British-born baker David Winterbottom's breads have developed a loyal following throughout New Zealand, where the name Kapiti Artisan Bread is synonymous with beautiful handmade European-style bread.
A pastry chef by training, Winterbottom got more involved with bread making in the Michelin-starred restaurants where he once worked because he enjoyed the "calming nature" of the process.
Winterbottom's use of the word calming should give you a clue to the nature of baking. He says patience is the most important quality in the baking process.
While some specialist breads, such as the French baguette, need some skill and practice (and an understanding of steam and heat) Winterbottom believes great breads can be easily made at home if you follow a few simple rules. Here are some of his key bread baking tips:
• Always use scales to measure your ingredients.
• If you're using fresh yeast make sure it really is fresh as it can quickly spoil. Only buy as much as you need. Dried yeast is an equally good alternative and keeps well.
• Use good quality bread flour, because plain or cake flour doesn't have enough gluten. Flour should be fresh. Wholemeal flour goes rancid more quickly than white so buy in small quantities and use quickly.
• Bread needs only flour, salt, yeast and water. Sugar isn't necessary. Oils and fats will make a softer dough.
• Start your bread the night before you want to bake it. While it's possible to do this on a weeknight, if you're working during the week the weekend is usually the best time to think about baking bread.
• Give your bread time to develop flavour. The slow fermenting process will improve the bread, making it taste better and be more digestible. Too much heat (ie: overly warm water, a very hot day) will speed up the process too much. That's why a slow prove in the fridge overnight, or on the kitchen bench if it's cool, is the best way to prepare your dough.
• When the weather is very cold, cover your dough with cling film or a clean tea towel and put it in a protected place. Dough exposed to air will develop a skin, which can be very hard to work back into the dough.
• After your dough has been in the fridge, bring it back to room temperature before continuing with the recipe.
• Avoid using flour on your bench to prevent the dough sticking. Don't be afraid of the stickiness, as you knead the dough it will come together and the stickiness will go. If you add flour to your worktop you will alter the balance of the recipe and you may end up with dough that's too heavy. A wood worktop is better than steel or stone, which can be too cold.
• Knead your dough by hand. It's very easy to overwork dough using a machine. You'll know your bread is ready when it is smooth, shiny and pliable. The time it takes will differ depending on the bread and the strength and size of your hands.
• Once you've mastered basic bread, start to play around with different flour combinations and add additional ingredients such as wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
• Bread freezes really well, so make a few extra loaves to see you through the week.
Winterbottom thinks this recipe for Genoese focaccia is a great place for any would-be baker to start. The basic dough can also be used as a traditional loaf (just use a loaf tin or shape into a loaf) or as a pizza dough and the flavour combinations are endless.
Large mixing bowl
Cake tin or pan approximately 30cmx24cm, oiled
500g strong white bread flour
4g dried yeast
30 ml extra virgin olive oil
315-325ml warm water
Focaccia is traditionally a very simple bread topped with fresh herbs and good olive oil but other flavours are also very popular. You might like to try some of the following combinations:
• black and green olives
• chopped garlic and rosemary
• roasted and skinned peppers
• halved cherry tomatoes
• thinly sliced potatoes
• roasted shallots or caramelised onions
• sliced mushrooms and freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
Winterbottom says the secret to a good focaccia is to not overload the bread and keep the toppings small and packed full of flavour.
In a large bowl mix the flour, yeast, salt, oil and most of the water until you have a rough dough. Tip the dough on to your workbench and knead for 10-12 minutes until the dough is smooth, soft and pliable. Add a little the leftover water if the dough feels a little dry.
Wipe out your original mixing bowl and add a good dollop of olive oil. Turn your dough in the oil until it is well coated. Cover the bowl tightly with cling film then refrigerate overnight. This will allow your bread time to develop a good flavour and texture.
The next day, bring your dough out of the fridge and let it return to room temperature. Gently tip the dough into your oiled pan and push the dough out with your fingertips, trapping the air in pockets as you work the dough to the sides of the pan. Add your chosen topping pushing it into the dough. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Covered the dough and allow it to prove for an hour. When ready to bake, push your fingers into the dough to create indentations all over the bread then bake in a preheated oven at 210° for 18-20 min.
Focaccia is best served warm, so if you've made it earlier in the day gently reheat it in the oven before serving. Like most breads, focaccia freezes well.