Moroccan Bread

As far as I’m concerned, the best Moroccan bread is light and fluffy on the inside, with a fairly crisp crust coated in polenta and studded with sesame seeds. It’s somewhere in between a flatbread and a yeasted bread, the perfect bread for mopping up a sweet, rich tagine, or alongside any Moroccan dish.

Finished Moroccan bread
Finished Moroccan bread

I’ve played around with a few different recipes, so, whilst this probably isn’t the most authentic Moroccan bread recipe out there, it’s definitely the one I’m the most happy with. It only has one bulk ferment/proof, and rises mainly in the oven whilst baking.

Moroccan_dinner
Moroccan bread with cucumber and olive salad, and beef and apple tagine

Moroccan Bread makes one large flatbread

  • 7g instant yeast
  • 190g lukewarm water
  • 65g lukewarm milk
  • 200g strong white bread flour
  • 100g wholemeal flour
  • 6g salt
  • 1tbsp polenta
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
  1. Mix together the yeast, flours, salt and the liquids. Combine and autolyse for 20 minutes. The autolyse is optional, but makes the kneading easier.
  2. Knead for 8-10 minutes until soft and springy.
  3. Gather the dough into a ball and roll around in the polenta. Flatten to a disc, mist top with water or brush with extra milk, and cover in sesame seeds.
  4. Proof for one hour, or until the dough is lightly risen. Preheat oven to 220°C.
  5. Slash the bread in a couple of places and bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown.
  6. Cool on a wire rack for half an hour before serving.
moroccan_dough
Flattened to a disc, the dough will rise for around an hour.
The open crumb is a result of the wet dough
The open crumb is a result of the wet dough

A Simple Stollen

When I first started baking bread a few years ago one of the recipes I copied into my own recipe book was for a very simple German Christmas bread: stollen. I have since made a few different versions of stollen – sourdough stollen, stollen with elaborately spiced fruit mix that marinates in alcohol for weeks, wholegrain stollen – but this year returned to that first easy to make recipe.

Stollen, dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon
Stollen, dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon

Stollen, for me, is one of those recipes that does not benefit from being messed around too much. If you use a reasonable quality of dried fruit, decent bread flour, and good marzipan then I feel there is no need to play around with the additional and time consuming changes to the basic recipe. This goes completely against my normal stance on bread making, but, when it’s Christmas and there are hundreds of other things to get on with, there’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple.

Simple Stollen Recipe Makes one large stollen

  • 1 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 1 tbsp cointreau or brandy
  • 175g mixed dried fruit
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 350g strong white bread flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 40g butter, diced
  • 55g blanched almonds, chopped
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 125ml warm milk
  • 175g marzipan
  • icing sugar and cinnamon, to dust
  1. The night before, combine the fruit, lemon zest and liqueur in a bowl. Cover and leave at room temperature.
  2. The day of making the stollen, sift flour, salt and mixed spice into a large bowl. Rub in the butter, and stir in the sugar, yeast and almonds.
  3. Combine the egg and milk, make a well in the centre of the flour, and add the mixture. Mix to make a soft dough.
  4. Tip onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes.
  5. Shape into a ball and rest in a lightly oiled bowl, covered, for 90 minutes to 2 hours, until the dough has risen to about 1 and a half its original size and is springy.

    Stollen, ready for its first rise
    Stollen, ready for its first rise
  6. On a lightly floured surface, flatten the dough ball and shape into a 20x10cm rectangle, about 2.5cm thick. Roll the marzipan into a sausage and place down the centre of the dough.
  7. Roll the dough up, enclosing the marzipan. Press the seams together and shape into a loaf. Place, seam side down, onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. Cover with clingfilm.
  8. Proof at room temperature for 60-90 minutes, until the dough has again risen to 1 and a half times its original size. Preheat oven to 180C.

    Rolled and ready for a final proof before baking
    Rolled and ready for a final proof before baking
  9. Bake on the middle shelf for 40 minutes, turning after 20. The bread is finished when it is golden brown.
  10. Cool on a wire rack, then dust with icing sugar and cinnamon.

 

This bread is delicious on its own, as a snack, or a dessert. Like all enriched breads (breads with eggs, sugar, and other ingredients) it does not keep for very long, so it should be eaten as soon as possible. Whilst making it you may notice that it does not rise as much as other doughs might. This is because the amount of sugar (and alcohol, to some extent) in the dough inhibits the yeast. It will not adversely affect the final bread.

The room where the baker sleeps

If there is one thing I have learned over the last few years of baking, it is patience. Good bread doesn’t need lots of ingredients, or lots of fussing over, it doesn’t even necessarily need kneading, but it does need time.

When I first started baking the majority of my loaves were yeasted, and the recipes called for 1-2 hour rising periods in a “warm place”. I took the commonly seen phrase “until doubled” to mean that the ultimate goal was to get an enormous expanding dough ball in as short a time as possible. I was asking for trouble.

So, here are a few of the mistakes I have made in pursuit of the speedy loaf:

  • I once balanced a large Pyrex bowl full of dough on top of an electric heater, on a tea towel. If this wasn’t ridiculous enough, I then knocked it off with my backside trying to get into a nearby drawer. My wife insisted that I not use the dough, no matter how well risen it was, because it was full of glass.
  • I have proofed many loaves to the point where they collapse as soon as looked at. Doggedly, I have always insisted on baking them anyway, and always been disappointed when they come out of the oven deflated and solid as a brick.
  • Some of my doughs have been so sticky that they refused to leave the bowl they were rising in. This has not been helped by heaping an unnecessary amount of wet ingredients into the dough, like wilted spinach.
  • Frequently, not shaping loaves correctly, or over proofing them, or both, has led to the finished bread coming out of the oven either completely exploded or featuring “the room where the baker sleeps”: a large hole running right through the loaf just under the crust.
  • A good, dark brown, chocolatey crust is fantastic. A black, charred, inch thick , solid crust is not. Preheat oven to max does not mean “preheat oven to max, forget about it, go outside and bake loaf at 250°C for one hour.”
  • A sourdough starter ferments at its own pace. Using warm water to speed a white flour starter up meant that I had a lot of cleaning to do the next morning when I found that it had exploded all over the counter.
room_where_baker_sleeps
The room where the baker sleeps: A fairly inconvenient hole running all the way through a loaf.

Purged of those sins (and with the memories of many more where they came from) here are a few tips:

  • Get time on your side. Once in the habit, it is far easier to mix a dough in the morning, leave it to do its thing for a few hours, and come back later when it is ready. Don’t rush.
  • Wet dough will stick to anything. Use lots of flour, water or even a little oil when handling.
  • Only bake at max for 10 minutes to help with “oven spring” – the initial rise of the loaf. Turn the heat down and check on the colour half way through baking.
  • Shaping is important, and gets easier with practice.
  • A long slow rise gives a better flavour, which should be the main goal anyway.
  • Don’t balance dough on radiators.