Saturday, 28 February 2015

Herb breads and a doughnut experiment.

Rosemary Herb Bread
As you'll probably already know, I belong to an excellent little group known as The Fenland Smallholders Club.
As part of this, I run a couple of offshoots, one being the Blokes Baking Group, who normally get together once a month. Inspired by this, I've now started baking every Friday evening and I must say I've been enjoying it. However, for the first time in my life I have now gone 1lb officially OVERWEIGHT for my height (though it may just be that I need to recheck how tall I am). So if I am going to enjoy the products of all my baking, I'm going to have to work even harder in the garden to burn it all off.

Anyway, yesterday evening, over a few bottles of real ale, Blokes Baking Group tackled herb breads. I'd planned to use rosemary and sage, as these are about the only two herbs which have not completely died back at this time of year. The rosemary bread was a double rise, which takes about 4 hours from start to finish. Fortunately Sue had the fire on in the living room, which was duly designated as our proving room.

So we mixed and we kneaded and we set the dough aside for its first rise, leaving time to start our great doughnut experiment! This was a project which got missed out previously, but I was keen to have a go. The doughnut dough was soft and gloopy, somewhere between a pancake batter and a pastry mix, so I really wasn't sure if we had it right. It contained yeast, so needed to be set to one side to prove. The book said 20 minutes.

Onto project number three then - sage soda bread.
A soda bread does not contain yeast so is much quicker to make. Traditionally it is made with buttermilk and we usually make one when Sue makes butter. But on this occasion there was no buttermilk in the house so I had to buy some. A hint here - look in the Polish section of the supermarket. You are looking for maslanka. It's £1 for a litre, which works out much cheaper than the other alternative.
The soda bread simply involves mixing all the ingredients into a dough, shaping into a ball, slashing the top and baking. So into the oven it went and we returned to those rising doughballs. To be honest, they didn't seem to have changed much, but we tried one in the fryer. It sank to the bottom, the outside fried nicely and the inside was still mushy! It did, however, taste something like a doughnut should. I reckoned that the dough needed longer to rise, but we also weren't sure about the oil temperature. The book simple said 'very hot'.

We consulted the oracle (www) to be hit with all sorts of contradictory advice. For the proving, we read to prove at 90 - 100F - much warmer than you would for bread. This might explain why the doughnuts didn't seem to have risen. We moved the trays closer to the fire. As for the oil, most people said 190C, but one said 160C. The dough hadn't floated to the surface, indicating the oil was not hot enough. But it had cooked too quickly on the outside, indicating the oil was too hot.
My hunch was to lower the oil temperature and leave the doughnuts to rise properly to make them, well, less dense.
Impatience got the better of us and we tried another batch in the fryer. The result was better, but still not quite there. Jam in the middle might hide some of the problem, but this had seemed a step too far when I was at the planning process.

It was now time for the sage soda bread to come out of the oven. It looked amazing.
The rosemary bread still needed a wee while to rise further and the decision was made to leave the doughnuts to develop too, so we took a while to concentrate on the ales! A new member of the Old Hen family, Old Hoppy Hen, was the subject of much approval.

Some time later and it was time to knock back the rosemary bread dough and shape it ready for its second rise in the loaf tin. While the tins went back into the proving room, we revisited the doughnuts, frying them one batch at a time. Fortunately I'd decided not to triple the mix quantities, for we ended up with 31 mini doughnuts anyway! The more we cooked the better they got. We finally got close to the real thing with the last batch, which floated high in the oil and expanded almost to a state of fluffiness!

I reckon that one more go at these and we'll be ready to unveil to the public.

Our schedule now took us back to the Rosemary Bread. As usual, Phil's had risen the most. I swear he carries a magic powder around with him which he secretly sprinkles into his mix. Into the oven they went and all we had to do now was to wait... and eat doughnuts... and drink beer.

Finally the breads were ready. I was somewhat smug as mine had overtaken Phil's in the oven. Clearly the product of a skilled kneader!!

So here's the final results. Another triumphant evening for Blokes Baking Group.


I don't know what happened to the rest of the doughnuts, but this photo might explain it.


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