Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Waiter, there is something in my....Robin's bread

This is my entry for Andrew's Waiter there's something in my.... bread at Spittoon extra. Don't forget to hop over and check all the other entries!

I love the way a bread can get personal on you. It starts with a name that catches. Than it's the method of kneading (remember the NYT?), or the way the dough itself behaves, almost like it has a mind of its own. Well this one sure had it all. The recipe comes from the new book I bought recently, "Home Baking", the writers spike their books with beautiful pictures and in this particular case enticing recipes from all over the world. Where you would expect a picture of a pretty bread you are treated to a view of pretty landscapes, or the wrinkled face of a mountain granny proudly showing you the fruit of her labour. Don't get me wrong here, plenty bready pictures to be seen as well in this book! Robin's bread is said to be the staple bread made by Mama Duguid. What attracted me in this one was the slow rising method, I am all for slow rising, little yeast, the way you can fit it in your daily schedule. Or so I thought....as you can see in the pictures below it did have a mind of it's own!

I chose to make the dough in the morning and let it rise during the day, so as to keep an eye on it (lack of refrigerator space had something to do with it too) and I am glad I did, I wouldn't want to wake up in the morning and see this creeping out of my fridge. Tweaked the recipe a bit and subbed some more whole wheat for bread flour, held back a little on the water due to European flour and saved some dough from the first time I made it to incorporate it into the next batch.

Recipe (will make 3 loaves)
4 cups lukewarm water (used less, around 3, 3.1/2)
2 cups whole milk (used skimmed)
1 ts active dry yeast
3 cups whole wheat flour (used 3 cups ww and 1 cup spelt)
8-10 cups ap flour (used bread flour, around 9 cups)
2 tbs mild honey (used treacle)
2 Tbs + 1 ts salt
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 cup sunflower seeds (used 1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds)
(added 1 cup of old dough saved from an earlier batch, room temperature in little pieces)

(Warning! It is very easy to add too much flour so try to hold back on your instincts and wait. Wait some more. Fight down the urge to add. Thank you!)

In a large bowl combine water, milk, yeast, (Here is the point where I added the old dough from a prior batch and mixed with a spoon to combine, but since old dough consists of a complete mix of ingredients it doesn't influence the mathematics of your dough and I didn't alter anything in the recipe other than the above mentioned). Add whole wheat and stir to blend in. Add and stir in honey. Add about 3-4 cups of flour and stir. Here the writers direct you to always stir in the same direction....don't know about that. Can't imagine the dough getting upset when you have the nerve to stir the other way round... What you are aiming at here is a smooth batter, I couldn't help getting some lumps and clumps forming but don't worry they will dissolve later on in the process.

Add 4-5 more cups of flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring is almost impossible here, you could switch to a stand mixer on the lowest speed or continue by hand with folding and turning. Use a dough scraper to fold and turn.

Tip it out onto a well-floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes incorporating flour as you think necessary. I used a dough scraper all the time up to this point because this was behaving like a thick porridge, not anywhere dough like. It really is a touch and feel thing, flours over the world differ so much I can't give you any straight directions on how much flour you'll need to add. Anyway....scrape it into a large, large oiled bowl, it will not form a ball, it's more likely to spread out like a whale on a beach.

Set aside to rise overnight or for 8-12 hour whatever is most convenient. I set it in my window sill as to keep a watchfull eye over it. The picture shows you what it looks like two hours into first rise... As you can imagine at this point I divided the dough over two bowls, stretching and turning it over itself once and let it rest again for a couple of hours.
After 6 hours the dough was still very moist and sticky, qualities you would expect of a sponge. Don't worry. No don't! Really.

8 hours into rising I felt compelled to do something about it as it was going all over the place.... So I turned the dough out on a very well floured kitchen counter, divided into three parts and started to fold and form, carefully as to not deflate all the air. All of a sudden I was rewarded with a very supple almost silken dough, still not firm but a pleasure to work with.

Form 3 oblong loaves, making sure the upper skin is folded tightly to create surface tension and make sure you pinch the seam to seal. I would advise to use pans for these breads to keep them from spreading as they bake. Cover with plastic and let rise for another 40 minutes. Meanwhile preheat your oven to 400F. Spritz the loaves with water and place them in the oven, after 10 minutes into baking lower the temperature to 375F and bake for another 40-45 minutes.

For doneness, use a thermometer or tap the bottom, it should sound hollow. The writers of this book have a great tip to test pan-baked bread: "Pinch the bottom corners of the loaf: they should be firm, not yielding. If they are still a little soft, bake the bread for about 10 minutes longer." This last picture is from the second batch I made, free form instead of pan-baked, had to incorporate even more flour to be able to free form, resulting in a denser loaf with a finer crumb. The line between adding to much flour or just enough is very thin, as much as I like free form loaves I think I will stick to pans next time for this recipe. All in all the resulting bread is very versatile and is excellent to make sandwiches.


  1. Leuke posting, Karen. Ik heb het wel te doen met die walvis ;-), maar het resultaat van de broden mag er zijn!

  2. Karen,
    I loved the slide show and your captions!! That dough had a mind of its own! Now, stirring only in the same direction -- how boring! Your loaves look so good. Nothing beats homemade bread in my book! Sue

  3. Shouldn't this be titled "Whale on the Beach Bread" ...? How histerical! So we both had bread rising in window sills!!! How perfectly amazing! The slide show is a beauty.
    I like the way this reads and am in total agreement...bread depends so much on touch and the only way to develop it is just make bread.
    Beatiful loaves!

  4. So, proved again : bread is alive and making it's own way. And we stillthink we are the ones that are making it.
    Love your slide show. Very original.Very you ! Hope it keeps that way. Stealing in blog-land became very normal,don't you think ?

  5. Loved the slide show! I've selected my recipe for the bread I want to make for this event, but I still have to make it. Hopefully on Sunday! Or maybe I'll make it tonight and let it rise 'til tomorrow morning ...

    Your bread looks beautiful!

  6. I just made this today and had the same bubbly dough escaping from the bowl (after just 6 hours). I went ahead and baked it then and it turned out great.


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