Batch bread has held a fixed place on Irish dining tables for generations. For breakfast or with dinner, it’s on the plates and slathered in butter or dipped in stews. The name “batch” comes from the way this bread is baked in batches of four or nine loaves in a single tin before being torn apart into smaller loaves. This version uses beef dripping which became popular in the UK & Ireland during the war to fry and bake with due to its cheap nature and its full flavour. More and more, chefs and homecooks are embracing the animal fats their grandparents cooked with as a way to use all of the animal and reduce wastage.
Kneading - Learn how to knead and work with this wet dough, developing the gluten over a prolonged period of time.
Proofing - Begin to understand the science behind proofing dough and why we do it!
Enriched dough - learn to make this enriched white loaf with beef dripping.
1x stand mixer (optional), 2x large bowls, 2x small bowls, 2x large jugs, 1x wooden spoon, 1x deep square baking dish (7inch wide, 7inch deep) with a false bottom, 1x pastry scraper, 1x roll cling film, 1x scales, 1x kettle, 1x oven rack, 1x chopping board, 1x bread or pastry knife
No pre-lesson preparation needed.
To start, mix the flour, salt and sugar. Once fully incorporated, add the yeast and mix again. Place the beef dripping into the hot water and allow it to render - this will take roughly 5 - 10 minutes. Once melted, combine with the cold water bringing the temperature down to lukewarm which will help the yeast raise the dough.
To your dry ingredients, add the water and rendered beef fat. Slowly begin to work the dough with the spoon incorporating the wet and dry ingredients. At the point of turning out your dough to a clean work surface, you will have a large ball of dough that looks rough, isn't elastic when pulled and leaves excess flour in the bowl. Once on your worktop, begin to knead the dough developing the strands of gluten as well as incorporating any of the excess flour. Knead the dough by hand on your surface for 20-25 minutes or transfer to a stand mixer with a dough hook for 15 minutes on a medium speed.
After 15 - 25 minutes, the dough should look smooth and be extremely elastic, remove from the mixer or your bowl. Place in a clean bowl and cover the bowl with cling film leaving enough slack to allow the dough to rise and peak over the bowl - its important to remember at this stage the bowl needs to be large enough for the dough to double in size. Leave the dough in a warm place for roughly one hour or until it has at least doubled in size.
Once proofed, carefully peel back the clingfilm. Now knock the dough back (give it a good smack or poke) and let all the air escape from the bread. Pull all the sides of your dough into the middle of the bread creating a tight round ball of dough that is a similar size to before the first proofing. Remove from the bowl onto a clean and dry surface. Weigh your dough and proceed to divide it into four equally sized dough ball pieces.
Now we begin the shaping process. Flatten one of the dough balls into a rectangular shape, taking each of the 4 corners begin folding into the centre. Now, flip it over so the seams from the folds are facing down onto your work surface and cup the dough with both of your hands. On the same spot, rotate the dough between your hands creating a smooth and taut surface to the dough. With your hands still cupping the dough pull the dough towards yourself applying a small amount of pressure to create some friction before then turning the dough 90 degrees and repeating that same drag and turn technique 4 or 5 times to remove the seam at the bottom of our dough. Now repeat this shaping process across the three other dough balls.
Lightly spray or grease (cooking spray or butter) your high-sided baking tray. Place your nicely shaped dough balls into the greased tray and lightly pat-down. Next, leave the bread for its second proof. Cover the tray loosely with cling film like in step 3, and leave to proof for 1 hour. Half way through the second proof, pre-heat your oven to its maximum temperature at roughly 250°C (480°F). Clean down your work surface and prepare your oven.
Place the oven rack in the middle of your oven leaving plenty of room for your loaf to rise whilst beneath on the base of the oven, you have a deep-sided tray which we will use to add water to create steam. After the hour has gone past and our batch bread is peaking over the top of the tin, pour boiling water into the empty tray in the oven. Leave the initial steam to escape and then put the bread into the oven and bake for 40 minutes or until a really dark crust has formed.
Take the bread out of the oven and place on a wire rack. You should be greeted by a blackened crust, 4 evenly risen loaves and an amazing aroma. Leave the bread to cool down completely or enough for you to handle, then lift the tray and push the false bottom up removing the bread. To check our bread is ready (aside from the dark crust) tap the bottom of the loaf listening out for a hollow sound.
Place the bread onto a chopping board and pull apart the bread. This is where the batch bread gets its iconic un-crusted sides due to us placing batches (usually 4-9) of raw dough so close together. Once you've pulled the dough apart get ready to tuck in!
Slice your loaf as you would like, whether this is thick or thin slices it really doesn't matter however we do recommend thick slices. Taking a large slathering of butter (don't be shy!), butter your bread and serve!
Keep the salt and yeast away from each other. Salt will extract moisture from the yeast cells in a process called osmosis reducing, slowing or completely stopping the fermentation process.
If the fat doesn't render properly in the hot water, heat it in a small pan along with the water or melt it in short blasts in the microwave.
Rendering the fat allows for it to be fully mixed through the dough creating a rich flavour throughout.
The perfect water temperature for yeast to thrive is 38°C or 100°F.
Kneading is an essential skill to have in your repertoire and is used across a huge variety of different doughs. The skill can be up to interpretation with the main goal of tearing and stretching the gluten strands. The main techniques I would use are:Pushing and pulling: with the heel of your hand push the dough away from you across the worktop (as you knead the dough this will become more elastic and you'll be able to get a longer stretch), pull the elongated bit of dough back to the centre and turn to the right. Repeat the process for as long as the recipe requires.
Flipping and Turning: grabbing the far side pick up the dough and let it hang in front of you. Flip the bottom end of the dough onto the work surface, and whilst still holding the dough, fold it over the anchored section on the counter. Pause. Repeat the process by turning the seam which is currently horizontal to the right or left, so that the seam is now running vertically once more. Repeat the process for as long as the recipe requires.
Once you have kneaded your dough, the key things to look for are elasticity and smoothness. You will also begin to smell an aroma from the dough of the beef dripping and the yeast. To the touch, the dough will be sticky but won't leave any dough on your hands or the sides of the bowl.
A dough that has been kneaded as much as this one creates a lovely pillowy texture, allowing the yeast to create lots of pockets of carbon dioxide in the elastic dough giving the bread a high rise and light texture.
Great places to leave your dough to proofAiring cupboardWarm window ledgeWarm kitchenAn oven on the lowest setting with the door openProofing draw
If your bread hasn't risen enough, just leave it for slightly longer to prove further it may also be worth finding a warmer location in your house.
We have achieved the rise we are looking for from the yeast feeding off of the sugars in our dough creating a bi-product of carbon dioxide.
When weighing out and dividing your dough, ensure you get four equal sizes. It's ok to give and take from each piece to ensure everything is even.
Take your time when shaping the dough as this is the last time you will be working the bread. Make sure you create a taut and smooth top to the dough ball which will give us the even rise and baking we are looking for.
Follow this step by step guide if you are unsure of the shaping technique:
If the dough has a quick spring to it when pressed at this stage we know it has proved properly.
Patting the dough down at this stage encourages the dough to proof properly and fill our baking dish. It is also an essential step in creating the batch bread and achieving the iconic crustless sides.
Be careful when adding the water to your hot oven as the steam will come back out of the oven very quickly.
Steam in the baking process is incredibly important helping us achieve several things. Firstly it allows the bread to reach a high temperature much more quickly and begin that baking process. The steam also keeps the exposed areas of the dough moist leaving plenty of elasticity in the oven spring or initial rise. As well as keeping the elasticity at the start of the baking process, later on the moisture helps us achieve the iconic crust by working with the starch in the flour.
Don't be alarmed by the dark crust (almost burnt looking) this is exactly what we want.
"The hollow sound" The reason bread sounds hollow and becomes light when picked up is due to the interior becoming fully set and the sponge becoming open. If your loaf is undercooked and feels heavy and dense, often the inside of the bread will still have a continuous gluten mass with air bubbles embedded into the raw dough.
When pulling apart the loaves you're looking for the dark crust on top and a pillowy almost candy floss-like texture.
If you are finding this loaf difficult to cut follow these tips:
Let the teeth on the knife do the work, apply as little pressure as possible using a long sawing motion to cut the slices
If you stand straight you'll cut straight. If you stand square to your chopping board with the knife by your side you will keep control of the knife and slice straight.