Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Great British Bake Off Challenge - Week 3; Quick Bread

Apologies for the late entry for this post; my laptop mouse pad has had a bit of a senior moment so I've had to hunt down a mouse in order to use it. As such, week 4 will be coming up tomorrow...

I'll preface this entry with a simple fact; I hate baking bread. I hate baking bread with a passion. I hate having to knead it because it makes my hands sticky, I hate waiting for it to prove because I'm impatient and most of all I hate that 9 times out of 10 when I attempt to bake bread it doesn't work. I hate it I hate it I HATE IT! So needless to say bread week is not my favourite and was indeed the episode I was looking least forward to creating something from.

That is, until I discovered Alvin's Prosciutto, Manchego and Balsamic Red Onion Soda Bread recipe. This stuff is amazing. I've made three loaves of it since the episode aired two weeks ago and I will be making it again without a shadow of a doubt. It's a hearty, stout bread that is just as fantastic on it's own as it is with a soup. I'm very much looking forward to making loaves of this in the depths of winter to go with stew, goulash, pies and other 'stick to your ribs' meals. You can eat this plain or smother it with butter. Either way, it's a definite treat and one that's sure to go down well with anyone who enjoys a good filling bread.

Ingredients ready to go in

I can't get over how easy this bread really is to make. It's so simple - there's no prooving, no kneading, no yeast that needs to be alive and smells like a brewery. It's just like a cake really with a some unconventional mixing methods! Well, apart from the fact that you get a wonderful loaf of bread at the end rather than a yummy cake snack. And compared to how long it took me to make the Arlettes of week 2, this was a walk in the park!

Finished loaf

You could adapt the ingredients in this fairly easily. Instead of Manchego cheese (impossible to find in my semi-rural local Tesco) I plumped for Comte cheese, on the basis that it looked like a hard cheese and Manchego is hard, right? Well, not really the same thing as Manchego is a sheeps cheese and Comte is an unpasteurised cows cheese; but having never eaten either before I was sure that they'd swap easily enough. Comte is a fairly nutty flavoured cheese compared to Manchego's 'buttery texture' (thanks Google) but it is certainly a good accompaniment to the acid-y sweetness of the onions and the salty ham. I swapped prosciutto and parma ham for similar reasons in my original bake but went back to prosciutto for the second and third loaves and honestly can't tell the difference. I also left out the extra salt as I found that my first loaf was fairly salty from the ham.

The final adaptation I made was to not put the ham on top of my second and third loaves - I found on the first loaf it just burnt and turned into extremely crispy bacon. Putting the foil on top after it's had chance to brown stops this from happening to the onions that are placed on top.

Don't forget to score it into quarters, as this helps the bread to grow and bake properly.

You can find the original recipe here; I would urge you to go there straight away and bake this little beauty for yourself. I adapted it slightly as per the below:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large red onions, finely sliced
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar

450g plain white flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (double check it's in date as it's the only raising agent in this bread!)
Pinch of dried herbs - I used basil, parsley, a small amount of coriander and rosemary
30g cold salted butter, diced
200g Comte cheese, diced irregularly
80g Prosciutto or other finely sliced ham, roughly torn
300ml buttermilk with 25ml cold water stirred through

Oven temp: 200C/180C Fan oven. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Warm the oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the sliced red onions and stir, reducing the heat slightly. Cover and cook for 15 minutes stirring occasionally so they don't stick. Turn the heat down low and add the sugar and vinegar; stir and increase the heat and cook for a further 5 to 8 minutes, until sticky and the vinegar has almost all evaporated. Set aside to cool.

Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda and herbs in a bowl. Using your fingertips rub the butter in until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. I find it easier to keep going until you think it's done and then shake the bowl vigorously to bring any further butter chunks to the top of the bowl.

Keeping back 1 tablespoon of the cooked onions and a small amount of cheese for the topping, add the remaining cheese, onions and all of the proscuitto/ham. Toss to incorporate - at first the onions and ham will clump together but eventually the flour will dry them enough to allow all three ingredients to disperse evenly in the mixture. Just have faith and keep going!

Make a well in the middle of the flour mix and pour in roughly three quarters of the buttermilk and water mixture. Using a clawed hand mix the flour into the buttermilk well until a sticky dough is formed. Add further buttermilk if you feel like the mixture is too dry (I ended up adding all the buttermilk all three times I've made this). It should be fairly sticky and no flour should be left in the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape roughly. You can work it a little bit here but you don't need to. You do need to try and shape the dough though so if you are finding it's falling all over the place you may want to give it a bit of a light battering. Once shaped, transfer onto the greaseproof paper and score the top quite deeply with a cross.

Throw the rest of the cheese and onions on top. Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes and then cover so that the onions don't burn. Bake for a further 20 - 25 minutes or until it comes away cleanly from the greaseproof paper and sounds hollow when tapped.

Cool on a wire rack; at least until lukewarm as this is truly a bread that needs a little time to sit and chill. The runny cheese inside though is quite a treat if you can't wait that long!

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