Rosemary and date syrup bread – a clean slate
“There’s absolutely no food in this house.” This statement, usually delivered with a dramatic sweep of the arm and a pointed stare at me, is uttered now and again by my teens. This is despite rather strong evidence to the contrary (full cupboards, a packed fridge). What they mean is that there is no food in the house that they’d like to eat right at this particular moment. After weeks with the house full of visitors, we are out of routine so when this was last uttered I directed them to a notepad and pen so they could add their essential staples to the shopping list. But bread was one item that I refused to buy. New year, clean slate time – it’s back to home-made.
The silence of the kitchen when everyone is out at school and work; the joy of working from home so I can pop down from my office after each stage of proving; the pleasure of welcoming the teens home after a hard day with a loaf still warm from the oven. Oh bread-making how I’ve missed you.
Whole wheat would wait for another day, but the astringency of rosemary is completely in tune with a simpler diet after the excess of the last few weeks.
I piled flour and salt on the counter, mixed yeast and date syrup into water barely warm from the kettle and poured it into the mound to make a mini-lake. Drawing the flour from the edges little by little with a fork to form a thick swamp, I then swapped to my dough scraper to fold in the edges to make a shaggy pile. Plastic scrapers are all the rage but I love the smooth, wooden handle of mine. Finely chopped rosemary was added as I stretched and folded with rhythmic kneading, the silky dough becoming speckled and smooth. After proving, shaping and rising again, I slashed the top, lay a branch of rosemary on one loaf and slid them into the oven. Several squirts from my water spray into the heat pierced the calm with intense hissing.
The teens ate slices spread with butter. Inspired by the Grana Padano pairing with honey at Cucina Caldesi I added a slice of Parmesan and more date syrup (a good quality one from Baker and Spice). Anything makes a great sandwich with this bread but you could use Brie and grapes, cold lamb and redcurrant jelly, chicken with salad in a lemon oil dressing or thinly sliced smoked pork with slices of apple.
Rosemary and date syrup bread
Ingredients (I doubled this and made two loaves)
- 10g active dried yeast
- 15g date (or maple) syrup
- just over 300ml water, heated until tepid or blood temperature
- 500 g strong white bread flour
- 12g sea salt (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon (or more to taste) finely chopped fresh rosemary
- Put the flour and salt in a pile on the work surface (clean with enough room to move) and make a very large flat well in the centre, keeping a wall of flour round the edge.
- Dissolve the yeast with the date syrup in the tepid water, mix with a fork and pour the liquid into the well.
- Use the fork to incorporate some flour from the edges of the well, a little at a time.
- When the consistency of the liquid centre is quite thick (i.e. won’t run all over the surface) switch to a dough scraper and fold the outside edges into the middle. Keep doing this until you have a shaggy pile of mixture in the middle. If the dough is too dry add a little more water. Do not use more flour though – it shouldn’t stick and you can scrape everything up with the dough scraper.
- Make a dip in the top of the dough and add the chopped rosemary. Fold the dough over it and start to knead gently; continue for about 10 minutes until a smooth, elastic ball of dough is formed.
- Put the dough in a large bowl covered with cling film or a cloth and leave to double in size (about an hour).
- If you have made double the amount this is the time to cut the dough in half. Shape your loaf by flattening it gently into a round (like a thick pizza) then rolling it up. Place it on an upside down baking tray lined with baking paper, seam side down. Leave to rise again so it doubles in size (45 minutes to 1 hour). Meanwhile heat the oven to 200 C with a baking tray or baking stone inside.
- Slide the loaf gently onto the heated baking tray or stone – I keep it on the baking paper and find this helps. Give several vigorous squirts from a water bottle into the oven and shut the door. Turn the heat down to 180 C. Repeat the squirting after 15 minutes.
- Remove from the oven after about 25 minutes, when golden with a crisp crust. Cool on a rack.
What are you are going to make (or eat) as part of a clean slate at the start of the year?