How to make bread and succeed with scones
After a cracking final of the Great British Bake Off this week, I hope the series inspired you to get baking. From soggy bottom bread to sourdough 'starters', here are my answers to your cooking questions from the BBC Food messageboard.
springbok7: "I need advice on baking bread. Every time I bake a loaf and cut it open, the bottom (3-4mm on the inside) seems doughy and the rest is fine. What am I doing wrong?"
When proving bread, it is essential to prove it for the optimum time. Once the dough has doubled in size, touch it lightly and see how quickly it bounces back. If it quickly jumps back, that’s a good indication that the bread is fully proved. If the bread has a doughy consistency at the bottom, it needs about another 10 minutes proving time.
PamelaWhite: "After seeing your scones, I convinced my wife to make some. They looked brilliant, but left a taste of bicarbonate of soda after eating. Have you any clues to what may have gone wrong?"
My recipe contains only baking powder. You may have put too much in, so next time be careful!
irishcountry-cousin: "In your recipe for scones, you use strong flour. Why is this important? What do you think it brings to the recipe?"
The strong flour brings strength to the recipe (that is more protein) and therefore more of a rise in the oven. The downside is it can be overworked very easily, so be careful and don’t knead it, ‘chaff’ it (fold it) gently.
Dennispc: "The usual advice for scones follows that of bakers like Dan Lepard and Richard Whittington, 'the quicker and lighter you are the better' (quote from Baking with Passion), yet you advise chaffing the mix quite vigorously. The other piece of advice is to get the scones into the oven quickly after mixing. Though Richard Bertinet in 'Dough' says that after mixing together, 'flour the top and bottom of the dough, cover with a tea towel and rest in a cool place for 15 minutes'. Stephen Franz says 'shape into a ball, wrap in cling film and refrigerate overnight' after mixing. As someone who struggles to get scones to a nice height, can you clarify?"
With scones you need to chaff (or gently fold) the mixture. This is necessary to bring the ingredients together without over-mixing. If using a mixer, use your dough hook and mix on a slow speed. I often also put my cut scones in the fridge for 15-30 minutes. This not only rests them, but gives a flat-sided and flat-topped scone. Chaffing is not kneading, but aerating the mixture. Do not pummel it so that all the air is flattened.
irishcountry-cousin: "In the Great British Bake Off, there was a requirement to use suet in a pudding. As suet is now made from vegetable fat and not animal fat, which had great flavour, why encourage its use?"
The main reason to use vegetarian suet is for vegetarian diets - otherwise I would use animal fat suet.
puddinglady: "What must I do to ensure that there is not a watery layer at the bottom of my baked egg custard?"
Use good-quality eggs in your egg custard (that is eggs with plenty of yolk). When making an egg custard, if you find that the custard has ballooned over the top then when you bring it out of the oven, place the tray onto a cold surface.
cooksalot: "Do you have a really foolproof recipe for soda bread? Should it be baked in a tin? I know it has to be eaten fresh - can you freeze any leftovers?"
Yes you can freeze it. Wrap it in cling film and freeze. Here’s my recipe for soda bread.
dustydora: "Please could you give us a recipe for bread using a sourdough starter? I read that you like to bake with starters/leavens but your recipe for a cob contains quite a lot of yeast!"
The recipe doesn’t contain that much yeast, and if you have a problem with yeast you will have a problem with sourdough as this contains yeast too. To make a starter, use organic apples, flour and water: 500g of flour to two chopped apples and 250ml of water. Mix together and leave sealed in a container for four days. Throw half away and feed the dough with another 200g of flour and 80ml of water, repeat this every three days (throwing half away and adding 200g flour and 80ml of water) until the dough starts to bubble after two days. It should take no more than two weeks to establish a starter.
mari_ila: "I wondered if you can give me a recipe for a professional sponge cake so that I can make a celebration cake/wedding cake like the ones you can order from bakeries. What would be the best soft cream icing to use to decorate it so that it looks and tastes professional?"
Try using Mary Berry’s Victoria sponge recipe. You can put it in any size tin, round or square, just change the quantities. I think shop-bought white roll out icing would give it a professional look.