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)
- Put the flour in a bowl, adding the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other (the two touching can stop the yeast working).
- Add the water and mix together with your hands. When everything has come together into dough, cover the bowl with a tea towel of cling film and leave in a warm place for 30 – 40 minutes. It should noticeably increase in size in that time.
- Wet the fingertips of one hand and slide between the bowl and the dough, and then fold the dough in half. Turn the bowl and fold again. Keep doing this until you have knocked the air out of it and the dough is smoother (although I have left it looking not so smooth and it still comes out great). Cover again and rest for an hour where it will rise again.
- Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface, flour your hands and shape into a ball (there are tons of YouTube guides for how to do this – this one shows you how from 3:25 – 3:48 – http://bit.ly/20Z99rh).
- Place onto a heavily floured surface like upside down baking tray or chopping board and loosely cover (I usually use an oiled piece of cling film) and leave for another hour to rise again. Preheat the oven to 220°C, at least 20 minutes before you want to bake (with a pizza stone in the oven if you have one).
- Give the loaf some shallow slashes on top with a serrated knife (I usually do four lines on the top in a noughts and crosses pattern). Slide off the floured surface onto pizza stone, or bake on a lightly oiled baking tray for 30-40 minutes until deep golden brown.
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.