Quite apart from wanting to do something different, I’ve also got a surplus of slightly weaker flour which needs using up. Something without too much freight to support was called for. Something with a bit of a different flavour and texture. And then I remembered an unopened packet of kalonji seeds. I do like kalonji in bread. So how about a slightly different riff on that, kalonji and giant, golden raisins?


290 gm ripe starter at 100% hydration
755 gm ordinary flour
100 gm wholewheat flour
535 gm water (taking final hydration to 68%)
20 gm kalonji seeds
50 gm sultanas
15 gm salt


Break up the starter in the water and add 350 gm flour. Mix well and allow to stand for 5 or 10 minutes. This period of rest, called autolysis, helps to build gluten. Add the rest of the flour, the kalonji, sultanas and salt. Mix well and then tip out on the counter so you can bring it all together. It will be quite soft and sticky. Do a couple of stretch and folds, form into a ball and return to the bowl. Cover and leave for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes, tip out of the bowl and do a couple of sets of stretch and folds. It should have noticeably more structure. Return to the bowl for a further 45 minutes of bulk fermentation. Stretch and fold again and then leave for a further 90 minutes.

Divide the dough into three portions of about 600 gm each. Shape into loaves and rest in a well-floured couche for about 90 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 230°C and prepare to use steam.

Gently place the loaves on your tray or peel, slash and spray, and bake with steam for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes remove the source of steam, turn the oven down to 215-220°C and bake for another 20 minutes, until the loaves are well coloured.

The bread is slightly dense, and chewy without being too crusty. It is very good with cheese, and a light toasting brings out the aroma of the kalonji.

I think I’ll send this to Yeastspotting.

I’m ashamed to say that although I baked a new (to me) bread on Sunday, partly in honour of Monday’s Fornacalia, I’ve not yet found the time to write it up. My friend Dan, though, who recently left Rome to return to England, has done a bang-up job to mark Fornacalia this year. We’re going to have agree to disagree on the potential links between fornax and fornix though, although my scholarship isn’t up to doing anything more than saying, “there has to be a connection”.

The BBC Food Programme finished 2013 with a revisionist attempt to dethrone Elizabeth David. I don’t think it was wholly successful, but then, being one of her aspirant middle-class acolytes, I would say that, wouldn’t I. English Bread and Yeast Cookery is one of her best books, in my biassed opinion, so it was a great treat to hear David’s cut-glass tones telling the equally wonderful Derek Cooper how she makes bread. I’ve sliced it out for you:

I agree that longer fermentation definitely improves the taste, and possibly also the digestibility, of bread. That’s the approach I generally use, in contrast to Suzanne Dunaway, my guest on Eat This Podcast a couple of weeks ago. It’s also true, as Terence Conran told The Food Programme, that Elizabeth David’s books are possibly even better to read than to cook from, something I did a while ago for a bread baked under a cloche starting in a cold oven.

Re-reading that makes me want to try it again.

Originally posted 16 November 2006

I know that everyone and her cat has already blogged Jim Lahey’s No-knead bread, as seen last week in the New York Times. That won’t stop me adding my take on the matter, late through no great fault of my own. That is, I’ve been snowed under at work, one reason why posting here has been slight of late, and when not at work I’ve been socializing conscientiously, leaving no time for solitary pleasures. Indeed, one reason I opted to try that bread is that I haven’t had time to make bread the traditional way for ages. So, last Thursday I threw the ingredients together, and on Friday I baked the loaf. I was working while it was in the oven, but in a manner of speaking live blogged the entire event in a series of one-line emails to a friend who shares my passion for good bread. Not that I’m going to resurrect those here.

The point is, it worked. and it worked amazingly well. The dough was incredibly loose, more like a biga or poolish than like a proper bread dough. And it slopped all over the shop. Instructions to form it into a ball I regarded as a joke. No sooner had I done so than it collapsed into a pancake. But I managed to get it into the heated casserole without incident, and then monitored its progress, and I was astounded. It sprang up beautifully. The crust hardened, but the crumb kept rising, until it broke through, resulting in those luscious crispy points. The crust was crunchy and chewy (the cornmeal doesn’t hurt on that score) and the crumb was light without being airy.

All in all, a miracle. And – like all miracles – a bit confounding.

I’ve learned a couple of things in a long history of baking. One, originally from Elizabeth David’s incomparable English Bread and Yeast Cookery, is that less yeast and more time invariably results in a tastier loaf. It’s obvious really that the longer the yeast has to work its biochemical magic, within reason, the more complex are going to be the results, and thus the better the flavour. The other, from experience and all the books, is that there’s no substitute for a good knead. Doesn’t matter whether you do it by hand or by machine, there’s something that happens to the dough that makes it elastic, maybe even shiny, and an entirely different beast.

Lahey’s method reinforces the benefits of a long, slow rise. But the fact that it rose so well and had such a fine crumb with literally no kneading knocked me sideways. Mark Bittman, for his article on Lahey , was similarly flummoxed and consulted the God of kitchen scientists, Harold McGee (who started blogging a few months ago). His response:

“It makes sense. The long, slow rise does over hours what intensive kneading does in minutes: it brings the gluten molecules into side-by-side alignment to maximize their opportunity to bind to each other and produce a strong, elastic network. The wetness of the dough is an important piece of this because the gluten molecules are more mobile in a high proportion of water, and so can move into alignment easier and faster than if the dough were stiff.”

Indeed, it does make sense.

Buoyed by the first loaf, I decided to try a second one with my sourdough, which has made my bread for more than a decade, on and off. Mostly off, lately. I just used Lahey’s standard quantities, but instead of a smidgen of yeast, dumped in the ragged old starter. If anything this mix was even wetter than the first. But the result was just as good. Better, in fact, if you really like sourdough flavour, and I do.

It didn’t rise as well, not surprising seeing as I hadn’t fed the starter in a couple of months. But the crumb was great, with the big holes that I personally really enjoy. and the crust was good and chewy. Next time, which may well be on Saturday, I’m sure it will be much better.

A few points in conclusion.

I’d like to have taken a photograph of the inside of the first, yeasty loaf. Unfortunately, it disappeared too quickly. By the time I realized that I had wolfed down the last bruschetta with fresh, fruity olive oil, it was too late.

Rebecca has links to the article and the recipe; go to her, and I guarantee you’ll find something else to like.

I continue to loathe and despise the American habit of measuring solids (and powders like flour are solids too) by volume. I know I read an article once by Raymond Sokolov on why they do this, but I’m blowed if I can find it now. Nor can I remember his answer. Anyway, it is dumb. For anyone who is interested, I used 480 gm of 00 soft flour. And if you know the article I’m talking about, tell me where I can find it.

All hail Jim Lahey.


I’m reposting this here and now because today’s Eat This Podcast featured Suzanne Dunaway, who launched Buona Forchetta bakery from her kitchen in Los Angeles. Suzanne was one of the first people to popularise the no-knead technique, which prompted me to go back to my own first attempts. In the meantime, as any search engine will reveal, no-knead bread has developed a life of its own, with supporters and detractors in roughly equal measure. Me, I’m equivocal …