John C. Kirk (johnckirk) wrote,
John C. Kirk

I feel the need ... the need to knead!

About 10 years ago, while I was working at my previous job, one of my colleagues bought a breadmaker. This inspired several other people to do the same, including me, but the novelty soon wore off, so it sat unused for a long time. More recently, I've started using it again, and that's been going well: it's cheaper than buying a loaf from the supermarket, and the bread tastes nicer. When I've bought loaves, I've often wound up throwing some/all of the bread into the bin when it's gone mouldy, but when I bake bread at home and make sandwiches for work, I have to fight the urge to just eat the bread right away.

Now that I've been doing that for a while, I've decided to take it to the next stage. I bought a 2lb (900g) loaf tin from the supermarket recently, so I can make dough in the breadmaker and then transfer it to the tin to bake in the oven. This has a few advantages:

1) The breadmaker leaves a hole in the middle of the base (from the paddle), so I can avoid that by using a tin.

2) This is an interim step towards ditching the breadmaker altogether, which would free up some counter space in the kitchen.

3) The loaf tin has slightly different dimensions to the breadmaker (the loaf tin is longer whereas the breadmaker tin is taller), and this means that the slices fit into my lunchbox.

When the breadmaker had finished, I pulled the dough out onto my worktop and knocked it back, i.e. punched it to get rid of all the air. It's probably not strictly necessary to say "Woh-pah!" as I do that, but I like to think that it adds to the ambience. After that, I knead the dough; I don't have any photos of this process, since I need both hands to do the kneading. Anyway, once I've finished, I shape it into a rough oblong and put it into the loaf tin, so that it fills most of the base. I then cover the tin loosely with clingfilm and leave the dough to rise. After about an hour, it looks like this:

Risen dough

Meanwhile, I pre-heat the oven to 230°C. Once the dough has risen, I remove the clingfilm, and put the tin in the oven for 30 minutes. It comes out looking like this:

Baked loaf in tin

Removing it from the tin:

Baked loaf on rack

As a side note, I've found that the bread comes out of the loaf tin very easily, whereas I normally have to spend a few minutes shaking the breadmaker tin vigorously before I give up and use a knife to lever it out.

Once the bread has cooled, I can slice it, and it fits nicely into my Doctor Who lunchbox:

Sliced bread

If I do the whole thing in the breadmaker, it takes 3h25m. If I just use the breadmaker for dough, that takes 1h30m, then the rest of the process takes about another 1h30m, so it's a bit quicker overall. On the other hand, if I do it in the breadmaker then I can set it going and come back at the end, whereas with the manual process I need to do a couple of extra steps in the middle. All in all, I think that the manual method is worth it, and I've still got the breadmaker as my fallback option. Later on, if I make the dough completely from scratch, I could make two loaves at once, then freeze one of them; however, I'm not sure whether it would taste as nice as fresh bread.

Following on from that, I had another go at pizza making last night. My last attempt wasn't very successful, so this time I made the pizza base from scratch.

I used Delia's recipe for this; she recommends plain flour (rather than strong flour), which goes against the instructions for my breadmaker, so it seemed best to follow her whole recipe (as shuripentu advised) rather than making the dough in the breadmaker. Also, my breadmaker has a glass panel in the top so that I can watch what it does, and there really isn't that much to it: I put in all the ingredients, then it just has a paddle that spins around and mixes everything together.

Delia says: "Begin by warming the flour slightly in the oven for about 10 minutes". This is one of those vague instructions that's a bit frustrating; what does "slightly" mean? I told the oven to heat up to 180°C (standard temperature) and put the bowl of flour in when it had reached 115°C. After 10 minutes, the bowl was too hot for me to touch, so I had to use oven gloves to handle it, which is a bit cumbersome. I also found that the flour had clumped together a bit. In fairness, the bottom of the recipe says "Pre-heat the oven to its lowest setting", so I probably had it a bit too hot. Ah well, never mind; that's why I document these experiments, so that I can refer back to my notes later.

I then sifted the flour into a bowl. I think my aim is improving with practice: I've found that it helps to just put a small amount of flour into the sieve at a time, rather than tipping in the whole lot at once. Next, I added the salt, yeast, and sugar. Delia recommends golden caster sugar, but I just used normal caster sugar; I already have cane sugar, icing sugar, soft brown sugar, and demerara sugar in my cupboards, so two varieties of caster sugar seems a bit excessive. I then made a well in the middle of the bowl; I forgot that the flour was hot until I stuck my fingers into it, but fortunately it had cooled down a bit. The bowl of ingredients then looked like this:

Pizza flour with well

I added a tablespoon of olive oil:

Pizza flour with oil

Then I poured in 120ml of "hand hot" water:

Pizza flour with water

Next, I mixed it all together with a wooden spoon (this only took a minute or so):

Pizza dough mixed with wooden spoon

I then finished mixing the dough with my fingers, making sure that it all stuck together. I took it out of the bowl so that I could knead it on the worktop, then put it back in the bowl afterwards:

Pizza dough after kneading

Apparently it should have "a sheen and blisters under the surface" at this point. I'm not quite sure whether this is what it's supposed to look like, but it worked out ok. I covered the bowl with clingfilm, and left it for an hour to rise. When I removed the clingfilm, it looked like this:

Pizza dough after rising

That looks like about double the original size, which is what it should be. So, I tipped it out onto the worktop, punched it, and rolled it into an approximate circle:

Pizza dough rolled out

I measured it with a ruler, and it's 25cm across, which is the right size. Admittedly, it's not exactly circular, but near enough. Delia says that I should finish stretching it out with my hands, but that didn't really work; it was already the right width (following her previous instructions), and I couldn't stretch it any further without making it too thin in the middle. So, I just tried to put a vague rim around the edge so that the toppings wouldn't fall off.

Meanwhile, I'd preheated the oven to 230°C (combined cook, not fan assisted) with the baking tray inside. I took the tray out and put the dough onto it; this involved peeling it off the worktop, so it distorted the shape a bit more. Once it was on the baking tray, I arranged the first layer of cheese (ricotta/gorgonzola/mozzarella):

Pizza with first layer of cheese

(I did consider susannahf's advice to try simpler toppings, but I still have excess cheese from my previous attempt which is going past its date, so I needed to use that up. I've bought a jar of pizza sauce, so I'll use that in a future attempt.)

I then sprinkled parmesan cheese over the top:

Pizza with second layer of cheese

Then I put it into the oven for 10 minutes. While it was in there, I noticed that the baking tray "warped" a bit:

Baking tray warping in oven

In other words, three of the corners are flat on the shelf, but the other one has lifted up, implying that the tray has bent in the middle. That's never happened before, so maybe it's because I don't normally run the oven this hot. (I typically cook at 180°C, and last time I used the special pizza tray.) Ah well, the tray is getting a bit manky anyway, so if necessary I can replace it.

Once the pizza finished cooking, I transferred it to my plate:

Pizza intact on my plate

After I cut it up, some of the cheese ran off the slices onto the plate, which may mean that I'd slightly overcooked it:

Sliced pizza on my plate

As always, the key question is "how did it taste?" I'm pleased to say that this came out a lot better than my previous attempt, and I'd say that it's at least as good as a supermarket "reheat at home" version. In particular, the dough was a lot softer, which is good. It did taste a bit salty; normally I like a lot of salt, but even by my standards this seemed a bit much, so I'll try using less next time. If it wasn't for that, I'd say that this was close to takeway standard.

My previous attempt cost £1.85 for 382g vs £3.29 for 300g (pre-made). This one cost £2.96 for 525g, so it's more expensive than before but still cheaper than the supermarket version (and definitely cheaper than a takeaway). It was also a lot more substantial. Delia's recipe said that it serves 2, but I'd normally expect to eat a pizza this size on my own. Today, I felt satisfied after I'd eaten half of it; I ate the whole thing, but I would have been happy to split it with someone else.

So, all in all, I'll rate this experiment as a success.
Tags: dr who, food, pmsi

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