Thursday, 9 February 2017

Interlude is over

I stopped writing this blog a few years ago due to appearing on the Irish Masterchef TV programme (I had to intensify my research and spent all my time creating and testing recipes, so had no time for blogging of any kind), and got out of the way of keeping it going.

Now it's back.

I have recently been baking bread. A lot of bread. And I have researched yeast, flours, recipes, kneading techniques, shaping, forming, proving and baking methods. I'm not too keen on fancy breads with lots of ingredients, so I mainly use just water, flour, yeast and salt, and maybe a little olive oil.

One of my most recent experiments was creating my own yeast (well, capturing it is more accurate) from the atmosphere and creating a 'starter' from that. Basically, you mix flour and water, then leave the bowl - covered with muslin - outside to capture airborne wild yeast spores. I left it outside for a couple of days (bringing it in at night) and waited a few days for bubbles to form. Once the bubbles started to appear I began a regime of feeding the starter (up to three times a day!) with fresh flour and water for around 10 days. This process of growing and strengthening the starter is very wasteful, with lots of surplus starter going on to the compost heap during this time. Once the starter is mature, however, it can be stored in the fridge and brought back to life over a couple of days before using a portion of it and then putting the 'mother' back in the fridge again. So it's really only the initial creation of the starter that's a problem. This process makes hard-core sourdough and results in bread with a thick chewy crust, a very open texture and great depth of flavour: quite excellent, and it's good to have done it, and it creates a benchmark. But not everybody has time or patience to go hard-core, so I have been experimenting with an intermediate technique whereby a starter is created using instant yeast and left overnight to mature a bit before using it as part of a more conventional process the next day. This results in an excellent loaf and I'll be describing the whole process soon.

I have been making home-made pizzas for many years now and I only recently bought some pizza stones. These ceramic disks are pre-heated in the oven and the pizza is constructed and then baked on top of them. The results are quite excellent, and I wouldn't think of making pizzas in any other way now. I also use them for baking other breads and rolls.

One thing that fascinates me about bread recipes is that each chef has their own technique for mixing, kneading, shaping and baking; each claiming that their way is the only way to do it. Some books explain the theory behind their techniques and certain nuggets of information keep reappearing, such as 'you need to knead for 15 minutes to strengthen the gluten'. There's no doubt that there's plenty of science behind these theories, and they consistently reappear, but I recently read about a no-knead technique for making pizzas, so decided to give it a go:

No-knead pizza dough


1 sachet dried yeast
2 tsp olive oil
380g strong bread flour
10g salt
250 ml water


Combine yeast, flour, salt and olive oil in a bowl. Add water in stages, just bringing it all together. Leave for 15 minutes.

With a running tap, wet fingers then bring one edge of the dough to the middle with finger tips and press down. Repeat with 3 more corners. Do this 3 more times, wetting fingers as you go. Cover the bowl with clingfilm or a wet cloth and leave to rise until doubled in size.

It shouldn't work, but it does.

I have also used some leftover dough to make bread rolls and flatbreads, and I wouldn't trust it to make good stand-up boules or cottage loaves, but for pizzas it's very quick and easy.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.


  1. It is very tempting to try this Stuart, but I now have difficulty in standing at a counter-top for more than a few minutes and my wrists are decidedly painful nowadays; would I possibly manage this?

    It is good to see you back in Blogland. How did the Mastercheffing go?

  2. I made it through to the televised stages in two successive years, but didn't progress after those. It was good experience, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, given the time commitments.

    The pizza dough could be made sitting down and even the rolling out could be done that way. I'd say it's an ideal method that's particularly kind to painful wrists, since there's no real kneading. A bowl of water could be used for dipping fingers in rather than using a running tap.

    Worth a try....:)