I started baking bread about 3 or 4 years ago. I already loved baking, and at first it fed my need to bake and create without consuming my own weight in sugar, but it soon became an obsession on its own, overtaking my love of baking sweet treats.
Due to living in a shared house, bread making took a pause for the last year or so – a kitchen covered in flour all the time doesn’t make you a popular housemate. However, having jumped on the property ladder last December, now it’s just my boyfriend who is bribed with fresh bread in turn for ignoring the heavy dusting of flour that covers the counter tops. Over January alone I baked; multiple batches of Fougasse, currently par-baked and filling up my freezer ready to grab and warm up; naan breads; pizza dough for some stonkingly good homemade pizzas; Foccaccia ; Bagels (always a tricky beast – did you know they are boiled before baking?); and a weekly white loaf from James Morton’s ‘Brilliant Bread’ (recipe below).Yes, I am obsessed. There is something fascinating about the process of yeast coming alive and feeding on the flour, and its temperamental nature – the fact that a heat or pressure change can be the difference between a lovely loaf or one as flat as a pancake.
Whatever the reason for my obsession, there’s little doubt that homemade bread is superior to any store bought sliced white. Four things go into a homemade loaf – Flour, Salt, Yeast and Water. A manufactured loaf from a supermarket could have any number of additions to those, including flour proteins, vinegar, dextrose, fructose, soya flour, re-hydrogenated vegetable fat, preservatives, E472e emulsifier, E300 flour treatment agents… none of that sounds particularly appetising, plus it ups the calories, sugar and fat in your sandwich. An additional benefit is the crust on homemade loaves. All that chewing through the thick tasty crust builds saliva which helps the bread digests in the stomach. As for the consistency of store bought bread, one of the key signifiers of an under baked loaf is when you squeeze it it turns back to dough (you may have seen Paul Hollywood wrench the middle of a loaf out in search of such a cardinal sin on The Great British Bake Off). Most manufactured loaves do just that and all that under baked dough is enough to make anyone feel bloated.
Ok, so I may be getting a bit preachy, and I know not everyone is like me, reading bread cookbooks like study books with my highlighter pen and a note pad, but it sure is enough reason to go buy proper bread from a baker rather than heading to the usual sliced store-bought manufactured loaf.
If making a homemade loaf does appeal, this recipe for a ‘No-Knead’ white loaf from former Great British Bake Off Finalist James Morton is a great way to start. Even alongside trying all those fancy breads, I still return to this simple no fuss recipe for my regular loaf as I can spend a total of about 20 minutes in the kitchen and still come out with something delicious.
Basic White Bread
350g water (I weigh my water rather than use ml as you get more exact measurements that way)
The way to know if you bread is done is by turning the loaf upside down and knocking on the bottom of it. If it sounds hollow, it’s done. This is because if it’s all light and fluffy and baked inside, the sound can travel from your knock, to the other side of the crust and back creating the noise. If it’s still stodgy and under baked, the sound can’t travel so you won’t get that lovely hollow sound!
Not everyone will share my bread obsession, but I can assure you that a homemade loaf is well worth the time. Next for me – it’s time to return to potentially the most temperamental of breads, but absolutely my favourite, Sourdough. To be continued.
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