Every now and then I’ll come across a recipe about which a lot of people have raved and I’ve somehow completely missed the memo.
This week’s post is just such a recipe.
It seems to have caused quite a stir, with tales of diners making pilgrimages there. A couple of months later Food52 also published the recipe, and again in 2017, this time complete with gushing text and tempting photographs to emphasize the delectability of the bread.
My interest piqued, I decided to give it a try, and not wanting to make a gigantic batch (if it turned out to be all hype), I set about scaling down the original recipe – something I can recommend to all when trying something new.
A quick glance down the ingredients revealed the use of 3 eggs, so I decided on this basis to scale the recipe down to just one-third of the original.
Confession: In my haste, I had only skimmed the method at this point, so it was only when I was mid-way through that I noticed only two eggs were used in the dough itself, and the third was for the glaze. The proportions I had used would therefore make a slightly richer dough than the original, but rather than start over, I decided to bake it anyway. It turned out to be fantastic. The bread of angels. Lighter than a feather and so airy and of such a beautiful flavour, it was gone in an instant.
The method is a variation of the TangZhong, or water-roux, process of dough making. Of Japanese origin, but popularised in the 1990s through the publication of Yvonne Chen’s The 65° Bread Doctor, it involves making a roux of some of the flour and water, before mixing with the other ingredients, which has the effect of making the resultant bread incredibly light and airy as well as improving the keeping qualities to several days.
It was so astonishingly good I decided to see if it would improve bread made with flour other than the white specified in the original recipe.
And it does. Jaw-droppingly so. I tried with everything I had in the house and each one was immeasurably better using this method. The two most successful versions – by which I mean that the method was exactly the same with almost no need for any adjustments – were made with stoneground wholemeal flour and oat flour (fine oatmeal sieved).
This is the wholemeal version. Now I’m a big fan of dense, textured wholemeal bread (cf The Grant Loaf), but this method, with exactly the same flour, produced bread of such lightness and delicacy, it had me double-checking the bag of flour to make sure I hadn’t accidentally used a lighter grade.
This is the Oat Bread. A little firmer than the wholemeal, but spongy and light, with a delicate, crumbly crumb. Made with 100% oat flour, it is a world away from the usually brick-like offering one gets using this flour and the traditional bread-making method.
The other flours I tried included 100% rye and 100% barley. Both will need further refining, as I fine-tune the ratio of liquid to flour, but the initial test batches had wonderful flavours and textures. I only stopped because I ran out of yeast – buckwheat and spelt will have to wait until the current bread mountain has diminished.
The following recipe quantities, from my initial slap-dash conversion (hey, if it aint broke, don’t fix it!) can be used to make a reasonably-sized batch to last a couple of days. Feel free to scale it up if everyone in your house are bread fans, or even use the original recipe by following the links. I’ve omitted the garnish of salt flakes on top, as they proved to be a bit much, but have at it if you’re so inclined.
300g flour – plain, stoneground wholemeal or oat
30ml/2 tbs honey
80ml double cream
1 large egg
1 sachet fast-action yeast
1tsp table salt
10g dried milk powder
20g butter, diced & softened
1 egg for glazing
- Take 50g of the flour and put it into a saucepan with the water.
- Whisk over medium head until thickened. It will look like wallpaper glue.
- Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream and honey.
- Cool slightly, then whisk in the egg until smooth.
- Pour into a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Add the remaining flour, salt, yeast and milk powder and mix on the lowest possible speed for 10 minutes. NB If using oat flour, the mixture might require a little additional water. The appearance/texture for oat flour dough should be similar to hummus.
- After 10 minutes, increase the speed to high for two minutes. This should help bring the dough together into a ball, leaving the ides of the bowl clean. N/A for oat flour.
- Reduce speed to low again and gradually add in the butter and knead until fully incorporated.
- cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise until doubled in size. Depending on the temperature in your kitchen, this will be between 60 and 90 minutes due to the enriched dough.
- Once risen, gently tip out the dough and pat to deflate slightly. No need to squish it into a pancake, just a gentle deflate is fine.
- For the pictures above, I divided the dough into 30g-ish pieces (eyeball satsuma-sized pieces) and dropped them into well-greased tins (mine are 10cm square, and 12cm mini loaf tins) for tear-apart servings. You can also use regular loaf tins, bundt tins, whatever is handy.
- Cover lightly with plastic and allow to rise for 45-60 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 190°C, 170°C Fan.
- Whisk the remaining egg until frothy and brush lightly over the risen dough.
- Bake for 20 minutes (white) 25 minutes (wholemeal), 30 minutes (oat), turning the tins around half way though baking. NB Don’t be tempted to take it out too soon – the enrichment of the dough, together with the egg glaze will make for a much richer colour than regular bread, and it needs the extra time to bake thoroughly.
- Allow to cool in the tins for 5 minutes, before removing and cooling on a wire rack.
- Enjoy fresh, or wrap well in plastic/ziplock bag to keep fresh for a few days.
If you’re going to bake your own bread, you could do worse than start with this one – it doesn’t require kneading, it only needs a very short, single rise, and you can have a batch of three loaves cooling on a rack in an hour and a half! The recipe has been around for almost 70 years – read on to find out more about it and its creator!
Heroines of Cooking: Doris Grant (1905-2003)
Tireless campaigner for healthy eating and the promotion of unadulterated foods, Doris Grant was a champion of fresh, natural ingredients and the minimal processing of food, and she maintained a running battle with major food companies in the UK for more than 60 years.
Almost crippled with arthritis in her youth, Doris found relief from her symptoms by following the food-combining diet of Dr. William Hay. With her health restored, Dr. Hay encouraged Doris to write her own book for the UK market, and thus began her publishing career. Alongside her many best-selling books, she is immortalised as the creator of The Grant Loaf.
Originally, The Grant Loaf was a mistake. While teaching herself to bake in the 1930s, it was several months before Doris realised she had not been kneading her bread dough. It didn’t seem to have made much of a difference to the loaves, and was a great deal easier and quicker than the traditional method, so she included her ‘mistake’ in her 1944 book Your Daily Bread. Here, with only a few adjustments, is that original recipe.
The dough ends up a lot wetter than traditional dough – so wet in fact, that kneading would be impossible if it weren’t already unnecessary. The bread itself is firm without being brick-like, and has a wonderfully nutty flavour as well as making great toast. I bake it in our house as our everyday bread, including sandwiches and packed lunches.
This recipe makes three loaves for two reasons:
1. It uses a whole bag of flour at once – no messy half-bags to clutter up your cupboards and spill over everything.
2. It makes sense, as well as efficient use of the oven, to cook more than one loaf at a time and the additional loaves can easily be frozen for use later.
The Grant Loaf
1.5 kg (1 bag) stone-ground wholemeal bread flour
2 sachets rapid-rise yeast
1 litre + 300ml warm water
25g muscovado sugar (or any brown sugar, or honey)
3 loaf tins (25cm x 10cm x 7.5cm)
- Put the flour into a large bowl and place in a gentle oven to warm. It doesn’t much matter if you don’t warm it, but it does speed up the rising.
- Put the sugar and salt into a large jug and add half the water. Stir to dissolve.
- Grease the bread tins using cooking spray or oil.
- Mix the yeast into the warmed flour and pour in the sugar/salt mixture, then add the rest of the water.
- Stir until the flour is fully mixed in. This is probably easiest to do using your hands, but using a utensil works well, also. Personally, I use a large two-pronged wooden fork from an otherwise unused set of salad servers, because the prongs move easily through the wet mix. I regularly manage to whip up a batch of this bread without touching the mix with my hands at all! Remember: you’re only mixing, not kneading – so as soon as all the flour is incorporated, stop. The dough will be much more moist than traditional bread dough – more like a fruit cake mix or thick, badly-made porridge.
- Spoon the dough into the bread tins, making sure it’s evenly divided – each tin should be approximately ¾ full. If you want to measure by weight, it’s approximately 950g per tin.
- Set the tins on a baking sheet somewhere warm to rise by about 1/3, until the dough is just above the top of the tins and nicely rounded. It should take no more than 30 minutes. If, like me, you’re lucky enough to have a double oven, then put the baking sheet onto the shelf in the top oven while the main oven heats up. NB Don’t put the tins onto the floor of the top oven – even if they’re on a baking sheet – it will get too hot. Otherwise, anywhere warm and draft-free will do.
- Preheat the oven to 200C, 180C Fan.
- Bake for 30 minutes, then turn the baking sheet 180° and bake for a further 20 minutes for a total of 50 minutes.
- Remove the tins from the oven and tip out the bread. Arrange the loaves on a wire rack.
- Put the loaves back into the oven for 5 minutes to crisp up the crust.
- Cool on the wire rack.
Variations: This method can also be used with brown bread flour, for a slightly lighter loaf.
Cost: £1.50 (July 2011) – 50p per loaf