Flour, water, salt, yeast, warmth and love. This is all you need to make your own bread. It tastes nicer, costs less and is much better for you than anything you buy from the shops.
Bread is one of the oldest of hand-crafted foods in the world, it is easy to do and with a little practice you will be making some lovely loaves of your own. Some of the earliest types of bread are the middle-eastern type flatbreads. I love making these and thinking about the thousands of years people have been doing this and sharing the fruits of their labour. I really hope you join me in this bread baking challenge. I don’t use a bread maker but I know some do. I do have a Kenwood mixer with a dough hook which I often use but for this challenge I think I’ll work by hand, it is up to you if you join me with some baking and I really hope you do. Please comment and let me know if you do. I would love it if you revealed how much fun you were having!
The warmth of your stove and those amazing smells that come from home-made bread will permeate the house. It is a relaxing and delicious pastime. People will often say they do not have the time to make bread – but really there is not so much to it. There is more waiting around than work. You do a bit, the have a cup of tea or do some other jobs while you wait for the magic to work. Then do a little more, then wait a bit. Then you pop it into the oven. Job done. And a really pleasurable job it is too.
The first and most important tip I can give you is:
You must use Strong flour if the recipe says to use it. Anything else just wont do. Strong white flour contains the strong and stretchy gluten that is needed to create and hold those air bubbles and is perfect for making bread. I will be posting about making gluten-free bread but for a basic loaf please, please do not use all purpose flour.
One of the reasons we fail with bread is using the wrong flour. Another reason is having the oven too low, so be sure to preheat the oven and double check the temperatures. Lastly, recipes tell us that the bread is cooked if it sounds hollow when we tap the base. To me, it always sounds hollow. I check that is feels light too.
A note on some types of flour
As I say the gluten causes the dough to stretch and rise. When kneading you are working the gluten, it feels great to vent your aggression on the innocent dough. As you work it it feels quite smooth, tender and squash-able. Quite sexy really. The more you work it the stretchier it becomes and you can feel/ see the difference as the gluten breaks down. With some recipes when you start kneading the loaf you have a horribly sticky, gooey mixture that changes in your hands as you knead and becomes more manageable (adding flour to this sticky mess will not improve your loaf so be careful not to do it).
- Strong plain white flour – best for light, airy and sweet loaves
- Wholewheat or Wholemeal flour – makes a dense loaf that tastes nice and slightly nutty.
- Wheatmeal/ brown flour – has some of the bran and germ removed from the wholewheat. Baking with this type of flour gives a smooth crust and a lighter texture.
- Rye flour – doesn’t contain any gluten. You can mix it with strong white flour.
The traditional raising agent for baking bread is yeast.
- Fresh yeast – can be stored in the fridge in small portions, for up to 2 weeks. It can also be frozen in 1 oz pieces for 2-3 months. It looks a bit like putty and has quite a sweet smell. It is available from health food stores.
- Dried yeast – needs to be mixed with a little sugar and warm liquid to reconstitute it. Leave it somewhere warm for 15 – 20 minutes until it is all frothed up.
- Fast action dried yeast – can be mixed into the dry flour straight away, this is also called easy-bake yeast.
Salt – adds flavour. It also slows down the action of the yeast – if the yeast works too fast it spoils the loaf’s texture. but a word of warning – too much salt stops the yeast from working, too little produces a tacky dough which is harder to handle. As a guide 1 tsp per 450 g/ 1 lb of flour.
Sugar – helps the dough get off to a great start. it is especially important if you use dried yeast and acts as ‘food’ for it.
Fat/ Oil – adds flavour, acts as a preservative and gives the bread a silky texture.
Liquids – either water or milk can be used. the temperature should be hand-hot or tepid. About 100 °F/ 38 °
Ovens – differ enormously in temperature. Keep an eye on your bread. You may need to cover it with paper if it is browning too much (unless you want it really crusty) or bake it for longer than stated if it is not ready. I am going to start with a basic white loaf but before long we are going to be whipping up speciality breads and even croissants and danish pastries. Recipe and instructions to follow.