The Mother Of All Dough Recipes (No Sourdough Starter Necessary)

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The Mother Of All Dough Recipes (No Sourdough Starter Necessary)

Words by Mr Tom Ford

3 May 2020

Who has the time to tend to a starter? To treat a mixture of flour and water with more care, love and attention than your actual mother, to feed it obsessively lest it go hungry and fail to grow to a satisfying, Instagram-friendly level of bubbling near-sentience? Well, all of us, if we’re honest. We’re probably never going to have as much time as we do now ever again. With a surfeit of sourdough recipes around, we thought we’d go down a different alley and get stuck into a no-nonsense dough recipe with a difference. We got on the phone to Mr Lee Tiernan, founder of London restaurant Black Axe Mangal, which started life serving kebabs at the back of a club in Copenhagen. He describes his current status as “hibernating”. “We intend to reopen, but there’s a genuine fear out there,” he says. “I’m loathe to comment on it. Some of the chefs I speak to are enjoying this time, though. Some of the stress has gone.”

We discussed his favourite dough, which, inspired by a recipe given to him by god-level baker Mr Chad Robertson of Tartine bakery in San Francisco, is versatile, easy and great for making flatbreads, pizza or simply for slathering with butter. Oh, and it’s perfect for barbecue season – one bit of fun coronavirus can’t entirely cancel.

“I spent a good portion of my time at Tartine and Bar Tartine when I went to San Francisco,” says Mr Tiernan. “Chad Robertson loved my idea for Black Axe Mangal and that gave me a bit of confidence. I explained how I’d been agonising over the bread and he just gave me his recipe. I was astonished by his generosity. His head baker, Richard, was from Leyton. He came to England to show me how to make it because I didn’t take any notice when Chad explained. Two weeks later, I went to Copenhagen and I’ve been making it ever since.

“The flours out there vary and the quality of flours we could get were slightly different. I just messed with the ratios, so there’s more wholemeal flour in it. This dough is easier and less prone to failure than a typical sourdough. The poolish looks like a starter, but it’s an overnight thing. It’s got commercial yeast in it – you’ve got a better chance of it working.

“It works brilliantly as a pizza dough. Use a chopping board as a pizza peel, as long as it’s not too flammable. If you have a barbecue, you can edge the bread off the chopping board and just grill it over charcoal so it gets nice and charred and puffed up. It goes with any grilled meat. Get a nice leg of lamb, dice it up, put it on skewers, put it into the bread and garnish it with chilli. It’s brilliant with just butter and Marmite. I suppose I should say that vegetables are quite nice as well. At Black Axe Mangal, we do a roasted squash and apply it like you would a sauce. Add some rocket, maybe some toasted pumpkin seeds, lemon juice. It’s one of my biggest weaknesses. I’m constantly eating it.”

Makes 8–9

Flatbread dough

Essential equipment

  • Small plastic container with a lid for the poolish
  • Large plastic container with a tight-fitting lid for bulk rising the dough
  • Weighing scales
  • Dough scraper
  • Cling film
  • 8-10 x 450g containers with lids, such as disposable cups with lids or takeaway containers

For the poolish (make double in case of errors)

  • 10g fresh yeast
  • 100g wholemeal flour
  • 100g plain flour

For the dough

  • 375g plain flour
  • 190g strong white bread flour
  • 190g strong wholemeal bread flour
  • 7g fresh yeast
  • 23g salt
  • 350g poolish (see above)
  • 225ml full-fat milk

First, make the poolish. The day before you make your dough, mix 200ml cold water with the yeast in the small lidded container. Add the flours and use one hand to incorporate everything, making sure there are no pockets of dry flour or lumps of yeast. It should be thick and fairly smooth with a bit of effort. You should end up with a mixture that resembles a thick milkshake.

Cover the poolish with the lid and leave in the fridge overnight, or for at least 6 hours. By this time the poolish should have doubled in size.

Now to make the dough. Put the flours, yeast and salt into the large plastic container. Add the poolish, milk and 350ml water. Break down the poolish and the yeast with your hand. Give it all a good mix. Rest the mix with the lid securely on your tub for 30-40 minutes, or up to an hour if you’re working in a cooler environment. This resting period is known as autolyse, which is the first step in the bulk fermentation. This is an important step and one that should always be observed. Autolyse allows the flour to absorb the liquid and encourages the gluten to bond into chains that will increase the elasticity of the dough and improve the quality of the dough as well as the flavour.

The next step is the first of three turns. To prevent the dough from sticking to your hands, wet one hand and forearm under warm water, slip your hand down the side of the tub, pinch a fistful of dough, gently lift the dough up and fold over to the opposite side of the container. Avoid hoisting the dough so high that it tears on the first turn. The dough is still weak at this stage and will have the least resistance of the three turns. Aggression is not your friend here. A gentle but firm approach will encourage growth and yield a better flavour. Repeat this move a further two times, pinching the areas of dough that haven’t been turned already.

Place the lid back on the container, then leave in a warm place, undisturbed, for 30 minutes. Repeat this process a second time, again leaving the dough covered and undisturbed for 30 minutes. As you progress through turns two and three, you will find the dough more co-operative and, with each turn, you should notice a higher elasticity in the dough and signs of activity. After the third turn, inspect your dough one final time before storing in the fridge overnight.

The dough you’re looking at in the tub in front of you should be smooth, risen and slappable. If it’s not, you’ve messed up somewhere and attempting to rectify the dough at this stage is futile. (I bet you’re happy you took my advice about making double the amount of poolish.) Ensure the lid is fitted snugly to the tub when refrigerating, as any exposure to air will form a skin, which will affect the rise.

After overnight bulk fermentation, the dough is ready to be portioned. It will be about 1.7kg. Take the lids off the small containers and get your scales ready along with a bowl of warm water. Remove the tub from the refrigerator. The dough should be billowy, stretchy and wet. This can get messy, so always keep one hand free of dough for grabbing containers, texting, Instagramming. Dip one hand in the warm water, take a fistful of dough and weigh out 210g. Place the dough in the containers as you go, then secure the lids and leave in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours. Portioning is quite traumatic for the dough, so the breads need this time to relax. If you attempt to pat out the dough too soon after portioning, it’ll be reluctant to co-operate. Now the dough is portioned, it will retard at a very slow rate, held in a kind of stasis. The dough will be good for 2-3 days in the fridge.

Makes 8–9

Barbecue method

Take advantage and cook something to accompany the bread you’re about to grill. I have a standard 50cm barbecue that works perfectly and out of sheer laziness and pyrotechnic tendencies I throw on a whole 5kg bag of charcoal. I do, however, avoid using kerosene fire lighters, because they can taint the flavour. Call me old-fashioned, but a few strategically placed bits of newspaper and a match work for me.

Essential equipment

  • Barbecue
  • Tray for shaping dough
  • Pizza peel
  • Tongs
  • Grill brush
  • 1 x quantity basic flatbread dough (see above)
  • Flour, for dusting

Light your barbecue. Wait for the flames to die down and the coals to glow. This is the perfect opportunity to set up the work surface and gather the equipment. I also like to make sure that everything I need is within grabbing distance of where I’m cooking so I’m not frantically beating a path across the garden searching for a pair of tongs to flip burning bread with. When the barbecue has settled, rake the coals over to one side. When you’re happy with the coals, pop the grill over them and retrieve the first bread from the refrigerator.

Take a handful of flour and put it in the middle of the tray. Bread dust, as it’s affectionately known at Black Axe Mangal, has a tendency to get everywhere, so if you’re wearing your best frock or three-piece suit, stick on an apron. Using one hand, scoop the dough out of the container onto a tray, keeping the dough as close to a ball shape as possible. The idea is to keep the dough in a uniform bun shape so, when you pat it out, it stays round. Toss a little more flour on top. It’s better to have more flour than less. Any excess flour can be brushed off before cooking. Start patting out the dough by applying a little pressure with your fingertips, gently working the bread into a saucer-sized round, about 1cm thick. Gently brush off the excess flour, pick up the bread and place the dough close to the lip of the pizza peel.

Give the peel the tiniest of shakes to make sure the dough isn’t stuck, then, with a quick flick of the wrist, transfer the dough from the peel onto a medium heat on the grill. Drop the dough on a very hot part of the grill and it will char too quickly and has a tendency stick. A nice medium heat will cook the bread through, colour the base nicely and give you the desired rise.

You’re looking for a little range of bumps to form on top. Keep an eye on the base, making sure it’s not burning.

Ease the tongs underneath and have a peek at the underside. If the colour is good with a decent char, but not burning, and it comes off the grill with little or no resistance, then persuade the dough off the grill and flip onto a slightly hotter area of the grill. The bread should be more or less cooked at this point. The idea is to get a decent char on those bubbles that formed on top. The high heat also prevents the bread from drying out too much. This char will give you texture as well as flavour.

Scrape the grill clean and repeat with the rest of the dough. As you grow in confidence and recognise how the dough behaves, you may want to start cooking a few breads at a time. They are best served immediately, but if you’re not serving straightaway, keep the breads loosely covered with a clean dish towel and flash over the grill when needed. Try your bread. Pull it apart, smell it, then take a bite. If it’s stodgy inside, there’s a good chance it’s undercooked. This is a process you have to learn and, like me, you’ll probably fail the first few times while you’re working things out. Slathering the breads in melted salted butter is always a good move. This is also when Marmite in a squeezy bottle really comes into its own.

Makes 8–10

Domestic oven method

Essential equipment

  • Well-seasoned cast-iron pan or pizza stone
  • 2 pizza peels (one for loading and one for retrieving)
  • 1 x quantity basic flatbread dough (see above)
  • Flour, for dusting

Preheat the grill as high as it will go, then place a well-seasoned cast iron pan (this won’t work as well with a brand new pan) or pizza stone 7-10cm from the grill. Leave to heat up for at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, take your portioned dough and place it on a well-floured plate. Pinch up the dough to make a uniform bun shape.

Next, pat out the dough. Flip the dough onto the back of your hand, tap lightly to remove excess flour and transfer to the pizza peel. Now is the time to add any toppings.

Working quickly, open the oven door and slide the dough off the pizza peel into the pan or onto the stone, then shut the door and cook until crisp, browned and with the odd scorch mark. Time will very much depend on your oven, but it should take roughly 6 minutes.

Black Axe Mangal (Phaidon) by Mr Lee Tiernan is out now