I never really thought bread was expensive. I mean, four dollars per loaf or whatever seemed pretty harmless to a teenager with minimal responsibilities and controlled income. Then, I tried living on my own, and suddenly – $4 per week? Are you kidding me?! And that’s just for the basic stuff. What if I wanted something rustic? Something hearty? Something that was any amount of impressive? The day I learned the cost of the ingredients in a loaf of bread was the day I got sick of paying for it.
Flour, water, yeast, salt. Seriously, that’s it. If you have a minimal amount of patience, or at least a very reliable kitchen timer – you can make pretty much anything you want. At least that’s my philosophy.
I started making my own bread when I was about 25. Everything from baguettes to banana bread were fair game, and six years later I can’t really say that I’ve mastered any of them.
This book is for serious carb-lovers. Slow Dough: Real Bread was written by Chris Young, the coordinator for the Real Bread Campaign. I’m sure you can guess what I mean when they refer to “real bread,” right? They’re talking about the kind of bread that you can’t squish down into a one centimeter cube. Bread that literally crackles when you tear it apart. Crusty, fluffy, moist (sorry), craggy, real bread.
The “slow dough” part of this book is everyone’s least favorite part: the waiting. The bread that I made from this book was one of the quicker ones – and it still took me a day and a half from start to finish. Luckily, I’m a fiend for tedious cooking projects, and the bread I made was definitely worth the wait.
After flipping through the first several pages of this (beautiful) book, I felt like I could bake pretty much everything. Slow Dough: Real Bread has a ton of technical information in the beginning chapters, including terminology and definitions. After reading about the techniques and tips for succeeding with recipes in Slow Dough: Real Bread, I picked out The Stirchley Loaf.
Actually, my boyfriend chose this recipe out of the first chapter of breads that didn’t require a sourdough starter . Naturally, he picks the one with the most beautiful, decorative flourishes and I have never made bread like this in my life!
The Stirchley Loaf comes from Tom Baker, the found of the Loaf Cookery School in a town called Stirchley near Birminham in the UK. It’s part of Slow Dough: Real Bread’s Pre-Fermented bread recipes. That basically means that a mixture of flour, water, and yeast is left to sit overnight (ferment) before it is added to the rest of the dough. It’s the only chapter of the book that doesn’t require sourdough starters (more on that later because I totally made one and I’m scared of it).
Dude, you guys… This bread made me feel like Ina Garten. Like I said, I’ve made bread before, like the completely yeast-free soda bread and some other basic yeast breads,. I’ve even made potato bread before, but it wasn’t anything like this, it was more like soft, store-bought sandwich bread. The Stirchley Loaf from Slow Dough, on the other hand, was like something Belle would buy at the market in Beauty and The Beast. Old school bread.
The crust was thick and chewy, the inside was soft but not delicate at all… It was kind of amazing. This is the kind of bread you see sliced thinly and toasted on the sides of soups and salads in fancy restaurants. I seriously can’t believe that I made this. I made this!
Sometimes, when you make bread at home, the crust is perfectly hard and “knock-able” (you know what I mean?) on the first day you bake it, but as soon as you put it in a bag or wrap it up, that crust gets softer. It’s not bad, but it’s also not very rustic.
This bread… doesn’t do that. Admittedly, it only lasted about three days, but each of those three days, I woke up to a pleasantly tough crust that toasted up beautifully.
I took the time to read all of the educational portions of the book. Chapters like Terms and Techniques, Equipment, Ingredients, and the most incredible addition, the Troubleshooting chapter were all partially responsible for my success. There’s even a chapter about what to do with leftover bread, but don’t expect to use it too often… This stuff disappears. Quick.
As far as the baking process goes, it was a lot of waiting. First, I waited overnight for the “sponge” to ferment, then I waited a total of 4 hours for two more rising sessions… It’s very lazy work, baking. There are some notes about my experience with this particular recipe at the bottom of the post, but overall, it was really easy to do!
The Stirchley Loaf from Slow Dough: Real Bread
Reprinted with permission
Makes 1 loaf or two small loaves
From mixing to oven: overnight plus 4-6 hours
Baking time: 35-45 minutes
|For the sponge:
For the dough:
Benign notes (neither positive or negative):
I wish that I had allowed the dough to proof (rise) in an oven with the pilot light on, or even the not-warm microwave. I didn’t get the rise I wanted out of the bread, and I think it’s due to how cold my “room temp” was when I proofed it. A room that was little bit warmer, or a rise that took a little bit longer, would have helped this bread be as craggy and expanded as I wanted it to be.
This dough… is sticky. Like crazy sticky. I think that the potato I used (a russet) was very, very hydrating and I probably could have pressed some of that water out, or squeezed the grated potato and then added it to prevent that incredible stickiness. You learn in the first few chapters that adding too much flour to the dough during kneading can change the resulting texture and spring of the bread, so I didn’t add too much and was literally coated in sticky dough.
As I said, I used a russet potato without noticing that the picture in the upper corner of the recipe shows a red potato being grated. Way different texture from a way different potato. Next time, I’ll try using a red, apparently unpeeled potato.
Basically, if you’re a baker or even a newbie to bread-making, this book is effectively a bread bible. Every basic recipe is there, from the most perfect white sandwich bread to baguettes. On the contrary, this book has so much more than bread in it. Recipes with “cake” in the title, glazed breads, sweets… You could eat bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner with this thing.
One of my favorite part of this book is how appreciative it is of international breads. Cultures around the world have been baking bread or bread-like food items for centuries, and this book is rich with cultural influences.
- Feeling adventurous? Try Fryske Sûkerbôle: a sweet, sticky, spiced loaf traditionally given to Dutch women who had just given birth to a little girl.
- For something a little more Welsh, Bara Brith is packed with dried fruit and has a shiny apricot glaze. Yum!?
- The Scottish recipe in this book for Hairst Breid is basically a meal, packed with whole grains, fiber, barley, and oats.
- Pulla, the Finnish tea bread, is infused with cardamom and is shapes into rolls. Easier to devour!
- Oh my gosh, I have an insane need for Lahmacun, also called “Armenian Pizza” because it’s a flatbread loaded with ground lamb, veggies, and a red sauce, served with a dollop of yogurt, onion, lemon, and herbs.
- There’s even street food! Simit is a ring-shaped bread from Istanbul. It’s covered in sesame seeds and coated with “pekmez,” or grape molasses.
- And, yes. There is a Naan recipe and it looks authentic and incredible.
There are even more international recipes in here that will not only excite your taste buds, but widen your perspective on world history a little bit. What more could you ask for from a bread book?
If you’re looking for a beautiful, original cookbook to add to your collection, definitely consider checking out Slow Dough: Real Bread by Chris Young of the Real Bread Campaign (& more). It’s on Amazon for $29.95 with used copies available and a Kindle download for $8.99.