20th August is St. Stephen’s Day in Hungary, our greatest national holiday, celebrated with day-long festivities followed by spectacular fireworks throughout the country. We commemorate the foundation of the Hungarian state, and remember Stephen I, the first king of Hungary and founder of the Kingdom of Hungary, who was canonized on August 20th, 1083 by Pope Gregory VII. We also celebrate the first bread from the new harvest that is baked traditionally on this day. On this occasion I’d like to show you how I bake Hungarian white bread.
A little late, but last year bread baking fever reached me, too. I thought eating my own bread would be a thousand times better than store-bought, bread-like products full of additives. I set to work and took the first step: googled bread recipes – but I shouldn’t have. I lost the thread in couple of minutes, the more recipes I read, the more doubts I had because I couldn’t believe that bread baking could be so complicated. It seemed that making bread required an MBA in nuclear physics, or at least extraordinary skills in baking. I was totally despirited when I turned off the PC.
But the thought kept running through my head, and after the first shock I decided to look for a simpler way and asked two old ladies who have experiences in making bread at home. They and their mothers baked amazing breads in rick-shaped ovens for decades, so they could easily recall the working phases and the ingredients they used. They just laughed when I told them my tribulations on the net, and they reassured me: everyone can bake bread – without making a fuss about it. Following their advices I developed my own bread recipe, which is probably not so professional, but authentic and, what is more important, it’s mine.
For the quick sourdough starter:
- 300 g (~2 1/2 cups) bread flour
- 12 g fresh yeast (~1 tsp dry yeast)
- 300 ml (~1 1/4 cups) water
For the dough:
- 1 kg (~8 cups) bread flour
- 40 g fresh yeast (~4 tsp dry yeast)
- 40 g (~2 1/2 tbsp) butter
- 30 g (~1 3/4 tbsp) salt
- 450 ml (~ 2 cups) lukewarm water
Place flour, yeast and water in a bowl, and mix them together. The batter doesn’t have to be too smooth as the action of the yeast will break down any lumps. Let it rest overnight at room temperature. I usually put it in the oven or in the microwave oven in order to protect it from draught.
Next day sift the bread flour in a big bowl. Add fresh yeast, butter, salt, lukewarm water and the sourdough starter.
Knead thoroughly until the dough is smooth, supple and silky. It takes about 20 minutes (if you knead by hand). Cover and in a lukewarm place let it rise for 40-50 minutes until it doubles in size.
Knead again to knock the air out. Shape the dough into a round loaf and place it onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Cover and leave it to prove for a second time for 40 minutes in a lukewarm place.
Pour 200-300 ml (~1 cup) of water in a metal pan and set it on the oven floor. Preheat the oven to 210°C / 410°F.
Brush water all over the top of the loaf, then score the dough with a sharp knife or a razor blade. Slide the bread immediately into the oven. Bake for 60-70 minutes. Bread is done when you tap the bottom and it sounds hollow.
Remove the loaf from the oven, place it on a rack and allow it to cool completely before slicing.
Feel free to freeze any leftover bread.