Flora Shedden: how to bake a perfect loaf of bread

Flora Shedden
Bread - Haraala Hamilton

The building permissions are finally in place for ARAN bakery. At last, we can start work. The biggest job involves dropping the entire bakery ceiling. The timber dates back 200 years and, as much as I would love to keep the old beams, I have been told that everything must go – joists, beams and all.

The bakery ceiling is also our living-room floor, so while James worries about sleepwalking into the gaping hole, I have been distracting myself the only way I know how: with my new oven. ­Having used an Aga my whole life, an electric oven (with a steam function – squeal!) is beyond exciting.

Steam plays such a crucial, and ­often forgotten, part in baking, particularly bread. The steam helps to create a thick crust as well as good round bloom in the loaf. I have been baking a loaf a day – ­everything from rye, to spelt to porridge buns – monitoring the rise and texture of each one.

Flora has cooked using an Aga her whole life Credit: PA

Bread is so versatile and, once you get to grips with the basics, it can be easily customised. The three crucial elements are hydration, hours and heat. First, all your bread should have at least 75 per cent hydration – for example, if you are using 400g of flour you need to include 300g of water.

When making sourdough, as in the recipe below, split the quantity in half for the flour and water. So, for example, if you are using 100g of starter, you need to think about this as 50g of flour and 50g of water and weigh the rest accordingly.

As a 21-year-old with limited funds, setting up a business was never going to be plain sailing

The next important rule is hours. Take as much time as you can with your loaves. The longer they take, the better the flavour, even when using conventional yeast. I like to leave my starter for longer than 20 to 24 hours; 48 hours makes an amazingly tangy loaf. Your starter will change flavour as it ages which is really exciting as a baker. Each loaf is different.

Slow the rise down further by storing dough in the fridge for 12 hours before shaping and proving once more. It will help enormously. And lastly make sure your oven is hot, hot, hot. Preheat it for 30 minutes then, once your loaf is in the oven, chuck in some water to create lots of steam.

I’ve been eating my bread toasted for breakfast with poached eggs, black pudding and rocket, or with lashing of butter and marmalade. Sourdough French toast doused in maple syrup and served with apple and crème fraîche is delicious, too, while turmeric bread is great with avocado and feta.

Flora Shedden's latest recipes

Baking has gone some way to alleviating the doubts I’ve felt during this restoration period – but I have also been helped by the phenomenal support received on Crowdfunder.

As a 21-year-old with limited funds, setting up a business was never going to be plain sailing. Yet you have, in your masses, pledged money towards the process, and I am speechless with gratitude.

If you would like to read our story, visit crowdfunder.co.uk/aranbakery. I can’t wait to open the doors and break some bread with you all.

Classic sourdough

Credit: Haarala Hamilton

Weigh the water for this recipe so the quantities are exact. This is great with blue cheese and rocket.

MAKES

one loaf

INGREDIENTS

  • For the sourdough starter
  • 300g strong white flour
  • 300g water

For the bread

  • 350g strong white flour
  • 100g sourdough starter
  • 10g salt
  • 225g water

METHOD

  1. Begin your starter. In a bowl or container mix together 100g flour and 100g water. Cover loosely and leave in a warmish room (too cold and the yeast won’t develop).
  2. The following day add a further 100g water and 100g flour, stirring again. You may notice a few bubbles at this stage and an increase in volume. On the third day repeat the process. By now you should notice plenty of bubbles, a rise in volume and a fairly strong scent. If none of these pointers are noticeable add more water and flour and give it another 24 hours. Once your starter is bubbling it is ready to be used.
  3. For the bread, mix together all the ingredients in a bowl to form a rough dough. Knock it onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 to 15 minutes (you can do this in a free-standing mixer). It will feel very sticky to begin with but avoid adding more flour. Once the dough is very elastic place in a lightly greased bowl and cover, to double in size ideally overnight or for at least eight hours. If time, put in the fridge for 16 hours for a great sour flavour.
  4. Knock the risen dough back on the surface and shape, quickly and with lightly floured hands, drawing all the dough in on itself to form a tight ball with a seam at the bottom. Flour a proving basket and place inside, seam facing up. Cover loosely and allow to prove for four hours. Heat the oven to its highest setting. Put in a baking stone, tray or cast-iron pot wide enough for the bread. Once the bread has proved, remove the hot tray from the oven and quickly tip the loaf onto it, seam side down. Slash a pattern across the top, cutting at a 45-degree angle.
  5. Return to the oven and bake for 14 to 20 minutes depending on your oven. The loaf should be brown and hollow sounding when tapped. Allow to cool fully before slicing.

Turmeric bread

Credit: Haarala Hamilton

MAKES

  • one loaf
  • Ingredients
  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 1 tbsp ground turmeric
  • 100g mixed seeds (I use pumpkin, sesame and linseeds)
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 7g dried fast-action yeast
  • 10g salt
  • 300g water

METHOD

  1. Weigh all the ingredients together in a bowl and mix to form a rough dough. Knead for about 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface or until very elastic.
  2. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover. Allow to double in size (approximately two hours).
  3. Once risen, knock back onto your work surface and knead gently. Shape the load however you fancy – if you are uncomfortable forming a round or loaf shape then place in a loaf tin to rise and cook. I like to use an oblong for this loaf.
  4. Place on a lightly floured baking tray and allow to rise for an hour.
  5. Preheat the oven to its highest possible setting. Once risen, slash the loaf using a razor blade (you can do any pattern you fancy though I like to do angled alternating cuts down the centre almost like a wheat sheaf).
  6. Bake for 14 to 20 minutes depending on the temperature of your oven, or until hollow sounding when the base is tapped. If you are baking in a tin it will require 10 minutes more.
  7. Allow to cool completely before slicing.

Flora Shedden’s cookbook, Gatherings, is published by Mitchell Beazley (£25), available at books.telegraph.co.uk

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