Paul Hollywood: The Yoda of Yeast

Farl

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There is a general misconception regarding yeast breads.  Just because they take a lot of time to come together, many people assume that this fact necessarily means that making yeast breads is hard.  NOT SO!!!  The most important skill a yeast-bread-maker must possess is patience (they say it’s a virtue, you know).
For many yeast breads, the steps that require actual energy exertion are fairly simple, and the ingredients themselves could not be more fundamental.  This Farl recipe, adapted from one by the Gluten God, Paul Hollywood, is one of those very basic bread loaves, with classic bready flavor, and a light-as-air texture that’s just perfect for serving alongside a lentil, bean, or pea soup or smothered with butter and jam.  Oh yeah, and next-day-french-toast is a must — like washing your hands after using the restroom.
For those of you unfamiliar with Paul Hollywood, he is basically a British baking god.  He is one of the judges on the wildly popular show, The Great British Bake Off (UK title) [a.k.a. The Great British Baking Show (US title)].  On each new season of GBBOBread Week strikes fear into the hearts the bakers.  Knowing that Paul Hollywood will be tasting your bread, evaluating  its taste and texture, mushing it together with his fingers to detect even the slightest indication of overbaking, underbaking, overproving, underproving, or any other possible inadequacy is intimidating to the max.  For perspective, that’s like having Michelangelo rate the clay sculpture you made in art class or having Tiger Woods watch you putt (or commit adultery).
Though Mr. Hollywood himself may be a bit on the terrifying side, his classic Farl recipe is not.  This loaf is an excellent entry point into the world of yeast breads for those who may harbor some trepidation about foraying into fermentation.  Using very fundamental bread-making techniques and no special equipment or oven tricks, this recipe truly is the Do-Re-Mi of bread.  The recipe as is, published in his 100 Great Breads cookbook, is perfect.  The changes that I made — reflected in the recipe below — were made purely to suit my own personal preferences in ingredients and techniques.  You can make this bread across the span of a single day, or you can take advantage of the refrigeration time to spread the process over two days, which yields an even more flavorful loaf, owing to the slow, cool rise that happens in the fridge.

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This cookbook has many breads that were entirely new to me (it’s a very British cookbook), but the beautiful part of breadmaking is that it’s a universal language!  The same basic players are always there — yeast, flour, water, time — but the number of permutations of ratios of these ingredients alone yields a vast array of loaves, differing in shape, taste, and texture.  The addition of different fats, liquids, flavorings, flour types, and knead-ins takes this variety to  an even greater level.  The best part, though, is that once you know how to make one, you basically know how to make any of them!  After all, if you can tie a tennis shoe, you can tie an oxford.

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Note:  In honor of yesterday being the first day of spring, I made an orange-poppyseed variation that I’m super excited to share!  This recipe can be found below the Classic Farl and is also pictured throughout this post.  The method is the same with both breads, just be sure to knead the poppyseed version extra well to ensure even seed dispersion!

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Farl

Yield:  1 small loaf
Recipe adapted from Paul Hollywood’s 100 Great Breads

Classic Farl

1 envelope active dry yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour (or a 1:1 ratio of A-P:white whole wheat flours) + a bit extra for dusting the loaf
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons tepid water
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temp
1 heaping teaspoon salt
Olive oil & cornmeal for baking
In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast, 1 cup of the flour, the honey, and the water, stirring vigorously.  Allow mixture to sit, undisturbed, for 10 minutes.  Add remaining flour, butter, and salt, and use one hand and very firm palm pressure to knead the dough [Note:  this is my semi-cheaty way of kneading without dirtying a countertop — it also prevents the need for adding extra flour, which can make the crumb of the finished loaf unpleasantly dense].  Continue doing the in-bowl knead for 5-7 minutes, until dough is smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky.  Form dough into a smooth ball, and allow to rise, uncovered, in the mixing bowl for 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.  Firmly punch all of the air out of the dough, reform it into a ball, and allow it to rise, again uncovered, for another hour (see pictures, above).  Firmly punch down the dough again, reform it into a ball, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and place in fridge for 2-24 hours.  Remove dough from fridge, punch it down one last time, and reform the ball.  Take a large cast iron skillet, and use your fingers to smear ~1 tablespoon olive oil all over the bottom of the pan and a bit up the sides.  Sprinkle pan with cornmeal to prevent your loaf from sticking and to allow for a small amount of air circulation under the loaf as it bakes.  Sift a thin layer of flour over the top of your dough ball, then transfer the floured dough ball to the center of your prepared skillet (do not sprinkle the flour after placing the dough in the pan because any flour that falls into the pan will burn during baking).  Allow to rise for 90 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees farenheit.  Immediately before transferring the skillet to oven, use a sharp, serrated knife to cut long slashes all along the surface of the dough, ~1/2″ deep.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, until top is a deep golden brown and loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.  Use a spatula to carefully (i.e. without burning yourself on the skillet or the hot bread) transfer the loaf to a wire rack to cool 15 minutes prior to slicing.  Use a long, serrated knife to slice the bread, and serve it warm with softened butter and jam.

Variation:  Orange-Poppyseed Farl

1 envelope active dry yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour (or a 1:1 ratio of A-P:white whole wheat flours) + a bit extra for dusting the loaf
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup tepid water
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
Zest of one orange
2 tablespoons poppyseeds
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 heaping teaspoon salt
Olive oil & cornmeal for baking
In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast, 1 cup of the flour, the honey, water, and orange juice, stirring vigorously.  Allow mixture to sit, undisturbed, for 10 minutes.  Add remaining flour, orange zest, poppyseeds, butter, oil, and salt, and use one hand and very firm palm pressure to knead the dough [Note:  this is my semi-cheaty way of kneading without dirtying a countertop — it also prevents the need for adding extra flour, which can make the crumb of the finished loaf unpleasantly dense].  Continue doing the in-bowl knead for 5-7 minutes, until dough is smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky.  Form dough into a smooth ball, and allow to rise, uncovered, in the mixing bowl for 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.  Firmly punch all of the air out of the dough, reform it into a ball, and allow it to rise, again uncovered, for another hour.  Firmly punch down the dough again, reform it into a ball, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and place in fridge for 2-24 hours.  Remove dough from fridge, punch it down, and reform the ball.  Take a large cast iron skillet, and use your fingers to smear ~1 tablespoon olive oil all over the bottom of the pan and up the sides.  Sprinkle pan with cornmeal to prevent your loaf from sticking and to allow for a small amount of air circulation under the loaf as it bakes.  Sift a thin layer of flour over the top of your dough ball, then transfer the floured dough ball to the center of your prepared skillet (do not sprinkle the flour after placing the dough in the pan because any flour that falls into the pan will burn during baking).  Allow to rise for 90 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees farenheit.  Immediately before transferring the skillet to oven, use a sharp, serrated knife to cut long slashes all along the surface of the dough, ~1/2″ deep.  Bake for 27-32 minutes, until top is a deep golden brown and loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.  Use a spatula to carefully (i.e. without burning yourself on the skillet or the hot bread) transfer the loaf to a wire rack to cool 15 minutes prior to slicing.  Use a long, serrated knife to slice the bread, and serve it warm with softened butter and jam (orange marmalade, anyone?).

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