By all rights, I did not deserve to get such a perfect loaf. I forgot it three times between rising and baking. I used plain flour – I think – from an unlabelled canister, and beer instead of cider. Which I forgot to measure, just tipped it most of it in. The yeast had been in the cupboard since I don’t know when.
But I was home after a while away and in the way of a territorial cat, I wanted to take back my kitchen. Most of the ingredients were there, flour and honey and beer, so that I could start kneading in my pyjamas. Once I had rescued the sloppy dough (my fault) with extra flour, and had to punch down the bread twice and reknead because it had been spreading, steathily, while I went back to bed with a book, once I remembered that it was in the oven only because the beep awoke me from a Saturday morning stupor… after that, my expectations were low.
It was a nice round loaf, full and plump. The crust was browned properly, while the crumb was surprisingly soft, white and fluffy. There was a slight tang from the beer that gave an edge like good sourdough but with a lighter texture. With butter and last summer’s apricot jam it was heaven.
The next time I made it with cider it was even better. It may become my go-to bread recipe, that I can tweak and change, add a quarter wholemeal flour or seeds, nuts, dried fruit, depending on my mood. I can confirm that a double quantity suits this insane recipe forgarlic party bread from Smitten Kitchen extremely well. Full disclosure: I was lucky enough to work for Gontran Cherrier for a couple of months at the beginning of my apprenticeship, and his breads are just incredible. Seedy baguettes, squid ink buns, fig loaves. The most original in Paris, certainly. This recipe is from his book, Gontran fait son pain. I am looking forward to making the cider version into cheese and apple sandwiches, or even homemade cinnamon toast, if I can resist eating it all fresh, on the first day.
Which reminds me: toast is the new cupcakes, accordingly to a heartwarming article that surprised me by switching subjects halfway. No sarcasm, do read it.
(If you have leftover cider, consider making spiced mulled cider and adding icecream, optional. If you have no patience, try a quick-bread recipe with much the same ingredients: my beer and honey bread. It has a cakey crumb more like soft soda bread, or a scone, but it is still delicious, and instant.)
Gontran’s Pain au Cidre
makes one small loaf
250g strong white flour
7g instant dried yeast (normally one packet)
1 tbs runny honey
1/2 tsp salt
Mix the yeast with 30ml or 2tbs tepid water, at body temperature. Leave for five minutes. Stir all the ingredients together including the yeast and knead until it comes together into a smooth dough, another five minutes. (Obviously this is possible and faster with an electric mixer and a dough hook.) Lightly oil the bowl and place the ball of dough in it. Sprinkle with a little flour, cover with a teatowel and leave to rise, 45 minutes to an hour. (On a cold day, I like to heat a bowl of water in the microwave for 2 minutes, then put the dough for a warm, humid environment.) It should have roughly doubled in size, be nice and puffy.
Knock some of the air out of the dough, knead once or twice and shape into a ball. Place on a piece of baking paper and cover again. Leave for an hour. Preheat the oven to 200C with two baking trays already inside it, one flat, one with sides. Boil the kettle. With a sharp knife, slash the ball of dough a couple of times, parallel lines about 1cm deep. Slide the dough onto the preheated, flat baking sheet. Pour some of the hot water into the other tray and have it on a lower rack. The steam will help the bread rise and form a nice crust.
Bake for 30 minutes until brown. Turn the loaf over and knock it, it should make a hollow thump. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before cutting.