Baking your own bread

This is now basically part of my weekly routine. About 18 months ago, I read about just how bad for you processed white bread is and decided to learn to make my own bread. As it turns out, although getting the dough to my taste took a little while, the technique for bread making isn’t too difficult. I still love white bread – which is easier to make than brown – but have really enjoyed having fresh bread where I have seen exactly what has gone into it. Even if you don’t have time to make your own bread every week, it is a lovely skill to have, even for the occasional treat.

The yeast

As well as the quality of flour, the yeast is what will mainly determine the quality of your bread. You can buy dried quick yeast which is very convenient, but definitely not the best in terms of quality. It has the advantage that you can keep it in the cupboard pretty much forever, and you can literally just throw it into the bowl and it’s ready to go. However, better quality yeast will give you richer tasting bread.

Supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco will often give you a chunk of fresh yeast for free/a few pennies, and this is by far the Rolls Royce of yeast. On the downside, it will only last you about two weeks in the fridge, and needs to be given a bit of time to get up to room temperature and to ‘wake up’ in some warm sugary water. I’m making my first experiments with caked yeast next week, so will report back!

The middle road option is live granulated yeast. I strongly recommend Allinson’s tinned Dried Active Yeast – it keeps well, tastes pretty good and is easy enough to use. Like the live yeast cake, it will want a little bit of ‘waking up’ time (about 15 mins) but the results are far superior.

 The recipe

So let’s start at the basics… white bread!

You will need:

  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 300ml warm water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp quick yeast OR 1tbsp live yeast

 – If you’re using quick yeast, then mix together all the dry ingredients, and then rub in the butter. Gradually add the water – it’s best to mix it with your hands.

 – If you’re using active yeast you’ll need to do a little more preparation. For the granulated yeast, whisk a teaspoon of sugar into half the warm water, then whisk in the yeast. Leave it somewhere warm for 15 mins to froth up! Add to the dry ingredients, then use the remaining 150 ml to swill out the bowl the yeast was in, and add it to the mixture as well.

 – You’ll then need to knead your dough! This video shows you how to knead dough very well but if like me you can’t be bothered to click links, the idea is to stretch out your dough so that it rises properly. Place it on a lightly floured counter and hold the dough against the counter with one hand. With the heel of your other hand, stretch the dough out away from you along the counter.  You want to stretch the dough not break it, so stop before you end up with two separate balls of dough. Be firm, but gentle! Fold it back into a ball and turn 90*. Wash, rinse, repeat! It will take about ten minutes in total. The dough will look and feel smooth, elastic and springy. When you poke your finger in it, the dent should stay there and slowly spring back.

 – Well done! Now leave the dough to prove: put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl covered with a damp cloth until doubled in size. On a nice warm day this takes about an hour, in winter I give it an hour and a half. Get the kettle on!

– Once your dough has risen, tip it out of the bowl and knead it lightly. This is called knocking it back. The idea is just to gently squash out the dough, not to pulverise it. Once you have done this, either smooth it off into a nice round for a ‘farmhouse’ loaf (god alone knows why it’s called that – surely they have loaf tins on farms!) and put it on a baking tray, or put it in a lightly oiled loaf tin. Rub a little oil over the surface of the dough and prove for another 40 mins.

– Preheat the oven to 200* when the dough has nearly done proving. Bake at 200* for 10 mins, then turn down to 180* for another 15-20 mins. The bread is done when it sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom. If you’ve done it in a tin you’ll obviously need to take it out to test this – putting it back in the oven without the tin will make a crispier crust so if it needs a little longer bear this in mind. If you want a nice crunchy crust you should give it abother 3 mins or so without the tin.

 – Here’s the difficult bit – once that bread is done, DO NOT CUT IT UP UNTIL IT IS COOL(ish). It continues steaming and cooking while it is hot for one thing, the bread will risk going a bit dry if you cut it too soon. Similarly, the bread will still be steamy and sticky – if you crush the loaf while it is hot, it will stay that way! I usually try to get it so that the first slice you get is just warm enough to melt a little butter 🙂

And that ladies and gents, is how you do white bread! Enjoy 🙂

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