods out in improbably small canoes and either shinning up the steep sides of the cargo vessels or sending the goods up by pulley. Pitcairn is most famous as the place where the Bounty mutineers fetched up, so lots of the people are called Christian (Fletcher Christian was the leader of the Mutiny).

Not many people own a copy of the Pitcairn Island Cookbook, by Irma Christian, but my wife and I do, because our writer friend Dea Birkett went there in the 1990s and wrote a book, Serpent in Paradise, about her travels, including the dark side of what she found. The book reveals tge Pitcairn diet to be generally incredibly high in sugar, so I’ve chosen a recipe that’s atypical in not having much sugar at all. Essentially, it’s a fairly standard cornbread, but with the South Seas twist of using coconut milk instead of water to bind your dough together: this happens to make it really delicious, so it’s going to be my cornbread of choice from now on. Having said which, I’d probably go half-half cornmeal and plain flour rather than the 1:3 in Irma’s recipe – which is a tad erratic, by the way, so I’ve made a few critical changes.

  • 170g cornmeal (I used coarse, but fine will work also)
  • 420g plain flour
  • 10g baking powder
  • 8g salt
  • 2 tbs sunflower or corn oil
  • 400g tin coconut milk
  1. Preheat oven to 200℃ fan
  2. Grease a small, rectangular baking tin
  3. Mix all the dry ingredients
  4. Pour in the oil and coconut milk, mix until you have a smooth dough
  5. Add your dough to the tin and smooth it out. If you want to avoid a cracked ridge in the middle, score the dough with a sharp knife or razor (I didn’t bother)
  6. Bake for around 40 minutes (use the usual test that a skewer should come out dry)
  7. Cool on a rack

That’s it! A delicious, easy, low sugar bake to celebrate the half way point of this series!

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.36: Soda bread from Ireland

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.36: Soda bread from Ireland

So here’s the problem. I’m out of bread, I’m in lockdown and not heading for the shops, and it’s an hour to lunchtime. The solution? The Irish have this right: make soda bread. You can do the whole thing in 40 minutes (of which half is waiting while it’s in the oven), it’s delicious and it requires no particularly high level of skill. In short, I am confident that this will be the easiest of this whole “80 bakes”,  a winner that I keep coming back to.

You can choose any combination of flours you like: 100% white and 100% wholemeal are both fine, but my favourite is 50/50 white wheat and wholemeal spelt. The recipe specifies buttermilk, which definitely helps because of its slight acidity, but you can use milk as an alternative. I suspect that milk with a tablespoon of yoghurt would work well, although I haven’t actually tried.

If we’re all honest, this is closer to an oversized scone than a bread, which is perfectly fine, because scones are lovely. And like scones, once you’ve mastered this plain recipe, you can move on to all sorts of flavourings, sweet and savoury: raisins, honey, nuts, dates are great for sweet versions; bacon, cheese (and also nuts) for savoury.

This recipe is only slightly adapted from the one in Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s excellent How to make bread.

  • Sunflower or other oil for greasing
  • 125g white flour (plain or strong, it doesn’t really matter)
  • 125g wholemeal flour, plus a bit for the board (I use spelt, but wheat is fine)
  • 6g salt
  • 4g baking soda
  • 260g buttermilk (or 260g milk, or 240g milk plus 20g yoghurt)
  1. Preheat oven to 200℃
  2. Brush a small pie dish with a little oil
  3. Stir together all the dry ingredients in a bowl until evenly mixed
  4. Pour in the buttermilk and mix until you have an even dough with no separately visible flour. Don’t overdo the mixing.
  5. Transfer the ball of dough to a board lightly dusted with flour; with your hands also lightly floured, form it into a firm, even ball.
  6. Transfer the ball of dough to your pie dish and make two gashes across the top to form a cross.
  7. Bake for 20-30 minutes until it sounds hollow when tapped.
  8. Transfer to a rack and cool for 10 minutes or so before eating

Soda bread is best eaten immediately after that initial cooling – but if that doesn’t work out, it’s still great for a day or so. It does NOT keep particularly well.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no. 35: Naan – bread from India

Around the world in 80 bakes, no. 35: Naan – bread from India

The word “Naan” isn’t really Indian at all, nor is it particularly specific: it’s actually just the Persian word for “bread”. However, speak to any English patron of Indian restaurants and of the many wonderful breads that Indians make, naan is the one that stands out. It’s one of the simplest of their breads but one of the trickiest to get absolutely right, pillowy soft and puffy on the inside, with the thinnest of crisp outsides, and the traditional teardrop shape. When you do get it right, it’s a magical accompaniment to curries and lentil dishes.

Since there are a growing number of flatbreads in this journey, it’s worth talking about the differences between them. The first obvious thing is the choice of flour: wholemeal for aish baladi, strong white bread flour for most of the others. Next, there’s the thickness: paper thin for lavash, a centimetre or so for aish baladi or naan, deeper for focaccia. Then there’s the flavour profile: focaccia laden with olive oil and herbs, naan most likely to be flavoured with ghee and nigella seeds. There are other choices to be made, like whether to add dairy products to your dough and whether to use oil (or butter or ghee), but these often vary as much in different recipes for what’s notionally the same bread as they do between nationalities.

As a Western home cook, your inevitable problem with naan is the absence of a tandoor with its intense heat and stone sides. For most of these breads, my recommendation is now the same: put the oven on its hottest setting and use a pizza stone if you have one. If you don’t, use a heavy metal frying pan that you can put in the oven (no plastic handles). Using a frying pan will give you the “slightly scorched in patches” effect that you often get in restaurants.

The Guardian’s Felicity Cloake usually does a great job of trying out many different recipes, so I’ve gone with her ingredient list, matched to my normal flatbread-making drill. 

The quantities here made four good sized naans.

  • 300g strong white bread flour
  • 8g salt
  • 5g nigella seeds (kaloonji)
  • 150ml tepid water 
  • 6g sugar
  • 7g dried yeast
  • 100g yoghurt
  • 40g ghee (or melted butter)
  1. Mix the flour, salt and nigella seeds
  2. Mix the water, sugar and yeast; leave for a few minutes until frothy
  3. Add the yoghurt and melted ghee to your wet mixture and mix evenly
  4. Add the wet mix to the dry mix and combine to form a smooth dough
  5. Using the dough hook of your stand mixer, knead for 3-4 minutes
  6. Leave to rest for 15 minutes
  7. Knead for another 2 minutes, then transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise. Depending on the strength of your yeast and the temperature of your kitchen, this should take between one and two hours.
  8. Put your pizza stone into the oven and preheat to 250℃.
  9. On a lightly floured board, knock back your dough and divide it into four.
  10. Using a couple of baking sheets, form each of the four pieces of dough into the classic teardrop shape.
  11. Cover with tea towels and leave to prove for another 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  12. Brush with melted ghee (I forgot to do this for the photos) and bake for around 10 minutes
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.34: Chimodho – cornbread from Zimbabwe

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.34: Chimodho – cornbread from Zimbabwe

Chimodho is cornbread from Zimbabwe, where it also goes under the name of Mupotohayi. Many countries have their own versions of cornbread, sometimes several versions each; this is the first one I’ve made and I can’t vouch for it being dramatically different from a cornbread that you might get in the US, Italy or anywhere else. I can’t even vouch for it being the one and only Zimbabwean version: according to Zimbabwean blogger Princess Tafadzwa,  “Chimodho” means pretty much any homemade bread without a recipe. But I will vouch for it being one of the nicest quick bakes on this blog so far: soft, flavourful and impossibly moreish. It’s the perfect accompaniment to an autumnal soup.

I started from a recipe on zimbokitchen.com, which I used pretty much intact apart from halving the sugar content. I’m glad to have done so, since the result was in no way lacking in sweetness, but your taste may differ. I also might try making this as muffins next time rather than as a single loaf, because the crust really is sensationally good.

  • 250ml buttermilk
  • 90ml sunflower oil
  • 1 egg
  • 180g coarse cornmeal
  • 170g plain flour
  • 50g sugar
  • 6g (1 tsp) salt
  • 3g (½ tsp) baking soda
  • 4g (1 tsp) baking powder
  1. Preheat oven to 175℃ fan.
  2. Put the buttermilk, oil and egg into the bowl of your stand mixer; beat with the egg beater until very smooth. 
  3. Mix cornmeal, plain flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder evenly in a bowl, then sift them into a different bowl. Make sure that the mix is very even.
  4. Add the dry mix to the wet mix, then mix thoroughly with the ordinary paddle of your stand mixer until you have a smooth dough, which will be fairly wet. Leave for five minutes or so.
  5. In the meantime, grease a baking tin with butter.
  6. Pour the mixture into the baking tin and smooth it out to an even shape.
  7. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the bread comes out clean.
  8. Cool on a wire rack.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.30: Focaccia from Italy

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.30: Focaccia from Italy

With apologies to ciabatta-lovers, focaccia is the Italian bread par excellence. Its pillowy, soft texture, coupled with a crisp outside, a slight crunch of salt flakes and the aroma of olive oil simply can’t be beaten. 

My focaccia recipe is, to be honest, a bit of a mongrel. Prior to this strange year, I was visiting Italy around twice a year, but the best focaccia I have ever had was not made by an Italian but by an Indian chef at a hotel in the mountains of Oman who swore by a triple proving. The softest, most pillowy dough – my ideal focaccia consistency – comes from the kneading method in the Persian flatbread recipe in Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana. I’ve gone for Giorgio Locatelli’s recommendation for flour (from his Made in Italy, via Felicity Cloake’s round-up recipe in her excellent “The perfect xyz” series in The Guardian), and done toppings as suggested by Italian-American Maurizio, aka The Perfect Loaf. Personally, I think the results are well worth the extra effort, but there are certainly shortcuts available if you’re pushed for time.

Two important variables are the salt and oil content. I eat a fairly low salt diet and the amount in here is about the maximum I can take. For some, even this will be too much; for others, this won’t be nearly enough compared to the salt hit they expect from a focaccia. My focaccia is also relatively low in oil: you may prefer to drizzle on a lot more than me. You’re just going to have to experiment until you get these to your taste.

Also, I’ve opted for a 40cm x 30cm tray, which gives a flattish focaccia with a relatively short, hot baking time. A variation would be to use a smaller, higher-sided tin and a lower temperature (say 200℃) for a loaf with a higher ratio of inside softness to outside crust.

  • 400ml warm water (around 40℃)
  • 20g sugar
  • 8g dried yeast
  • 375g strong white bread flour
  • 375g OO flour
  • 10g salt
  • 100ml olive oil, plus 30ml for the drizzle
  • A tablespoon or so semolina flour (optional)
  • 12 cherry tomatoes
  • 24 black olives, pitted
  • Half a dozen sprigs of rosemary
  • 20ml cold water
  • 10g sea salt flakes

There are some options as to how to prepare baking trays. You’re trying to get high heat onto the base of your focaccia as soon as you can, so Cloake suggests that you preheat a pizza stone in your oven and “transfer” the focaccia to it. That’s all very well, but it’s difficult to transfer a large rectangle of dough while keeping its shape, without the toppings falling off. I opted for a metal baking tray placed onto the stone: metal is a good conductor and this did the job just fine. An alternative is to lay out your focaccia on baking parchment: if you don’t have a pizza stone, you’ll want to preheat the metal tray and then move your dough to the heated tray while still on its parchment base.

As ever, rising times depend completely on the temperature in your kitchen, and the alternatives should be obvious if you don’t have a stand mixer.

  1. Combine water, sugar and yeast; leave for a few minutes until frothy
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the flours and salt and stir until mixed evenly
  3. Add the wet mix and 100ml olive oil to the dry mix
  4. With the standard paddle, mix for a minute or so until you have a smooth dough: you should find that it comes away cleanly from the sides of bowl
  5. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5 minutes
  6. Leave to stand for 10 minutes, then knead for another 2 minutes. Repeat this.
  7. Brush a little olive oil over the surface of a large bowl, transfer your ball of dough to it, cover and leave to rise for around 60-90 minutes.
  8. If you’re using baking parchment, line your baking tray with it. Optionally, dust a tablespoon or two of semolina flour over this.
  9. Knock back the dough and shape it into a rectangle covering the whole tray, Make it as even as you can: you’ll get some resistance, but you can pull it around with little danger of tearing.
  10. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for another 45 minutes or so.
  11. If using a pizza stone, put it into your oven now. Otherwise, slide the parchment sheet off your baking tray and put the tray into the oven.
  12. Preheat oven to 250℃ fan (or as near as you can get).
  13. Leave the dough for its second rise, around 45-60 minutes. 
  14. Meanwhile, prepare  your toppings: chop of blitz the rosemary very fine, halve the cherry tomatoes. If your olives came in brine, wash them thoroughly to remove the salt.
  15. Uncover the dough and with a finger, press a pattern of 6 x 8 indentations into it with a finger, going deep. Press the cherry tomato halves and the olives into the indentations in a chequerboard pattern (that’s why I’ve been fussy about the numbers). Sprinkle the rosemary evenly over the top.
  16. Cover with a tea towel again and leave for another 30-45 minutes.
  17. Prepare a mixture of 30ml olive oil and 20ml water, whisking with a fork until emulsified. Spread this evenly over the focaccia.
  18. Sprinkle the sea salt flakes evenly over.
  19. Now work quickly: open the oven, take out the stone or tray, transfer your focaccia to it, replace it in the oven and close. Now reduce the oven temperature to 225℃.
  20. Bake for around 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
  21. Remove from the oven, slide the focaccia onto whatever board or tray you’re going to serve it on, and leave to cool for a few minutes before eating. This may be the hardest thing in the recipe, but you don’t want to burn your mouth!
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.27: Lavash from Armenia

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.27: Lavash from Armenia

Everyone agrees that Armenia’s national bread is baked in a tandoor-type oven and is called Lavash. Beyond that, however, it gets confusing: there’s yeasted or unleavened Lavash, there’s thick, puffy Lavash or wafer-thin crispbread Lavash. I’ve gone for a thin, yeasted version, soft enough to use as a wrap bread.

The Wikipedia article on Lavash has a fabulous short video of two Armenian women making the bread: they toss the sheets of dough and fold them over forearms before one of them stretches it impossibly thin then places it on a rounded wooden board just suited for slapping it into the oven such that it sticks to the inside. You can’t really come close to replicating that in a Western kitchen, both because a domestic oven doesn’t behave remotely like the large wood-fired Middle Eastern version and because of the years of skill required to stretch the dough the way they do. Still, my approximation wasn’t bad, using wooden boards, a large rectangular pizza stone and a fan oven turned up to maximum.

As with most baking, you can rely on the quantities shown here but you can’t rely on the timings: they’re all far too dependent on the temperature and humidity of your kitchen,  the exact characteristics of your oven and on how thin you dare stretch the dough. Lavash should be pretty tolerant of a half hour or more either way on the rise times, but where you really need to watch it is on the baking time. At three minutes, my first one turned to crispbread: delicious, but with no possibility of using it for wrapping. Two minutes was a bit on the doughy side; two and a half was just about perfect.

  • 350ml warm water (around 40℃)
  • 8g dried yeast
  • 20g sugar
  • 500g strong white flour, plus plenty more for rolling
  • 10g salt
  • sunflower or olive oil for coating
  1. The usual start for bread: mix the water, yeast and sugar and wait for it to go foamy.
  2. Mix the flour and salt.
  3. Blend your wet and dry mixes to form a dough, then knead in a stand mixer for around 10 minutes.
  4.  Brush some oil over the inside of a large bowl. Form your dough into a ball and put it in the bowl, then brush more oil to coat the top of the ball also.
  5. Cover and leave to rise for around 90 minutes at room temperature, until the dough is large and nicely stretchy.
  6. When the dough has nearly risen, put your pizza stone into the oven and preheat to its highest temperature (mine was 250℃ fan)
  7. Punch the dough back, divide the dough into eight pieces and put each piece back into the bowl, coating it with oil as you go.
  8. Cover and leave to rise for another 30 minutes
  9. Once the dough is rising, get everything ready for rolling and baking: once you start putting things in the oven, you’re going to want to work quickly. Choose a board that you’re going to roll the bread onto and flour it generously. Have your flour jar, a spoon, a rolling pin and a scraper ready. And have a basket ready for the finished Lavash, lined with a tea towel and with a second towel next to it ready to be used as a cover.
  10. Take a ball of dough and roll it flat: make sure there’s plenty of flour on the board, on your rolling pin and on both sides of your ball of dough, or it will stick. When you’ve rolled it as flat as possible, if you dare, throw it back and forth over your forearm a few times to stretch it further.
  11. Now the tricky part: working quickly, open your oven, pull the stone out, lay the sheet of dough onto the stone, push it back into the oven and close the door. Set a timer for 2½ minutes.
  12. While the first Lavash is baking, roll out and stretch the next one.
  13. Open the oven, take out the Lavash and put it in your basket, lay out the second sheet on the stone, close the oven and reset your timer. Cover the bread with the second tea towel to keep it warm.
  14. Repeat until you’ve done all eight balls.

Our wrap filling, created by my daughter, was a layer of yoghurt and dill, shredded roast spiced chicken, and a salad of finely diced tomato and baby cucumber. The resulting meal was simple, outstandingly full of flavour and worth way more than the sum of its parts.