Dan Lepard is one of the most respected and widely-read bakers in the world, whose message is that while you should never make bread badly, you don’t need to hide behind jargon and buzzwords; that haste produces the worst bread, while patience and care are qualities that can be nurtured in the busiest of lives.
Dan wrote a weekly baking column in The Guardian for eight years and then for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, and he has become the alternative baking guru for a generation not always convinced by celebrity chefs.
His award-winning books include BAKING WITH PASSION (Guild of Food Writers Cookery Book of the Year and short-listed for the André Simon Food Book of the Year); THE HANDMADE LOAF, which combined his writing with his skills as a photographer and became the handbook for an emerging sourdough baking movement and an ‘underground’ and internet-driven success; and SHORT AND SWEET (André Simon Food Book of the Year), described as “the ultimate baking compendium from the country's foremost baking guru”.
Dan also authored two cookbooks for the Comptoir Libanais café chain, wrote the baking chapter of THE COOK’S BOOK, which has sold over 250,000 copies and won the James Beard Foundation Book Award, and photographed Giorgio Locatelli’s masterwork MADE IN ITALY (winner of the Glenfiddich and World Gourmand awards) and the first Hawksmoor cookbook, HAWKSMOOR AT HOME.
Dan has worked with, and even helped to kickstart the careers of, many of the best-known names in food. He was head baker at Baker & Spice, which brought Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi to the UK, he set up bakeries within restaurants for, amongst others, Giorgio Locatelli and Fergus Henderson (St John) and has provided consultancy to Conran Restaurants, M&S, Sainsburys and hotels, retailers, cafés and bakeries around the world. He teaches mainly in London, but his work also takes him to the Middle East, Australia, Southeast Asia and more frequently Japan.
Dan was one of the judges for The Great Australian Bake Off and is Patron of the World Marmalade Awards and can be seen and heard from time to time on tv and radio. He lives in south London with his husband David, their Staffordshire bull terrier Bruno, and a cupboard filled with more flour than you can possibly imagine.
“Dan Lepard is to baking what Lewis Hamilton is to Formula One. What Lepard doesn’t know about the miraculous interplay of live yeast and flour isn’t worth knowing” — Jay Rayner
To make the most of these rediscovered Heritage Harvest flours I like to combine both the Roller-Milled White Flour, with the darker Organic Stoneground Wholemeal Flour, in varying proportions according to the sort of crumb I’m after. Using 3 parts White Flour to 1 part Wholemeal flour will give a light wholemeal texture with a degree of heaviness that’s lovely to eat and especially good toasted. If you want to increase the proportion of wholemeal flour do, it will make the crumb heavier but you will get a more intense bran flavour.
In this new age where we’re either in a lockdown or feeling less inclined to travel, I find myself thinking more about the journey ingredients take to get from the field to my table. For the grain used to make flour it’s no exception. It used to be said up until not long ago that all of us, the world over, could only make fine bread from high-gluten Canadian wheat varieties. And we believed it, mostly, even though hundreds of years of evidence – from old master still life paintings through to the early days of photography – showed us images of great looking loaves of bread made from what today we’d call “Heritage Grain”.
Back in 2003 when I was writing my sourdough book “The Handmade Loaf” I travelled to Sweden to understand rye crispbreads better and made my way to the organic Roslagsbröd bakery. There, huge dimpled rollers were part of the wheel and belt old-school mechanism used – fascinating to watch in its complex Heath-Robinson ingenuity – as they squished and extruded the sticky grey rye dough into pitted sheets that were cut into rings and baked. The machinery made quick work of a very old home method to turn flour into crispbread that would store for months once dried in front of a fire. At home, a knobbly Kruskavel rolling pin would be used, rolling out a simple rye dough – 200g water, 100g rye sourdough at 1:1, ¾tsp salt, and enough rye flour (say 200g) to make a soft mixture – to be cut into discs. Sometimes today you’ll find them made with a mix of rye and wheat flour, and even with other ingredients added.
Emmer is the perfect flour when you want a bread with heartiness and body, something finely milled everyday wheat flours never really achieve, as they’re not milled for that purpose. In this month’s Bakery Bits recipe I’ve used Gilchester’s Organic Emmer Flour in a method typically used for 100% rye flour breads, where at least half of the flour is fermented overnight – either using yeast or sourdough – then made into a soft batter-like dough the following day with grated vegetable - say pumpkin or carrot - seeds, more Emmer flour, salt and some dark malt to give it a deep blackish colour. The resulting loaf is firm, packed with flavour and heavily seeded. Slice it thinly as you might with a Scandinavian rye bread, perfect for open-faced smoked salmon sandwiches, or as I’m eating it right now: toasted with some great marmalade.
Here in this month’s recipe I’ve combined the beautiful Spring Oven with Redbournbury’s flour to make a Christmas Twist loaf, with the cardamom-spiced dough rolled thinly and layered with ground almonds, butter, chocolate and brown sugar. Serve it warm with a little brandy syrup and soft whipped cream spooned over.
This is a three-day adventure to take you towards croissant perfection. Much easier and less effort than classic puff pastry, with much less rolling to do. This recipe only makes 6, but I’d like you to start here, getting your technique as sharp as you can, before you set up making dozens to supply your entire neighbourhood as the local viennoiserie star baker. You can do it, I believe in you, but just practice a little first.