I’ve decided to try not to make any more cake until we’ve made more of a dent in our remaining mountain of Christmas treats. It is shrinking. The Christmas cake is gone now, but we still have a lot of chocolates, sweets and biscuits to go. We’re looking at Mont Blanc this week, rather than the Everest of the week before. Realistically though, it’ll probably be cake again next week no matter how much chocolate we haven’t eaten. My cake cravings are a distinct phenomenon, completely unrelated to those for chocolate or biscuits.
I decided to go a step further than no cake this week, and make something positively healthy. I couldn’t quite bring myself to go as far as spelt bread, or rye buns so I decided to try the honey-glazed walnut bread from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible. It has nuts in it, and seeds, and it’s made with granary flour. It must be good for you.
I started with the yeast. I don’t have any easybake yeast at the moment, just a tub of dried yeast, so I had to work out how much I needed and to activate it first. The instructions on the tub say to double the amount given for easybake. I mixed the yeast with some of the milk used later in the recipe (which is mixed one-third hot to two-thirds cold) and some sugar and left if by the radiator to bloom (I think this is the right technical term) while I chopped up some walnuts.
I mixed strong white flour with some wholegrain seeded bread flour from Sainsbury’s – I know I said the recipe uses granary flour, but Sainsbury’s didn’t have any and Jon thought that the wholegrain was the next best thing. There are a lot of seeds in Sainsbury’ wholegrain seeded bread flour – I was a bit concerned that I might end up with too many.
Once my yeast had a good froth to it (it took around fifteen minutes), I added it to the flour, added black treacle, milk (one part hot, two parts cold) and olive oil and mixed it in the KitchenAid. I had a bit of a dilemma over the olive oil – Mary Berry says that it should be good. Is the pale blended oil in a big plastic bottle acceptable, or do I need to splash out on extra virgin? I thought about it for a couple of minutes, changed my mind several times and went for the extra virgin.
According to the recipe, the dough should be slightly sticky when it first comes together, and when it’s been kneaded enough, smooth and elastic and leave the bowl and your hands clean. If you’re using a mixer, Mary says that about five minutes should do it. Well, my dough was definitely sticky, and it took a good fifteen minutes of kneading in the mixer before the bowl was clean. I don’t think I got my milk quantities wrong, so perhaps it was the seeded flour that required more work. I’m glad I didn’t take the virtuous route and knead by hand.
I added chopped walnuts and sunflower seeds to the dough, turned it onto a board, divided it in half, and shaped two loaves. I put them onto greased baking sheets and into plastic bags and left them by the radiator to double in size.
When I came back to them, I glazed the top of the loaves with a mixture of beaten egg and honey (Mary says use a tablespoon of each, but I wasn’t that scientific) and sprinkled sunflower seeds over the top. I baked them at 180° fan for twenty-five minutes. They should be conker-brown when baked and the bottoms should sound hollow. I wasn’t sure which of these was most important. My loaves sounded hollow after twenty-five minutes, but I’m not sure whether I’d call them conker brown. I took them out anyway.
There were quite a few things I wasn’t sure about with this recipe: the flour, whether I’d added too much, or too little milk to the dough, whether I’d left the loaves to prove for long enough, whether I’d baked them for long enough.
Even if I have made any number of mistakes, this bread is much tastier than any kind of shop-bought seeded/granary/wholemeal loaf. Especially the come-in-a-plastic-bag sliced versions. Mary Berry says that this bread makes the best toast ever and, you know what? Even with a million and one potential mistakes, she’s not wrong.