In her new book, Silvia Colloca offers a beginner’s class in bread-making along with sweet and savoury takes on Australian and Italian classics, writes ANTHONY HUCKSTEP. We’re looking at you, pizza Margherita.
It’s hard to think of a more alluring aroma than freshly baked bread, yet bread-making at home is often put in the too-hard basket. But according to cook, author and delicious. contributor Silvia Colloca, baking bread is easier than you think. The key is not to be too ambitious at first.
“If you’ve never baked bread before I wouldn’t start by creating a sourdough culture because I think what is important is to have some instant gratification, and that will feed the passion,” she says.
“Start with bread mixes that require no kneading because they’ll still yield a fairly decent result,” she says. “You’ll still get a crusty bread and, more importantly, you’ll get confidence.”
Colloca’s new cookbook, Love, Laugh, Bake!, which is published this week, is a good place to start. It’s designed for the home baker, with special attention given to bread – it’s the focus of the opening chapter, the longest in the book, which then segues into a chapter on pizzas, foccacia and enriched breads. It has something for beginners and more confident bakers alike.
“It caters for everyone. There are recipes for the nerdy bakers where you create your own culture and build your bread in stages, and there are also recipes for the novice baker that don’t require kneading too much, and also some gluten-free recipes using potato or buckwheat flour.”
Colloca believes the current appetite for ‘designer’ bread is at the core of the current DIY revolution.
“A lot of people are starting to bake bread, maybe for the same reasons that I did,” she says.
For her, it started with a desire to have the best bread without having to pay a fortune and it has become a rewarding part of her culinary life.
Growing up in Italy, she was spoilt with good bread, a huge part of an Italian diet, and she took it for granted until she moved to Australia. “It was just a given that we go to the baker every day and it costs very little because, after all, it’s just flour and water.”
But here she found good bread was hard to come by. Eventually more quality bakeries started popping up, but while decent bread was easier to come by she found it expensive.
“I started thinking, the amount of bread that our family goes through in a week, we can’t really afford to buy designer bread every other day. So I started baking it, and I think once you do it, it’s quite addictive.
“It becomes a ritual, the proving and anticipation of the baked good at the end, and then when it comes out of the oven waiting for it to cool down so you can enjoy it.”
Although Colloca has long held a passion for baking, she’s grateful she didn’t publish a baking book until now.
“When I started writing about food I didn’t have the right baking skills to be honest. I thought I was so good, but I wasn’t,” she laughs.
Whether or not she’s being hard on herself, that she found time to hone her baking skills is an achievement in itself. The 41-year-old actress and mezzosoprano juggles acting and opera gigs with raising her three children with husband Richard Roxburgh, writing cookbooks and filming television shows.
As a self-taught baker, Colloca has had her share of missteps so she’s ideally placed to help the home cook navigate the pitfalls.
“I’ve had so many failures – and it’s important to remember them,” she says.
“If you think you’ve followed a recipe to the letter, and it doesn’t turn out right, then what is it that you can do to avoid that? Well, I have a whole list of trouble-shooting solutions to help counter this.”
While baking is a science that’s unlike any other form of cookery, she says, you need a bit of luck, too.
“There are so many variables. The climate you’re in – is it too cold, too hot or too dry? Oven temperatures are always different everywhere,” she says.
“Sometimes it’s just really annoying because you can’t change the temperature of your oven. There are things you can do – you can prove your bread in the fridge if it’s too hot outside. You can create a proving environment in the laundry next to the dryer if you have it on.”
The book dishes up more than 120 recipes covering tarts, pies, cookies, cakes as well as pizzas, focaccia and bread. Her tip is to take the recipes as a guide and unleash your own baking creativity.
“Even those trusted recipes that you think you know so well and that always work, you can always fine-tune them and if you do that there’s always something new that’s quite exciting in a nerdy way,” she says.
“That’s what happens when you catch the baking bug, you can use the book as an inspiration, but then you can just do your own thing.” Love, Laugh, Bake!