Making Big Big Bread

Some may have spotted that I have a thing about baking at the moment. As it happens, I also have a soft spot for the music of Big Big Train, and a repeated theme across the past few decades has been, believe it or not, beer.

By happy coincidence, the band members of Big Big Train appear to have a similar taste for the latter, to the extent of licensing a chocolate porter in their name, from the appropriately named Box Steam Brewery.

An obvious next step is to combine all three, isn’t it? To whit, I proffer below a step by step guide to making Big Big Bread. You will need:

800g of strong flour – I used 550g wholemeal and 250g white, to keep it light. If you use more wholemeal, you may have to add a bit (50-100ml) of water.

12g salt – I have some sea salt with seaweed in, which seem to make sense for reasons I cannot fathom.

12g dried yeast – not the “fast action” stuff

If it takes your fancy, a tablespoon or so of light linseeds and, potentially, some raisins.

2 bottles of Big Big Train beer.

For equipment, a variety of bowls – a smaller plastic one for measuring, a larger one for mixing. An accurate scale. A cheap plastic bowl scraper. A thermometer with a metal sensor you can poke in the bread. And the “English Electric: Parts 1 and 2” albums.


First, weigh out the flour and mix with the salt and linseeds. Make a well in the middle, and add the yeast, followed by one bottle of beer. Then push a bit of the flour from the sides into the beer mix – enough to make a liquid mush (the technical term is a sponge).



Cover with plastic, and leave for 20 minutes or so – until there’s been some sponge action – enough to make you think, “Ooh, look at that.” You should be about finished with ‘Judas Unrepentant’ by now – great track. About an art forger.


Once you’re happy/bored, use one hand to mix the flour and sponge together, you’ll need the other to hold the bowl. Turn the rough dough out onto the surface and start kneading. Don’t worry if it’s a bit sticky; add a little water if it’s a bit tough.


Knead for ten or so minutes (pretty much ‘Summoned by Bells’), folding the dough towards you and turning 90 degrees. The time is less important than the result – you want to be sure the dough is stretchy and supple at the end, so that when you fold it over it is like a taut belly after a good meal.


Put the result back in the bowl and cover with plastic for a couple of hours or so at room temperature, until the dough has reached twice its size. Be careful with airing cupboards, as they can dry the dough. (You could always *gently* warm the beer to 30 degrees or so; I didn’t.)

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At this point, sprinkle a bit of flour onto the top of the dough and “knock it back” punch it down with a fist. Then scrape the dough out (using the oh-so-clever plastic thing) onto a floured surface.


You can cut the dough according to your needs – two thirds would make a standard loaf plus three rolls, or the whole lot could go into a large tin.

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Flatten and fold each piece of dough – both sides into the middle, turn and do the same again (like a sheet). Flatten and repeat, leaving you with nicely rounded balls. Oh, stop it.

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Now’s the moment where you can use the raisins, if you are making a second loaf or rolls. Roll out the smaller piece of dough with a floured rolling pin, then cover the dough with raisins before rolling it up like a Swiss roll. Roll out again and up again before forming back into a ball.


Then – here’s the clever bit – get the air bubbles out of the dough by stretching the ’skin’ of the dough and tucking it in underneath. Put one (floured) hand either side of the dough and stretch it towards the work surface, tucking and turning the dough at the same time. By now, you will be gasping for a drink. Which is where the second bottle comes in.


Aaaand – we’re back. Upturn the ball of dough onto one hand and pinch together the resulting seams before putting back in a bowl/on a tray and covering with plastic. Again. Leave for half an hour, for a second prove. Now you can shape the dough ready for putting into tins.


Oil the tins with a butter wrapper or an olive-oil-on-kitchen-roll combo. Flatten and shape each ball as before, then have a final shape by rolling it up while pushing in with the thumbs. Fold the ends underneath and pinch any seams before putting in the tin. Dust the tops with flour, then cover in plastic. Again.


Leave for fifteen minutes to rest before putting the oven on. Five minutes later, use scissors or a knife to slash, slice, cut or otherwise live out your vengeance fantasies on the top of each loaf or roll.


And into the oven they go. For about 25 minutes. If you have a thermometer, you want the bread to reach 94 degrees C, at which point it will be done – you’ll know as much if dough comes out on the sensor. If the top starts to burn, turn the oven down and put tin foil on top.

And if there’s more room in the oven, you might as well use it!



And if the time says this, the bread may be very nearly ready.


Take the bread out of the tins and put onto a cooling tray to, er, cool.


Try to resist cutting off a sumptuous crust of freshly baked bread, smothering it in butter and biting into… oh, never mind. You’re done.


Making Big Big Bread

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