The Yurt

23 Jul

Holland is a flat country. Perhaps this was because some omnipotent being baked it in a Dutch oven before attaching it to continental Europe. My bread had a similar experience.

I’m up to my usual tricks, toying with a round-ish white loaf, desperately seeking some degree of perfection. Today’s bread employs the usual long-rise dough, this time too wet to hold a shape independently of a mould, but not so sloppy that it resembles a pancake batter.

Wet dough, while it is crumb’s best friend, unfortunately has an enemy in surface tension. So this time I resolved to stick the unruly mixture into a glorified hot bowl. I prefer to call it an improvisational Dutch oven. If you try this, obviously make sure that whatever you use (be it an all-metal casserole pot or an ovenproof bowl) can withstand 250°C plus.

Seriously, let’s not turn this into car-crash baking. No one wants that.

Anyway, this bread didn’t get off to the best start. I think I might have inadvertently overcooked the yeast. As in, I think I might have, you know, killed it. Or at least severely hampered its development.

You see, after added my usual cocktail of boiled water and cool water to the flour, I found that the mixture lacked moisture. So I par-boiled a little more water, and added that. Suffice to say that it might have been a little over-zealously par-boiled.

On top of that, I dissolved my yeast in the water before combining it with the dry ingredients. This isn’t my usual etiquette around fast-action yeast (I know, I know, don’t judge me – I finally bought some fresh yesterday), but I wanted to somehow protect it a little from the salt content of the flour. And anyway, I’d read about someone flippantly trying this, with pretty enviable results. Experimentation is key, after all.

This particular experiment, it would appear, was about as successful as my former physic teacher’s attempts to obtain an accurate figure for acceleration due to gravity. His results tended to hover around 20 metres per second squared. It should have been about 9.8, so, as the French would say, figure-toi!

(The dough barely rose at all.)

Still, I was pretty keen to try out my Dutch oven idea (even though, as I say, I simply used a deep white bowl). But here’s the rub: I wanted my dough to undergo a second prove in its destined shape, as per usual. Obviously, though, the bowl’s core temperature was hovering somewhere in the vague region between 250°C and the fiery pits of hell. Which simply won’t do for a fussy and tentative lump of dough looking to quietly heave itself up for the second time.

Ultimately, I had to forego my beloved second proof and instead grudgingly slide the whole shebang into the oven.

The rise was underwhelming, as you might have guessed from the previous Holland references. Additionally the crust was inferior to the wonderfully caramelised crunchy variety I’m used to. This is probably because my “Dutch oven” refused entry to water vapour like a bouncer who’d had a bad day. I also read that sitting your dough in too much oil can soften the crust. So bear that in mind.

And the crumb? I’ve seen better, I’ve seen worse. It did feature some satisfyingly irregular air holes, but still bore an irritatingly elastic, springy texture, which is pleasant but a little too chewy and moist for my liking.

Shape-wise, however, it was almost disconcertingly regular and perfect. In fact, when he laid eyes on it, my brother called it a teepee. On revision, I think it looks more like a Mongolian yurt, or the Teletubbies’ eco-house. The latter is particularly resonant, thanks to my impatiently prodding the top of the loaf, resulting in a rabbit hole slap bang in the centre. Luckily no miniature Pos or Tinky Winkys emerged from my loaf . Let’s be grateful for small mercies.

Regardless, it made for a decent sandwich. Yesterday, the sun made a surprise guest appearance on the Overcast Summer Show, so my brother and I packed a picnic and took to the beach. Peering out across the sky-blue Atlantic, my slightly disappointing bread hugging home-made hummus and salad, I developed a new appreciation for this particular baked creation. That’s the wonderful thing about experimenting with bread. It’s consistently very, very edible.

But I think I’m going to have to crank it up a gear. Someone fetch me my proverbial reading glasses and notepad, I’m going to do some hardcore research.

And yes, that includes the much-anticipated (poolish, I think) starter!

In the meantime, feast your eyes on the recipe for this domed wonder.


500g strong white flour, sieved

c. 200g wholemeal flour

1/2 tsp fast-action yeast (from one of those 7g sachets)

hand-hot water

1 and 1/2 tsp salt


– Combine salt and flours in a bowl

– Dissolve yeast in warm water (be conservative about the amount of water used, to guarantee that all of the yeast will be used)

– Make a well in the centre of the flour. Pour in the yeast solution and combine. Add more water if necessary. Aim for a slightly sloppy consistency, though not so wet that it’s a soup.

– Knead for about 10 mins, or until smooth. I tend to gather all of the dough into my hands and pull at it, but there are numerous kneading techniques, which I’ll explore in another post.

– Place in an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm, and chill in the fridge for about 24 hours

– Next day, once the dough has doubled in volume (if you’re luckier than I was), remove from the fridge. Pre-heat the oven along with your Dutch oven, if you’re being fancy and proper about this, or a deep ovenproof bowl. Use the highest temperature possible – for me, that equates to 250°C, with the fan on.

– Once the oven has hit full temperature, put a baking tray on the base, and pour in a little water. Carefully remove the Dutch oven and dust with flour. Place the dough into it and sprinkle with polenta or semolina. (At this point I would also recommend sprinkling the top of the dough with cold water to enhance the humidity around it, and hence the crust).

– Bake in the oven for approximately 40 minutes. Ovens are eccentric, so this depends very much on your personal oven situation. Make sure to check it after half an hour, though.

– Leave to cool. This includes resisting a good poke.

My next white bread may take a wee bit longer to work up to, but no fear – it’ll be worth it (fingers crossed), and in the meantime I have an Indian bread recipe up my sleeve which is not wholly unrelated to my mission. Think of it as a (delicious) filler.

À La Prochaine!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: