Mellow Bakers: Flaky butter buns

I am a little late posting this. I baked these buns on Sat 21 April, but life got in the way of me posting before now. Ah, well; it won’t be the last time this happens!

And now for something completely (well, slightly) different. This is my next bake, for the Mellow Baker’s, from Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf, and it’s not a loaf of bread. These are flaky butter buns – a sort of savoury croissant – and quite unlike anything else I have baked.

This was not a difficult bake, but it did take three days from start to finish. It’s not as labour intensive as that makes it sound; for most of that time the dough sat in the fridge.


This bake began, as most do, by weighing out the ingredients. This is where I made two mistakes: firstly, instead of letting the milk warm to 20°C, I used it straight from the fridge. What a mistake! No dough is going to rise like that… except my second mistake was to add three times the required amount of yeast, so I reckon they cancel each other out! The yeast error is due to me using instant yeast, whereas Dan Lepard’s recipes specify fresh yeast. In practice, they are interchangeable as long as you remember to divide the fresh yeast weight by three; I forgot until it was too late.


When mixed together, the dough was very stiff. The recipe tells us to “mix with your hands until you have a firm dough”. Well, to achieve that, I had to tip it all out onto the workshop and give it a good kneading.

After that, followed by Dan Lepard’s customary “knead for 10 seconds, leave for 10 minutes” cycle, it was looking like a nice dough and ready to retard in the fridge overnight.


The next morning, I removed the dough from the fridge and let it come back to room temperature. Then I rolled it out…

…and layered with butter. I should point out that this is as close to a rectangle as I could manage to roll. If anyone has any good tips for improving that (other than trimming it down) then please leave a friendly comment!

Next the folding and rolling cycle began, which I found to be easier than I expected. Having failed at croissants in the past, I really appreciate Dan Lepard’s “slices of butter” approach, instead of the “roll out the butter” method which I have tried to follow previously.



The next three images show my interpretation of the “book fold”. I know other people in the group have interpreted the instructions differently, but this way made most sense to me.



Followed by another (poor) attempt to roll out a rectangle!

Now to cut out the buns. I managed five from my “rectangle”.

I struggle to throw out any dough I work with, so I reformed the offcuts, rolled and cut again. The front five were the first set; those behind represent various generations of reformed offcuts. I know the layered structure will be malformed but, when the alternative is through them out, what did I have to lose?

As for shaping the buns, I found the instructions to be quite vague. I think this image succesfully shows how I interpreted them:

And here are all of the shaped buns about to be placed into the fridge again, ready for breakfast baking in the morning.


Not much to talk about day three. Once I had been woken (far earlier than I would have liked!) I removed the buns from the fridge, heated the oven and then baked them in time for breakfast. I followed Dan’s advice and stuffed them with bacon.


It was a very nice breakfast. However, we struggled a little to find good ways to eat the rest. It seemed odd to eat then plain, but we didn’t want to add much in the way of toppings, considering how much butter was already present! Probably the best use we found was to accompany some home-made soup.

Would I bake them again? I’m not sure; probably not. But I am glad I baked them this time, and feel I have learnt a lot about how to handle dough/butter layers. Maybe I’ll give croissants another go.

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Mellow Bakers: Rustic Loaf

After baking Dan Lepard’s Simple White Loaf last week, I decided this weekend was a good time to bake one of the breads from the Hamelman BREAD Mellow Baker’s group. Of the three breads scheduled for this month I chose to begin with the Rustic Loaf.

I had been looking forward to this most out of all the six breads scheduled for April; not because it was different or exciting, but because it sounded like a good, decent tasting bread.

Last week I made a tin loaf and half a dozen bread buns from the “quick white loaf” dough. The bread buns made a nice accompaniment to the pea and mint soup I made up, so I decided to follow a similar pattern this week. As well as a stock pot full of soup, I set out to bake a round loaf and six bread buns using the “rustic loaf” dough. To get the right amount of dough, I took one tenth of the metric weight for each ingredient – with the exception of the yeast, as I use instant instead of fresh, so that was reduced to a third again.

I began, on Saturday evening, by mixing up the preferment. This is, I believe, a pâte fermentée which basically makes it a viable bread dough in it’s own right. I tried hand mixing it in the bowl, but it just wasn’t working…

…so I turned it out onto the work surface and kneeded it for a couple of minutes, before rounding it and returning it to the bowl.

I then covered it in a shower cap (I have been going crazy collecting these from hotels when I have stayed away with work recently!) and left it to its own devices overnight.

For some reason, I hadn’t expected it to rise much. I think I confused it with a biga (another form of preferment) which, in my experience, tend to move quite slowly. Not this one! When I came down, in the morning, it was pushing off the shower cap! You can see where it stuck in the photo below.

As a result, it was a little tough to work out if it had domed in the middle, so I decided it was ripe enough and pushed on.

Here is my mise en place:

You can just make out Sebastian, the elder of my two sons, in the background. He helped me out with my bread last week (replicating most of the process with Play Doh) and he wanted to sit with me as I prepared the dough this week, too. You will probably see more of him, and his younger brother Orion, in my future blog entries as I am about to embark on a major life change. From tomorrow, my wife is returning to work after a period of maternity leave; I will be taking the next five months as a period of extended paternity leave to care for the boys myself. I will be recording my experience here in this blog, interspersed by other Mellow Bakers posts and other things which may interest me.

After mixing the remaining ingredients together, I incorporated the preferment and kneeded for around ten minutes, until I was able to form a gluten window pane. I then rounded the dough, and placed into the (freshly cleaned and oiled) mixing bowl, as modelled by Seb:

Bulk fermentation and folding followed, as per the basic recipe in the book. During this time, we made some soup and ate a portion for dinner.

With the soup drunk (I believe that is the correct verb) it was time to divide and shape the dough.

For my round loaf, I used a cane proofing basket. My mother, knowing I enjoyed baking, had recently bought me a bag of malted wheat flakes because she thought they would make a nice topping to some bread. This seemed as good an opportunity as any, so I scattered flakes into the basket before adding the rounded dough to prove.

For the buns, I used a roasting tin, lined with greased baking paper. As the tin would probably have taken twice the number of buns, I placed my empty bread tin next to them to act as a fourth wall.

Around 90 minutes later, they had all risen and looked ready to bake.

As I had employed the empty bread tin, I decided to fill it with boiled water to act as a source of steam within the oven.

I scattered semolina on a spare baking tray, and upturned the loaf onto it from the proving basket. After scoring with a bread knife, it was ready to be transferred onto my baking stone.

Unfortunately, at this point I encountered a little problem. I obviously hadn’t coated the tray with enough semolina – or spread it well, at least – so the loaf stuck to my makeshift peel. I was able to force it off, but it’s elegant, rounded shape was slightly mutated in the process.

Never mind. 40ish minutes later, I was able to remove a delicious smelling, if slightly deformed, loaf out of the oven, alongside six plump bread buns.

We cut a couple of slices from the loaf to accompany our evening meal.

It tasted great, and I was (pleasantly) surprised by the texture. The crust was quite chewy, almost like a good sourdough, and the crumb was nicely open. I’m certainly looking forward to a toasted slice for breakfast tomorrow, and a taste of the bread buns to accompany a little more soup.

Mellow Bakers are a group of people, from around the world, with a shared interest in baking bread. Some of us do it professionally, some just for a hobby, but we all do it for pleasure. The group are currently baking through two books about bread: BREAD by Jeffrey Hamelman, and The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard. Each month, three breads are selected at random, from each book, and we each bake as many or few of the selection as we would like – hence the Mellow in the name. Everyone is welcome to join in, so why not treat yourself to one of the books and switch your oven on?

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Mellow Bakers: Quick white loaf

It’s April and the Mellow Bakers Handmade Loaf baking group has begun its challenge.

As is the norm, we have three breads selected at random, from Dan Lepard’s book, for baking during this month. Some members of the group have been very keen and already baked all three of them, but I plan to spread them across the month. Today I baked the first one: quick white loaf.

I can’t take all the credit for what I have baked today; I was ably assisted by my 2 year old son, Sebastian. He provided moral support and entertainment!

Dan Lepard describes this bread as, “a close-textured, soft white bread, with no pretence to be anything other than that.” Exciting! That sounds like exactly the kind of bread I would never bake because anything else I bake would be more interesting and tasty. But one of the reasons I am in this group bake is to force myself to try out recipes I wouldn’t touch otherwise. And, as Seb will be with me for the session, isn’t this the ideal bread to get him into baking? He is usually happy to eat any “Daddy’s Special Bread” that I offer to him, but this promises a quick turnaround from mixing to eating.

As I was preparing for this bake, I decided this would be an ideal dough for making simple bread buns, so the two loaves which this recipe is supposed to yield would actually become one loaf in a tin and six buns. The total flour weight seemed little on the light side for this outcome, so I decided to increase the weights by a third. This was an easy calculation for the 300g bread flour (becoming 400g) but led to silly figures for other ingredients (eg 266.666…g plain flour). Ah, well.

Mise en place; I don't usually do this but, for this recipe, it was easy!
Sebastion, the bread baker's apprentice.

Before the first rise
After the first rise

Shaped and waiting to prove
Ready for the oven

The finished loaf... and rolls, too.

Thoughts on the finished bread? It’s a bit bland. To be fair, for crust alone it beats supermarket sliced white, hands down. But we don’t buy that bread, and I wouldn’t pay much for this.

Saying that…

Someone obviously appreciates it. Seb enjoys a slice of the bread with honey.

Sebastian was very excited when I presented him with a slice. I cut it into quarters and he spread honey on each piece before wolfing them down. He got very upset when he discovered he wasn’t allowed more (it wasn’t long till tea time), although that may say more about 2 year olds than it does about the bread!

Once he finished, he decided to make more in his play kitchen; he remembered all the key steps, including rolling the dough on the table and making it into a ball.

Would I bake it again? For me, no; I’d prefer something with more bite and flavour. But it was an easy bake and, if it encourages him to bake bread himself, I’d gladly do it with Seb – or Orion (four months old) when he’s a bit bigger – again.

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Mellow Bakers: Hot cross buns

Hot cross buns.
Hot cross buns.
One a penny, two…

That’s enough of that; everybody’s going to be singing that song!

Here we are with the first Mellow Bakers bread: hot cross buns. This is the starter bake for the Hamelman Bread group. As the Handmade Loaf group aren’t starting till next month, I decided to bake Dan Lepard’s hot cross buns, from his earlier book, Baking With Passion, alongside as a comparison.

One thing which surprised me about both recipes was the wetness of the dough. Both, on paper, are 50% hydration which should be very stiff. In reality the egg and butter add to the effective liquid, producing a reasonably sticky dough to work with.

Not quite as sticky as my initial attempt at the Lepard buns; I mistakenly added only half of the required flour after scaling for the sponge instead of the finished dough! I quickly realised what had happened and took corrective steps.

One thing I have learnt today: I hate working with a piping bag. I managed to pipe the crosses eventually, but my hand shall never be the same again!

Speaking of piping crosses, my Hamelman book has the lemon and vanilla variant; it also has the error with 10 × the required metric weight for butter. Watch out for that; I only just realised in time. As far as quantities go, I made just enough crossing paste for 12 buns by using 20g flour and scaling the other ingredients by the bakers percentages.

Hamelman: Bread

Lepard: Baking with Passion


And the winner, in this mightily unfair and non-rigorous contest, is… Jeffrey Hamelman. They are spicy without being overpowering; sweet without being sickly; and fruity without losing their inate breadiness.

But I don’t think we’re going to struggle polishing off the other buns either!

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The Handmade Loaf: The mill loaf

Although I haven’t had a chance to blog about them, I have been baking most weekends since the new year. In anticipation of the Mellow Bakers: The Handmade Loaf group bake, this weekend I have tried out the mill loaf from Dan Lepard’s tome.

Two loaves resting on a bread board.

This is a sourdough bread; it relies on a wild yeast culture, to leaven the dough, instead of the more common commercial yeast.

In making this loaf, I have made an effort to follow Mr Lepard’s particular kneading technique. Whereas I would usually give the dough a good ten minute workout not long after mixing, Dan prescribes six short kneadings – each 10-15 seconds in length – separated by progressively longer rest periods.

I was initially sceptical about this approach, but I was happy to discover that it seems to work just as well as a traditional kneading.

But, as it doesn’t appear to be any more effective, I am not convinced that I will use this technique again. It just doesn’t seem worth the effort. Yes, on the face of it this is less effort than my normal technique; only kneading for 15 seconds at a time is less physically demanding. But I would much rather find 15 minutes early on instead of dragging myself away from other things every ten minutes just to turn the dough! And, surprising as this may sound to some, I actually enjoy kneading the dough.

Anyway, kneading technique aside, there is very little else to say about the process. I chose to follow the weights listed in the book, which yields two large loaves. I shaped one as a round loaf, proved in a spiral-patterned basket. The other I shaped as a bâtard which is a relatively new shape for me to use. Both loaves rose splendidly on my baking stone, and I am looking forward to eating them during the week ahead.

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Mellow baking

Not content with failing to keep up with one challenge (see I’m still alive) I have decided to take up another one! Or is it two…?

I have been baking my own bread for some time now, with varying degrees of success. I love my home-baked bagels, wholemeal loaves and sourdough focaccia. I think my Indian flat breads are pretty decent, but I can never get ciabatta to rise any higher.

I came across the Mellow Bakers group at the end of last year. They are a group of like-minded home bakers who were working through every bread in the book, “Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes” by Jeffrey Hamelman. Every month they picked three random breads from the book, all baked them at a convenient time in that month (although they weren’t strict—quite mellow, in fact—about that) and blogged about their experiences. I came across the group at a very late stage, but I enjoyed looking back through the members’ blogs, discovering all of the great breads they had baked.

At the beginning of this year, the group completed their final breads. But, rather than ending their adventure, they have decided to continue with two new challenges: many of the group are moving on to a new book, “The Handmade Loaf” by Dan Lepard; whilst others are repeating the original “BREAD” challenge.

I already have a copy of both books, and I have baked (again, with varying degrees of success!) one or two breads from each. I have decided to bake along, at least initially, with both new challenges. At times I may have to be mellow about this and drop one or two breads from the schedule. But I’ll give it my best shot and record my experiences here.

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