Ah bread... Really, if there is one thing that I miss in this country, it's probably good bread. Something that is intrinsically simple and can be found in every corner in other countries (France, Italy, Spain, Greece...) here is a "gourmet" item, only to be found in posh neighbourhood delicatessens, artisanal bakeries in just a few obscure areas of the capital, and, best-case-scenario, some food markets. All of the above of course sell bread at a cost that would make any French/Italian/Spanish/Greek person laugh and quickly run away... £5 for a focaccia? £4.50 for a ciabatta? £4 for a baguette? Come on, it's just flour, water and yeast, of which 3 ingredients one comes for free through the tap!
Facing this frustration of spongy/squishy/bouncy/never-hardening madness, or otherwise called "supermarket Chorleywood process rubbish bread", all these years I had tried many times to make bread at home, with not so great results. I know it's easy, and I know it's simple, but the manual labour of kneading quite a few times, plus all the waiting for it to rise annoyed me, and the end result was nothing like the 1 Euro loaf you can get in any corner bakery in Greece. Plus if you think of it logically, how much money do you charge for your time? If you're getting paid £6 an hour in your normal job, and you take 3 hours to make bread, that means your loaf costs an overabundant £24, which makes it actually cheaper and easier for you to take the train to E5 bakehouse and get some great loaves from there!
Hence, the breadmaker comes into the picture! I had never been sure about these things, but when a friend told me that it was great waking up to the smell of freshly-baked bread, I thought I'd go for one. I slowly brainwashed the other half (also a REAL bread lover) over some time, so I finally got one as a nameday present last year! I got the one that was rated as the best at the time (and probably was the most expensive one as well), and I have to say that I love how it makes life easier. Sort of. There are two aspects of it, at least that I have tried, and I'll tell you the results. First, you can make bread the VERY easy way, which is throw all the ingredients in the machine, programme it, and then it does everything on its own, and you wake up in the morning with the aforementioned nice smell. The bread made this way is better definitely than the supermarket ones, but due to the breadmaker bin shape it always will be a squareish loaf, with soft crust. That's ok for sandwiches that are going to be toasted, but if you're looking for something different and crusty, there's the other option.
Dough. Same as before, you throw everything in, machine does everything, but DOES NOT BAKE. So it takes less time, and when done you can shape the dough yourself, let it rise once in a warmish place (I use the oven at 40°C as in this country of constant winter no place in my house is ever warmish enough!), knead a bit, shape, let rise again and then bake. Yes, it's still gonna take up some time off your life, but the main "getting sticky and messy, and kneading 15 minutes till you think a personal trainer would be giving you the puppy-treatment in comparison" thing is gone!
I have up to now made extremely successful sweet breads of various provenances (Greek tsoureki, Mexican Pan de muerto, English hot cross buns, Italian panettone, Mexican Rosca de Reyes) as well as this nice focaccia. It's never going to be the focaccia you will buy from an Italian bakery, but it's a pretty good substitute, and the best solution I've managed to find in order to not have to change 2 buses and 3 tubes from where I live (or just 1 train + 1 airplane!) to get a decent one...
Source: Mix of online recipes along with the Panasonic breadmaker recipe booklet
For the dough:
- 2½ cups strong white bread flour (plus a little more for kneading)
- 2 tbsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup warm water
- 1½ tsp dried yeast
- A handful of fresh or dried rosemary leaves
- A few pinches of rock sea salt
- A drizzle of olive oil
Put all the dough ingredients in the order they are mentioned in the breadmaker bin and choose the standard dough programme (mine takes about 45 minutes).
Take out the dough and knead for a bit. Put in a large bowl and cover with a clean towel, then place in an oven at 40°C for an hour (or until doubled).
Take out, roll and pat the dough into a 30cm x 25cm rectangle on a greased baking tray. Make indentations over the dough with your finger, and allow to prove in the 40°C oven for another 30-40 minutes, until doubled.
Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with rosemary and sea salt. Bake in a preheated oven at 210°C for 10 minutes, then check and return to the oven for a couple more minutes if not ready and golden.