A little project for you or the kids. Or maybe you and your kids – make your own family of hedgehogs!
Kids can’t go wrong with dough. It’s doughty stuff! They can push it, pull it, tear it, thump it, drop it, throw it and it will thrive! Make this a fun activity at the weekend, or why not make it part of home-schooling when you need a break from relentless screen and book work, and tie it in with the science curriculum?
Did you know yeast is a fungus? It’s also known as sugar fungus (saccharomyces). All you need to make bread is flour, water, yeast and a little salt. Easy, huh? So easy, in fact, we’ve been doing it for thousands of years – on hot stones, in clay or iron pots, on ashes, in the ground under ashes... So, a modern oven and some ready dried yeast should make it a doddle!
To start producing the bubbles of gas to rise your bread, the yeast needs some sugar to feed on. It’s its best thing. And flour is full of it, but it’s all locked up in bigger starch molecules and the yeast can’t get to it. Once we add the water, the starch structures swell, allowing enzymes in the flour to work on the starch and break it into simple sugars. Yeast feasts on the sugar and produces carbon dioxide as a waste product. If bread was a liquid (like beer!) we’d see the bubbles rising to the surface, but in bread, it gets trapped by the stretchy gluten structure which fills like balloons within the dough.
Your job is to knead the bread to create the stretchy gluten ready to trap the gas and then wait until each ‘balloon’ has filled, so your bread is light and fluffy. Mostly, nature is going to do all the hard work for you.
All you need is some bread flour, a little salt, some ready dried yeast and some tap water. You don’t even need scales – you can cheat with a coffee mug and a teaspoon. Have fun!
Bread is baked in a really hot oven, so make sure you preheat your oven to 240C at least 20 minutes before you need to use it. Perhaps set a timer for 1 hour after you have shaped your hedgehogs to remind you to turn it on.
When your little rolls are ready, they will have roughly doubled in size and when you gently press the dough it will bounce slowly back. If you wish to, you can add a couple of pumpkin seeds or currants for eyes. For those you haven’t covered in seeds, you can sprinkle a little flour on their backs.
Before they go into the oven, we have to cut the hedgehogs’ ‘spikes’. To do this, hold your scissors almost horizontally and cut row upon row of spikes. You will cut them flat, but they will spike up as the dough springs up in the oven.
As the tray of rolls go into the oven, throw half an eggcup of water onto the bottom of the oven to provide some steam. Close the oven door and turn the temperature down to 220C and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. The longer the bake the crisper the crust, so feel free to leave them in longer – just watch the tips of your hedgehogs’ spines don’t burn!
Allow to cool on a rack – a clean grill pan will do as long as air can circulate and allow the steam to escape from the roll or you’ll find the bottoms will be a bit soft and soggy.
Once cool, you can bag up (and freeze) any you don’t want straight away.
How will you eat yours? Tear off the spikes and dip into something delicious or cut open and fill with your favourite sandwich filling. How about hedgehog hotdogs? Have fun and happy baking!
Our workshops are run by award-winning sourdough baker Helen Underwood.