Earning a crust

29 February, 2008
Richard Bertinet's second book, Crust, may look daunting at first perusal, but persevere and the clarity of the explanations wins through, says Patrick McGuigan
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There's a certain amount of faith required when following the recipes in Richard Bertinet's new book Crust. The French baker, who runs a bakery and cookery school in Bath, is a firm believer in using a high percentage of water in his bread recipes, which he argues makes for light and airy loaves. Unfortunately, it also makes for a very sticky dough - so sticky in fact that there may be times when you think you have made a mistake in following the recipe.
As Bertinet says in his introductory section on working dough: "When people who have been making bread for many years see how much water I use, then start to handle the sticky dough, they often struggle. But once they get the hang of the technique and feel the airiness and life in the dough, they never look back. You just have to believe!"It is amazing how the gloopy dough soon develops a silky-smooth texture as you follow Bertinet's kneading technique, which involves slapping the dough on the worktop and stretching it back on itself to trap as much air as possible.Crust, which is subtitled Bread to get your teeth into, is aimed at the general public and some bakers may argue that working large batches of dough by hand does not make commercial sense. However, the higher prices these artisan breads fetch should balance out increased labour costs. Alternatively, says Bertinet, you can form the dough in a mixer, but he still advises working it by hand for a short time afterwards.Crust's recipes, covering 158 pages, are more advanced than those outlined in his first book (Dough, published in 2005) and should appeal to craft bakers who want to tap into soaring demand for speciality breads, but feel unsure of some of the techniques involved. Equally, plant bakers should find plenty of new product inspiration among the recipes.The first chapter runs through the basics, covering tools and Bertinet's techniques for working and shaping the dough, before a large chapter dedicated to 'slow' breads. This includes excellent detail on how to produce sourdough loaves, with information on making and refreshing the ferment, as well as recipes for breads made with a liquid 'poolish' ferment and the French autolyse method, which involves letting the dough 'self mix'.The third chapter is a collection of some of Bertinet's favourite breads, such as spelt bread, dark rye with raisins (see recipe) and bagels.The final section is dedicated to sweet baked goods, including croissants and brioches.As you might expect, some of the recipes in Crust are relatively long and complicated - the fundamentals of making sourdough stretch over 14 pages, for example. But Jean Cazal's step-by-step photography showing the different stages of production is very helpful. Even better, attached to the inside cover, is a DVD of Bertinet in his kitchen demonstrating some of the trickier techniques in the book. Being able to watch him work the sticky dough into a light fluffy ball gives you the confidence to try the recipes yourself. It's just like Bertinet says: "You have to believe." nl Crust - Bread to get your teeth into is published by Kyle Cathie and retails for £19.99.----=== Recipe: Dark rye bread with raisins - Makes 40 small loaves ==="You can leave out the raisins if you prefer but, personally, I enjoy the sweetness the raisins add," writes Richard Bertinet. "The addition of the fermented white dough helps to develop the gluten in the dough, strengthening it, and making the finished bread lighter than rye can sometimes be."TimePreparation: Ferment, plus 25 minutesResting: 2 hoursProving: 1.5 hoursBaking: 65 minutesFreezing: Freezes well fully baked. Defrost at room temperature.IngredientsDark rye flour 10kgFermented white dough (see below) 5kgFresh yeast 250gSalt 200gWater 7.5l Caraway seeds 100gGround coffee (proper coffee not instant) 200gRaisins 4kgA little fine semolina, for dusting (optional)A little butter or vegetable oil for tinsNOTE: To make by hand, use half quantities for each batchMethod for fermented white doughFermented white dough Fresh yeast 50gStrong white flour 5kgSalt 100gWater 3.5kgPlace all the ingredients in a bowl and mix using a spiral mixer for four minutes on a slow speed and six minutes on fast. Rest covered for at least six hours or overnight in a cool place.Main recipe method1. Lightly grease bread tins or have ready proving baskets or bowls lined with baking cloths.2. Preheat the oven to 250°C.3. Combine all the ingredients except the raisins. The dough will feel extra sticky, but this is normal. Turn it out onto your work surface (don't flour it first). Work the dough for 8-10 minutes, then add the raisins and continue to work until the dough is smooth and the raisins are all incorporated.4. Lightly flour your work surface and form the dough into evenly sized balls. Put back into lightly floured mixing bowls, cover with a baking cloth and leave to rest for one hour.5. Lightly flour your work surface, turn out the dough, fold, then form into balls and once more put back into the bowls. Cover with your baking cloth and leave to rest for a further hour.6. Lightly flour your work surface again, turn out the dough and divide into 650g pieces - 650g of this dough will fit into a 400g tin, as it is quite tight and won't rise up as much as other doughs. Either shape each piece into a log-shaped loaf and put into your prepared tins or form into a ball and put into your (lightly floured) proving baskets or cloth-lined bowls. Cover with more baking cloths and leave to prove for 1.5 hours.7. If you're not using tins, sprinkle some fine semolina onto your peels or trays and then place the loaves on top, seam-side down. Slash the tops - you don't need to slash the tops of loaves in tins.8. Bake with steam.Set your timer for five minutes. After this time, turn down the heat to 210°C and bake for about one hour until the base of each loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Turn out of the tins (if using) onto wire racks. This is a very compact bread, so you will need to allow several hours for the loaves to cool down completely.

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