Kneading

No knead bread

no knead bread X

Why does modern life seem to involve so much unnecessary labour? Is it because we have a deep need as humans to feel useful? Work = purpose, whereas idling = useless.

But as life is so busy these days surely we should take the easy option when we can – especially when it produces the same or similar results.

I have long been a fan of the no iron clothes washing method, whereby I take garments out of the dryer before they’re completely dry and hang them on coat hangers for the wrinkles to fall out with no effort.

And in recent years we’ve been trying the no dig gardening method at the allotment and so far it has produced equivalent and in some cases better results for much less work.

Than last week I was listening to Nathan Myhrvold, author of ‘Modernist Bread’, on Radio 4’s Food Programme and he said that you really don’t need to knead bread to produce a good loaf.

I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear this (that’s how sad I am). I just had to put it to the test.

So I made Ben’s standard loaf but just skipped the kneading part. And what do you know, it worked just fine. The finished loaf looked a little bit rougher but the texture and flavour were excellent and possibly even better than usual.

Now this method does mean that you need to leave the dough to rise for a lot longer (8-10 hours) but this fits in more conveniently with a standard working day. Bung all the ingredients together quickly in the morning (without kneading) and the dough will be ready for its second proving (and baking) once you return from work.

PS. I can vouch that it works on pizza dough too (basic recipe here) just skip the kneading part and leave to prove for 8-10 hours.

PPS. Of course the really easy option would be to buy a factory made loaf from the supermarket or a pricey, artisan one from your local deli, but nothing beats homemade, especially when the effort to reward ratio is so high.

Ben’s bread (the no knead version)

Makes one large loaf

  • 900g of strong bread flour (mainly white with 200-300g of spelt or wholemeal if you like)
  • 12g of salt
  • 6g of easy bake yeast
  • 550ml of water
  • (Optional) A small handful of seeds of your choice e.g. sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, poppy

Add all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Bring together with your hands until well mixed together (use a wooden spoon if you prefer).

Leave in the bowl covered with cling film to rise. How long this takes will depend on the temperature in your house but it is likely to need at least 8 hours if it’s just sat on your work surface, although longer is fine and may well be necessary if it’s a cold day.

Once it has at least doubled in size, briefly knock back the dough with your hands and tip the mix into a greased bread tin (ours is 28.5cm long, 13.5cm wide and 7cm deep).

Leave to rise in the tin for about another hour. It is difficult to be precise here but the dough needs to reach just above the top of the tin.

Preheat the oven to 220oC or 230oC if, like me, you like a really golden crust and put a tin of boiling water in the bottom of the oven to create some steam (this also helps with the crust formation).

Bake for 18 minutes at 220oC/230oC.

Then remove from the tin and bake for 17 minutes at 180oC.

Leave to cool before slicing.

Ben’s Bread

kneading

Bread seems to be the new BBQ when it comes to men and cooking, perhaps spurred on by that blue eyed philanderer Mr Paul Hollywood, although I personally put it down to the slight aggression that’s needed for an effective knead. My husband just loves making bread and this is his very own recipe, refined after years of practice.

I feel very, very lucky when bread is home baked for me (although this happens a lot less often now our lives are busy with children). I’m sure that we all wake up with an extra spring in our step when we know that there is going to be fresh bread for breakfast. In theory you can fit this recipe into an evening starting at 6 and ending before 10. The only time consuming stage is the first knead and after that it’s mainly about waiting but you do have to be on the ball. We’ve often dozed off on the sofa watching television and forgotten about the bread.

Ben’s bread

Makes a large family size loaf using a bread tin 23.5 x 13.3 x 6.99 cm

  • 450g strong white bread flour
  • 100g wholemeal or rye flour
  • Handful of nuts and seeds (one or a mixture of the following; sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, poppy seeds)
  • 6g dried instant action yeast
  • 10g salt
  • 350g tepid water

Measure all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Add the water gradually mixing with your hands until it comes together in a soft dough.

Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and knead vigorously for at least 10 minutes.

Place the dough back into the bowl, cover with cling film and leave to prove for at least 2 hours (although you can leave for up to 3) by which time the dough should have doubled in size.

Take the dough out of the bowl and whack it down onto the work surface a few times to remove all the air. Then knead for a further 2 minutes before putting into a lightly oiled bread tin.

Cover the tin lightly with a tea towel and leave to prove again for about 45 minutes. The dough needs to rise up above the line of the tin into a dome like shape, but don’t leave it for too long otherwise it runs out of energy and collapses in the oven.

bread rising

This is how the bread should look just before it goes into the oven.

Preheat your oven to 220oC fan. When the bread has proved bake as follows:

  • 220oC for 15 minutes
  • 180oC for 10 minutes
  • Remove bread from the tin and then return to the oven for a further 8 minutes at 180oC
The finished loaf.

The finished loaf.

Home-made pasta

When I was bought my beloved pasta machine Jamie Oliver had just published ‘The Return of the Naked Chef’ which had a whole section on making your own pasta. Keen to learn the art, I bought a copy of his book and was horrified to find that his ‘blinding pasta recipe’ used 4 whole eggs and no less than 8 egg yolks to serve just 4 people. Did the man not realise the price of eggs and how much the recipe would cost his readers to make? Undeterred, I managed to find this more economical recipe in an old Marks and Spencer’s Italian Cookery book published in 1979. It works just fine for me and I have been using it happily for 13 years.

The great thing about home-made pasta is that although it takes a little time to make it takes hardly any time at all to cook – just 1-2 minutes. It may seem like a lot of faffing about, and I’m sure pasta machines often appear on those lists of useless kitchen gadgets, but it’s so rewarding to make your own pasta from scratch and it really is delicious.

This recipe does require a pasta machine to roll out (you probably could do it with a rolling pin but that sounds like really hard work to me). I have an Imperia Pasta Maker with a spaghetti attachment which my sister bought me from Italy (but you can buy them here from John Lewis). It’s very well made and still going strong after lots of use.

Basic pasta recipe

Serves 4

  • 350g flour*
  • 3 eggs
  • A good pinch of salt
  • A dessert spoon of olive oil

*Until very recently I always just used plain flour (the original recipe doesn’t specify) and I was always happy with the results. Recently though I have been splashing out and buying ‘00’ flour as McDougalls now do this for a reasonable price. I think there is a small difference in that the pasta holds its shape better when boiled.

Put all of the above ingredients in a bowl and mix together with your hands until it comes together in a ball.

Lightly flour your work surface and knead the dough for a few minutes until smooth. Kneading pasta dough is much harder work than kneading bread dough. I think most recipes advise kneading for longer than I manage, usually about 3 minutes. Wrap the dough in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour.

The dough.

The dough.

Now for the fun bit. Clamp your pasta machine to your work surface and set the machine to its thickest setting. Divide your dough into four and working with one ball at a time (keeping the others covered with the cling film so they don’t dry out) start by flattening the ball a little with your hands and then running through the machine. If the dough starts to crack a little (this often happens to me as I don’t knead for long enough) don’t worry, just fold the piece in two and run through the machine again until it softens up a bit, you may need to do this several times. Once smooth keep rolling the piece through the machine changing for thinner and thinner settings until you have the thickness you need for the type of pasta you want to make (see below for advice on this). It helps to dust the sheet lightly with flour each time you roll it through.

Rolling out using child labour.

Rolling out using child labour.

Flouring the pasta sheets.

Flouring the pasta sheets.

I use a clothes drying rack to hold the sheets while I repeat the process with the other three balls.

When I first got my pasta machine I can remember finding the rolling out rather tricky, it felt like I needed a third hand. But it didn’t take long to get the hang of it. My children absolutely love helping to roll out the pasta however it does take three times as long and a fair few arguments about whose turn it is to turn the handle.

Hanging out to dry.

Hanging out to dry.

Edgar with pasta

And again, 2 and a half years later.

Lasagne sheets
Use the thinnest thickness setting when rolling out. You will need to cut and trim the sheets to fit your oven dish. I usually do this once the pasta is cooked as the sheets expand slightly.

Tagliatele – hand cut
For hand cut tagliatele I use the thinnest thickness setting when rolling out with the machine. I then lay the sheets on a floured bread board and cut into strips with a knife about an inch thick but you don’t need to be exact. This gives a rustic feel but it does take a while.

Tagliatele – machine cut
This is quicker than the above method, again use the thinnest thickness setting. Then flour the pasta sheets before passing through the thicker side of the machine’s cutter which makes strips 1/2 cm thick.

Noodles
For noodles I use the second to last thickness setting when rolling out and then cut with the thinner side of the machine’s cutter.

Once the pasta is cut into the desired shape simply cook in a large pan of boiling water for 1-2 minutes or until cooked. If the pasta has been left to dry out for a while on the rack then it may need longer.

Cooked pasta.

Cooked pasta.

A good tip if you want to precook your pasta for use later is to immerse it in a bowl of iced water immediately after boiling and draining. This is great for fried noddle dishes where the noodles are best added cold. Once completely cool you can also then drain the noodles and toss in a little oil. They will then keep in the fridge for a few days or until you are ready to use.

Accompaniments to home-made pasta

For me the perfect sauce to accompany home-made pasta is a good pesto. See my post ‘Things in jars – pickling and pesto’ for a couple of recipes.

Other good uses are Pad Thai (noodles) and a meaty Ragu (tagliatele). Recipes for these will appear on this blog soon.