What’s the best way to say “I love you”? Assuming words are out of the question, there’s always the grand gesture – but that can backfire. For example, a chap I knew at university covered every available surface of his bedroom with glowing tea lights, only to be informed by his not-for-much-longer girlfriend that “Fire hazards are not romantic”.
To adequately convey a sense of “I love you – obviously not romantically because that would be super weird – just as friends but somehow more than friends, siblings almost but without any sense of obligation, and in fact it’s more of a collective expression of love; that is, we love you (plural)” I can think of worse ways than a loaf of homemade bread.
If I’m organised enough to mix the dough the day before and have the time to shape/prove/bake it, my favourite thing to bring round to people’s homes is a half-wholemeal half-white loaf of my favourite no-knead sourdough bread, but if you’ve given them those loaves before and there’s something a little bit special about this particular occasion, then a bread enriched with eggs, milk and butter, richly fruited with currants, sultanas and candied peel feels that much more festive, with a post-Lenten sense of celebration and thanksgiving. If (specifically) your lovely friends have had a baby so sweet and funny that you adored him on sight, and to help the new mother’s recovery her own mother is lacing all her food with ginger, to the point of covertly grating ginger over her cheese ravioli, then there is a certain pleasing logic to spicing the loaf with three types of ginger, glazing it with syrup from the ginger jar, bundling it into a clean black and white teatowel, cycling as fast as you can to their flat, handing the still-warm bundle to the concierge and leaving without even saying hello.
This bread is dreamy warm with lashings of salted butter (we keep two types of butter, one for cooking with and one for bread. Never margarine) or in toasted slices eaten one-handed late at night when the baby (lovely though he is) won’t sleep and doesn’t mind if you get crumbs on him.
Recipe: Ginger-Spiced Fruit Bread
This is pretty much an extraordinarily soft and tender hot cross bun, but loaf-sized for easy slicing. It’s based on the Rich Fruit Loaf recipe from Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake, but I made quite a few changes – reduced the sugar and made it half-wholemeal, added extra yeast, made it (optionally) sourdough, no icing, added lots of ginger (although the flavour is still subtle) and changed the method to save on washing up and make it easier to handle, as well as giving you options for greater flexibility in terms of timing.
This is a very wet, soft dough, so I use the stand mixer to knead – without one, I wouldn’t recommend kneading it by hand but do a few tactical “kneads” by mixing with a wooden spoon at internals- see notes below.
Makes two loaves, one for your friends and one for you.
225g strong wholemeal flour (or 250g if not using sourdough)
225g white bread flour (or 250g if not using sourdough)
10g table salt
15g instant yeast
(optional) 100g sourdough starter (unfed is fine)
1 Tbsp honey (can replace with sugar or syrup from the ginger jar)
160ml milk (any kind)
110ml water (160ml if not using sourdough)
60g candied peel (homemade is much nicer – I use Smitten Kitchen’s recipe and keep it chopped in the freezer, and it’s not difficult, just a bit of a faff, but shop bought is probably 10% of the time/effort and 50% as good so also a rational choice)
60g preserved ginger from a jar (about 4 spheres), chopped into c.4mm cubes
1tsp ground cinnamon (optional, but the taste isn’t perceptible and it helps your body process sugar more slowly)
1/2 Tbsp ground ginger
Thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled (optional)
Zest of one unwaxed lemon (optional)
- Put the sultanas into a measuring jug and pour 110ml hand-hot water (half hot from the kettle, half room temperature from the filter) over them – leave them to sit whilst you get on with the dough so that they get plump and juicy.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, first add the salt, then the flours and cut the butter into small pieces. Rub the butter into the flours (trying not to disturb the salt at the bottom) or use the dough hook on the stand mixer to rub it in.
- Make a well in the centre of the flour. Pour the milk and sourdough starter into the well and break in the eggs.
- Add the ground cinnamon and ground ginger, zest in the lemon and grate in the fresh ginger.
- Pour in the water from the sultana jug, and sprinkle the yeast over the top.
- Mix with a spatula, taking the dry flour from the outside of the well bit by bit, until fully combined. Cover with cling film and leave for 15 mins (to autolyse – meaning you won’t have to knead for as long)
- Knead with the machine on a slow setting until the dough stretches into long strands – it will be very soft, practically liquid, but don’t add any more flour. (for no machine, see Troubleshooting) Cover and leave for around an hour in a warm place (longer if it’s winter) until billowy and substantially larger in size.
- Add the soaked sultanas, currants, mixed peel and preserved ginger.
- Use the spatula to fold in the fruit and deflate the dough. Fold the dough by running the spatula along the contours of the bowl in an over and under fashion, so that the dough gets folded in on itself in all directions – it should be soft and stretchy, and developing a bit of a sense of structure through surface tension until it is a smooth ball. Lift it up a bit with the spatula and trickle a small amount of oil underneath, then turn the ball of dough to lightly coat with the oil. You can shape it ready for a final prove to bake immediately, but I suggest refrigerating it for at least an hour and up to two days for it to firm up and be easier to handle. (*if the dough has been left to rise for too long, see Troubleshooting)
- When you’re ready to bake (set aside an hour for proving and half an hour for baking), turn half of the dough out onto a well-floured surface. The other half – either bake at the same time or keep in the fridge.
- Using a dough scraper if you have one, fold the dough over itself from the outside in, like an upside down version of tucking a sheet in over a mattress. Roll the dough into a chubby cylinder and ease it into a loaf tin lined with baking parchment (Poundland sell loaf tin liners in stacks). You can bake it without a tin, in which case it will be flatter rather than a proud loaf shape. Cover with cling film, trying not to let it touch the dough, and leave to prove in a warm place for about an hour, until it is visibly bigger. Preheat the oven to 210C (fan).
- Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 23 minutes. Check for doneness by tapping the underside of the loaf and seeing if it sounds hollow. Or check the temperature using a probe thermometer poked into the underside of the loaf – it should be 90C. If it is not quite done, leave it in the oven and check every 3 minutes.
- (Optional – As soon as the loaf is done, glaze it by brushing a scanty layer of syrup from the ginger jar on the topmost surface using a pastry brush).
- Remove from the tin and leave to cool for at least half an hour before eating.
Some of my friends who are outstanding cooks won’t cook with yeast. I didn’t for many years, despite having a profound conviction that homemade bread is miles better than shop-bought, even expensive artisan bread. I think yeast is intimidating because we’re told that it’s alive – we imagine that it is temperamental, capricious even, with diva-ish mood swings and extensive demands. Actually yeast is no more difficult to work with than other raising agents – baking powder, self-raising flour, eggs (in fact probably easier than eggs). Yeast is cheap, convenient, and can be stored for ages. I used to use active dry yeast, which is a bit of a pain because it needs to be dissolved in warm water before using, but now I use instant/easy bake yeast in a small tin, and keep it in the fridge. A sprinkling of it can be added to unfed sourdough starter as a good substitute in recipes which call for fed sourdough, and measure out as much as I need in grams otherwise.
Here are some of the issues I’ve encountered – let me know if you have any others, or any questions, in the comments below.
How warm is too warm, without being not warm enough? Aargh stupid Goldilocks yeast!
Don’t worry! About bath temperature is a good guideline, or 1/3 hot from the kettle, 2/3 tap water.
Is my yeast still viable? It’s super old and past its date.
Normally yeast lasts for a good long while and I’ve successfully used sachets years out of date. You can test it by dissolving a teaspoon of sugar to 100ml warm water (see above), and sprinkling over 2 tsp yeast. Leave for 10 mins – if the yeast is active, it should bubble and foam.
Oh no – I left my dough to rise too long and it’s collapsed into a sad slump, leaving a high tide mark on the bowl from when it was risen the right amount.
Don’t worry! Add half the original amount of instant yeast to the dough and knead it in. You might need to add some flour until the dough is at its original consistency, but go slowly.
I really left my dough for too long (like 3 days unrefrigerated instead of an hour) and now it smells strongly of alcohol.
Unfortunately there is no fix for this, but how cool that you made alcohol! (Important: do not drink the alcohol)
Wait, I’m not sure – has my dough risen too much? (first or second rise)
If it’s started to deflate/collapse, then unfortunately yes. But it’s okay, you can reshape it and let it rise again (for less time) – see tip above. If it’s only slightly over-risen, you won’t need to add any more yeast.
I bought the wrong type of yeast – active dry instead of instant/easy bake. Do I have to go back the the shop and exchange it?
No you don’t even have to leave the house! Use double the amount of active dry yeast and dissolve it in warm water, then proceed as normal. For this recipe, use the 110ml warm water for dissolving the yeast in rather than soaking the sultanas. To be safe, make it 1/3 hot water from the kettle rather than 1/2.
I don’t have a stand mixer – how do I knead this ridiculously sticky dough?!
Use the spatula to fold it over and over itself into a ball – do this for about a minute then leave for 10 minutes and repeat 3 times until the dough is smooth and silky.
Has my dough risen enough? (first or second rise)
It’s hard to judge volumes, but if it’s clearly not the same size as before, and puffy (full of bubbles) then yes. If you poke it and the indentation remains, then you’re good to go. Don’t worry too much about the time – the speed dough takes to rise varies vastly depending on the temperature.
How do I store my bread?
You don’t want to eat it in one sitting? The key thing is to make sure it’s very dry. So make sure the bread is completely cool, and then either wrap in plastic, folding the opening of the bag under the bread so that it’s airtight, or in a breadbin or other lidded container. The fridge will extend its life but at the expense of it’s texture – it can only be eaten toasted after that. Recipes with a bit of fat (butter, oil, milk, powdered milk) have longer before the bread goes stale.
Do I really have to wait until it cools a bit before cracking into it?
Unfortunately yes – it’s still cooking when it comes out of the oven. Slicing in to it too soon will mean that the steam escapes and it gets too tough.
I mean, I don’t always – but it’s much better when I do. Try to eat at least a slice when it’s still warm though. Mmm.