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
600g strong white flour
Optional: a generous grind of black pepper, to taste
Sunflower oil for greasing
a small amount of beaten egg for the egg wash
Warm the milk to around 40℃. If it goes hotter, let it cool to 40℃ before using, or you’ll kill the yeast.
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.
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.
Add the wet mixture and mix until you have a smooth dough: it should come away from the sides of the bowl.
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.
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.
Grease your loaf tin
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.
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.
Cover the loaf tin and leave to rise for another hour.
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.
When the loaf is risen, brush it with beaten egg and put it in the oven.
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.
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.
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.
400 ml warm water (around 40℃)
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
In a small bowl, mix sugar, yeast and water; leave for a few minutes until frothy.
Cut the butter and shortening into small cubes
Mix the flour and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer, then pour in your wet mix
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.
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.
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.
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.
Leave to rise again until pillowy and soft. Some time during this, switch on your oven to 190℃ fan.
Line a baking tray with a silicone sheet.
Transfer the dough back to your floured board. Cut it into two pieces, then take a small piece of the end of each.
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.
Roll each small piece into a long thin cylinder, then use this to create a decoration of your choice.
Leave to rest for 10-15 minutes.
Brush lightly with a little water.
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.
Almost every street corner in East Jerusalem has a vendor with a trolley piled high with hoops of sesame-encrusted white bread called Ka’ak Al Quds: the aroma of fresh baking and toasted sesame is overpowering and irresistible. London-based chef Sami Tamimi, originally from East Jerusalem, has published a glorious book on Palestinian cuisine entitled Falastin (the Arabic language, he explains, does not have a letter “P”, so it should perhaps be “Falastinian”). I cannot recommend the book highly enough and you really, really should go out and buy it, so I hope Sami will forgive me for reproducing my version of his recipe here.
10g dried yeast
300ml lukewarm water (around 40℃)
40g olive oil
250g strong white flour
250g plain white flour
15g dried skimmed milk
20ml milk (or water)
60g sesame seeds
This will make six of the hoops-shaped loaves: you will be able to fit two at a time onto a typical baking tray (something like 35cm x 25cm). If you have three trays and a big enough oven, you can bake the whole batch at a time; otherwise, you’ll have to do them in two or three batches.
In a bowl or jug, combine the yeast, sugar, lukewarm water and olive oil and stir well. Leave for 5-10 minutes until it’s frothing nicely
In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the flours, salt and dried skimmed milk and stir until evenly mixed
Add the wet mix to your dry mix and knead with the dough hook until smooth (by the way, Sami’s recipe says 270ml, but I found I needed a bit more).
Form into a ball and leave to rise in an oiled, covered bowl. Usual bread-making rules apply: the warmer the place you leave it, the quicker it will rise, so there’s no point in my giving you a numbers of hours it will take.
Cut three rectangles of baking paper big enough to line your tray.
Once your dough has risen, divide it evenly into six balls. Take the trouble to weigh them to make sure they’re about the same – expect around 150g each.
Take a ball of dough, mould it to a flattened sphere, poke a hole through the middle of your sphere of dough and pull it apart to form an elongated doughnut shape. Pull it to most of the length of your tray, trying to keep the width as even as possible, which is tricky, and place it on one of your rectangles of baking paper; now repeat for the other five balls.
Cover the loaves loosely with tea towels and leave for another half hour or so.
Preheat your oven to 220℃ fan, with your baking tray(s) inside
Lay out the sesame seeds in a dish longer than your loaves (or on a board if you don’t have one)
Beat the egg together with the milk
When you’re ready to bake, brush a loaf with the egg wash, dip it wash side down into the sesame seeds and ensure that it’s thoroughly coated.
Put the loaf back onto the baking paper, sesame side up, and repeat for as many loaves as you’re going to do now.
Take a baking tray out of the oven and transfer the baking paper rectangle with its two loaves onto it. To do this, you will probably either need two people or a tray of some sort.
Bake for 10-15 minutes – you want the loaf to be a deep golden brown but not actually burning.
Leave to cool for a few minutes before eating: this bread is at its best straight out of the oven, but you don’t want to burn your tongue!