Last year I had a veritable epiphany with regards to baking in general and bread in particular, when I discovered, through a noble gesture of a fellow foodblogger who introduced me to sourdough, that you can make bread at home, in a conventional oven, that tastes miles better than anything you can buy in a shop (at least that's true for the UK). With the basic ingredients (sourdough cultures I have been nurturing since last summer and believe me, we have developed a relationship almost close enough to want to find pet names for them) and a few tricks for putting together the dough (folding, kneading, forming) and the actual baking (steaming is the key!), I am now in a position where I very rarely have to buy bread at all - only when time constraints don't allow me to bake.
Now in that light, you probably wonder why there aren't more bread recipes on this site. The answer is two-fold: firstly, after weeks and months of trying various recipes, I have found a handful that are our favourites (eg a simple French country loaf in the style of Poîlane) and that fit in well with our daily routines (the various rises can span over a day and then there's a more intensive phase with can involve hourly folding of the dough - not ideal if you've got to chauffeur three kids around all day or a workplace to go to) - so my baking circles around household staples rather than new creations every other day. Secondly, I am really struggling with the photography part - you want to show it off inside and out and there's only so many ways you can stack a few slices of bread...
But if you excuse the lack of aesthetics, I can treat you to a recipe that I make quite a lot and that works equally well as a round "free-style" loaf as well as baked in a loaf tin (lately, we've been having a lot of the latter). I first tried my hand at it when my brother-in-law came to visit and we were discussing the many delicious types of bread available from Austrian bakeries. One favourite has always been a bread roll with carrots and various seeds and I was dying to get my hands on a recipe to show him that I actually COULD make something that tasted equally good than what he can buy day in, day out at his local supermarket.
Another coincidence and many weeks later, I was trawling through the sidebar of newly discovered Ye olde bread blogge which not only has brilliant recipes, but whose owner is in love with Austrian bread. Through him I learnt that Viennese baker Stroeck of the aforementioned rolls has a bread baking book out - you've never seen anyone order a book faster! Sure enough, the recipe was a winner (fully convinced brother-in-law that we suffer from bread cravings no more) - and there are tons of earmarks (guilty as charged!) in the book for more delicacies... as soon as I am back in London after my current 6-week holiday, I will be getting started! I am not missing the bread necessarily given that we have great bakeries here in Austria, but the therapeutic effects of making your own loaf!
Sourdough bread with carrots, linseed & pumpkin seeds*
For the starter: (prepare the night before)
100 g rye sourdough (100% hydration)
80 g water
100 g rye flour
80 g linseeds
80 g pumpkin seeds
150 g simmering water
For the final dough:
200 g carrots (julienned or coarsely grated*)
650 g wheat flour
25 g fresh yeast - dissolved in 350 ml luke-warm water
50 ml vegetable oil
15 - 20 g salt
The night before baking, mix the ingredients for the starter in a tall jar and cover with a moist kitchen towel. Leave to stand on your kitchen worktop. Make sure there is enough room in the jar for the sourdough to rise considerably.
The following morning, soak the seeds in the simmering water for about 30 minutes. Combine 200 g of the starter (any remaining can be kept in the fridge to maintain a 80% culture) with the ingredients for the final dough and the seeds plus any water they did not soak up (which is unlikely). Use a large bowl for this - the dough should only come half-way up at this stage as it will rise considerably. "Knead" or stir with a wooden spoon, just enough for the ingredients to be well combined.
Leave to rise for about 1 hour, loosely covered with a moist kitchen towel - I often place it in the (un-heated) oven for this purpose. Divide by half and roughly shape into round loaves to place on a baking tray OR deposit the dough in oiled loaf tins.
Place a large, heat-proof metal pot on the bottom of the oven and pre-heat the oven to 250 C.
After about 30 minutes, ensuring that the target temperature has been reached, boil ca. 500 ml water in a kettle or pot, then sprinkle the loaves with cold water. Immediately place the loaves in the oven at medium height and pour the boiling water into the pan on the bottom of the oven. Close the oven door quickly for a maximum of steam to develop.
Bake for 20 minutes at 250 C, then for another 15 minutes on 200 C and 10 minutes on 180 C. Cover the loaves with baking paper if you feel they're browning too much.
Take the loaves out, turn on their heads and tap the bottom. If they sound hollow, they're done, if not, continue baking until they do.
Oven temperatures vary a lot and the size also makes a big difference - so baking times need to be adjusted accordingly.
* loosely based on a recipe by baker Stroeck in "Brot backen"
** if chosing to grate, you need a high-powered kitchen aid (I use a Thermomix) so the carrots are not allowed to "weep". Otherwise you'll end up with a soggy mess of a dough which will be difficult to handle and require considerable adjustments as to ingredients and baking time allowed.