No bread is an island

...entire of itself. (With apologies to John Donne!)
I live and breathe breadmaking. I’m an evangelist who would like everyone to make his or her own bread. I want to demystify breadmaking and show it as the easy everyday craft that it is. To this end I endeavour to make my recipes as simple and as foolproof as I possibly can.

I call my blog 'No bread is an island' because every bread is connected to another bread. So a spicy fruit bun with a cross on top is a hot cross bun. This fruit dough will also make a fruit loaf - or Chelsea buns or a Swedish tea ring...
I'm also a vegan, so I have lots of vegan recipes on here - and I'm adding more all the time.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Celebration (Birthday) loaves

I've decided to make a couple of 'Birthday loaves' for some friends of mine (twins) who've reached the grand old age of 70.

It's going to be a richer version of my Christmas loaf, and to that end I've been soaking some dried apricots in Benedictine for the past fortnight.

Here's the story as it unfolded over last Friday and Saturday, beginning at 10.00am on Friday:

About the loaf, as well as the soaked apricots it will contain red and yellow cherries, some angelica and yellow marzipan.

I've run into a little trouble, I'm afraid. None that I can't get out of, but it's going to require some time and effort!

I made up a dough with 200g of flour, plus sugar and spices and 125ml of yeast liquid, which I then allowed to prove - and it rose normally.

I wanted to add another 100g of flour plus liquid, so I boiled up 50ml of the Benedictine syrup - allowed to cool - and added both flour and liquid to the original dough - so far so good. I then added 370g of soaked apricots - forgetting that, when I kneaded these in, they would release more Benedictine into the dough. The consequence was that the dough then refused to rise.

Undaunted, I took another 10g of yeast, mixed it with a further 15g of water, added it to the dough and gave it a short knead. Then I left it to prove.

Then I did something I haven't done for years - I put the dough in a measuring jug so that I will be able to see the smallest rise if it occurs. It's now just after midnight and I'm going to leave it overnight on the worktop and see what happens. If there's no movement tomorrow morning, I shall repeat the adding yeast and water bit until I get some reaction. It will work, in the end, just a question of how long it takes! 

Oh, I've also taken Sue's suggestion (from the Wildfood thread) and added some Benedictine to the marzipan - tastes lush!

Well, the bread did rise a little overnight - from 750ml it went up to just under 1000ml - so there is some life in there.

Nevertheless I thought it better to add more yeast, so I dissolved 10g of yeast in 10ml of water and kneaded it carefully into the dough. I didn't see much movement over the next hour or so, so I've now put it back in the jug and placed it in the microwave with a mug of boiling water.

The dough levelled out at 900ml, so I'll see what it's like in another hour.

I kept the dough in the jug with a mug of hot water most of the afternoon - and eventually I saw a rise! It went from 900ml to 1000ml - and stuck!

By this time I'd decided on some more drastic action - I'd add another 150g of flour to the mix, with some yeast, and see if that wouldn't get it going. With a bigger dough I needed some more dried fruit so I placed 50g of sultanas and 50g of chopped prunes into a bowl, covered it with water and microwaved it for a couple of minutes. Then I put the jug of dough back in the microwave along with the bowl of dried fruit. More in hope than expectation.

I made a 'sponge' with 150g of flour and 60ml of water, plus 15g of yeast and left it until this evening.

When I came to mix it altogether I thought about taking all the apricots out of the dough and just folding them back in - which is what I should have done in the first place!

This took me about 25 minutes and I rescued the grand total of 281 pieces of apricots - ranging in size from miniscule to about a quarter of an apricot.

Then I mixed the dough in with the sponge, the rest of the flour and the sultanas and prunes (by which time they had increased in weight to 170g).

Once again I'd made a rod for my own back by including the prunes! As I kneaded the dough, and it needed a lot of kneading to mix the two doughs together, the prunes kept releasing liquid, making the dough really sticky. I added a further 60g of flour trying to counteract this and come up with a manageable dough.

Once I'd mixed up the dough to a reasonable consistency, I placed it in the oven with a dish of boiling water.

I've just checked it, after 40 minutes - and it's at least doubled in size! So I know I'm on the right track at last! Phew!

All I have to do now is to fold in the alcoholic apricots, gently, and let it rise again. If that works  I can go ahead and shape the loaves - I've got enough dough for 3 instead of the 2 I originally planned! 

Well, that's just what I did.

I folded in the apricots - very gently, no kneading! - and stuck it in the oven with some more hot water. After 25 minutes it was well on its way to doubling in size. So I could now go ahead and shape the loaves!

I weighed the dough, which came to 1340g, and divided it into three and rolled the pieces out into circles.

I spread the soft marzipan/Benedictine mixture across the middle of two of the circles (these were for my friends) and placed a rope of plain marzipan across the third (mine). Then I placed red and yellow cherries with angelica over the top of the marzipan on two of the circles - on the third one I just put some red cherries next to the marzipan.

The smaller loaf is the surplus one, I didn't have enough angelica and yellow cherries, so it's not as fancy as the other two. 
Then I rolled the dough over and tucked in the ends. I placed 3 cherries on top of two of the loaves and 2 on the top of mine - just so I don't get them mixed up.

Ready to go into the oven
I brushed the loaves with soya cream and left the loaves to rise, which they did pretty quickly, and baked them for about 35 minutes at 175C. By the time I'd finished all this it was 1.45am - I was well and truly knackered!

The finished article(s). It's ironic that the neatest loaf is mine - but I'm sure they'll all be very tasty
This morning I brushed them all with a sugar glaze, wrapped them in baking parchment and a plastic bag and put them in the freezer. One of my friends lives locally, but he's on holiday ATM, so I'll deliver it when he returns.  I'll have to post the loaf to his twin - perhaps tomorrow. The third one awaits the arrival of my mother-in-law, this coming Thursday.

This was an interesting project and I learned a lot - as usual with me the learning was mainly through trial and error. (It's a good job I love breadmaking or I might easily have lost interest halfway through!)

What lessons have I learned? When using fruit which has been soaked in alcohol, just fold in the fruit - don't attempt to knead it in. Really soft fruit, such as soaked prunes should also be folded in carefully. And, when using marzipan and alcohol mixed together, make sure you seal it in the loaf properly. I'm afraid it leaked out onto the floor of the oven and made a right mess! 

I'd love to see how these loaves look when they're cut open, so I'll ask the twins if they can take a pic. Or I'll make sure I deliver the local one personally - and hope for a slice!

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