Ever since I can remember, I have loved garlic bread (who doesn’t?!). Shamefully though in my youth, I refer to the mass produced, butter drenched, garlic baguettes of the supermarket. Ready-made garlic bread is often made with margarine, stuffed full of unpronounceable preservatives & throw in some chopped, flavourless parsley purely for aesthetics. Garlic is loved around the world, with so many culinary uses it’s almost an essential to any cook. Our pungent friend is actually one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. With so many uses, it predates written history! Throughout history garlic has been applied to many uses, including as a medicine due to its antibacterial properties. During World War 1, it was applied as an antiseptic to cleanse & heal wounds or to treat dysentery caused by poor sanitary conditions in the trenches (I can see why their appetite didn’t take over). Personally, I prefer to eat mine & source a remedy to cure my lingering breath.
Obviously, as a baker I like to pair garlic with it’s perfect partner in crime… bread! There are much better ways to enjoy a good garlic bread than opting for the supermarket substitute. It can be just a cheap & far more enjoyable to make your own. Chop up a few cloves & add them to your normal bread dough, or even add the whole cloves for a pure flavour punch. For a quick garlic fix, toast up some sliced bread & rub all over with half a clove. If you truly want to make a cheaper, homemade alternative, in spring, you could even forage for your own garlic.
In the UK, wild garlic make an appearance every spring. Take a walk through the bluebells, near any woodlands & you will catch the undeniable pungent smell of garlic. Long, bold, pointed green leaves found on the woodland floor, each growing on a single stem beneath their little white flowering heads (both of which are edible) awaiting the eager forager. Unlike the common cultivated garlic, it’s these long leaves that are eaten rather than the bulbs themselves. The taste is more delicate to your regular garlic bulb, not quite as hot on the palate. Keep a lookout for wild garlic between April & May, follow your nose & catch this wild treat whilst you can. If you’re a little unsure, pick a couple of leaves & crush them in your hand, you should smell the tell-tale odour of garlic. Wild garlic likes damp ground & where you find one plant, you’ll likely find a sea of aromatic green leaves. You’ll often find them near or among patches of colourful bluebells.
I stumbled upon this natural offering on a bring sunshine filled wander around a local castle (I like castles.. I am Welsh). Having hiked to the top of the castle to appreciate the panoramic views of the coast, upon my decent I caught a savoury smell in the air that seemed very familiar. Reaching ground level, I spotted little white flowers which I was sure I recognised from somewhere… wild garlic! Rejoiced, I immediately started to pick the long, luscious green leaves from the woodland floor, put them to my nose & inhaled. I’ve always wanted to find wild garlic in the spring but had never come across it until now (needless to say, I got very excited & passers by looked at me rather oddly).
Armed with two handfuls of wild garlic, I already knew what I was going to use them for… a loaf of bread! Very simple to make, use the garlic as you would any other leafy green, roughly chop it & add to a basic wholemeal bread dough. Topping the wild garlic loaf with the long garlic leaves is a nice touch, adding a little crunchy texture when baked & pleasing to a garlic-lovers eye. I enjoyed this wild garlic loaf simply spread with some good quality salted butter (amazing) & enjoyed a little with some soup & as a side to barbecued fish (let’s face it, I’ll take any opportunity to eat bread).
WILD GARLIC LOAF
(makes one 2lb loaf)
- 250g strong white bread flour
- 250g wholemeal flour
- 150g wild garlic, chopped
- 5g salt
- 7g dried fast-acting yeast
- 300ml – 325ml water
- 5-6 wild garlic leaves
- In a large bowl, combine the flours, yeast, salt & chopped garlic leaves
- Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture & pour in enough of the water to form a dough (you may not need all of the water or may need a little more, start with two-thirds & keep adding more until the dough comes together, adding more if your dough seems a bit dry)
- Empty the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface & knead for 10 minutes (or 5 minutes if using a stand mixer with a dough hook) until it is smooth & elastic when stretched
- Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with clingfilm & leave to rise for about an hour, until it has doubled in size
- Once your dough has risen, tip it out onto a floured work surface & knock back the dough(knead out the air pockets)
- Shape the dough into a round, wet the surface of the dough & use the garlic leaves to top the loaf
- Place on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover with a tea towel, or (my preference) place inside a large plastic bag & leave to prove for around 45 minutes – 1 hour hour, until doubled in size & the dough springs back when gently pressed with a finger
- Place the loaf into the oven & lightly spray with some water before quickly closing the door
- Bake the bread at 220C for 25 – 30 minutes until golden brown & the loaf sounds hollow when tapped from underneath
- Remove from the oven & allow to cool before slicing