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Saturday, 20 December 2014

Our Daily Bread

Now that it's almost christmas (whoo!), and you hopefully have some time off, why not try baking your own bread? It seems daunting but it's actually surprisingly simple. Just make sure you start in the morning and not at 8pm like I normally do, so that you have time to let it rise and cook without being kept awake. Even though the whole process takes around 3 hours, the hands on time is maybe 25-30 minutes. You could do it whilst cleaning, cooking something else, or as short breaks from revision and at the end of it you get delicious homemade bread. It tastes incredible with good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar and I often find myself at midnight on the night I made it having a little snack!

a midnight snack to reward myself

Admittedly, I only started making my own bread once I got my KitchenAid (I think I need a name for it - any suggestions? The best name will get a special recipe named for them) but as that coincided with moving into a flat with a good kitchen, I don't think it was the only reason and you certainly don't have to have one to make bread. Your hands will work perfectly, as has been proved for 30,000 years (thanks Wikipedia!). I started by making brown bread, which I later learnt is very hard to master, but switched to white bread when I couldn't get brown bread flour one day. If you make your own bread, I honestly don't think brown bread is much "better" for you than white - there's only 6 ingredients in both and no preservatives. Anyway, I'm sure I read somewhere that brown bread is better in some respects but worse in others, so to be honest, it's your personal preference.

brown bread being left to rise
If you like the idea of homemade bread but don't want the effort then you can get some good bread mixes, plus they often have seeds etc in them (Waitrose's Love Life purple one is great) that only require you to add water and prove it. I made one for my mum in reading week and I couldn't believe how easy it was. I even managed to leave it to rise in the airing cupboard overnight (I forgot it was there) and after knocking it back (these terms will all be explained in the recipe, I might start a glossary, actually) and proving it, it worked perfectly.

You will need a 2lb loaf tin to make the loaf or be prepared to shape it yourself. I tend to make 2 loaves from this recipe out of two small bannetons (proving baskets) that I bought from souschef, which means that I can freeze one or give it away without cutting into a large loaf. To prep the bannetons for the first use you need to spray the insides with water and then coat them with flour, tapping out the excess, and leave them to dry before using them. There's then no need to wash them, just reapply flour to the inside before each use (to stop the dough from sticking) and make sure you store them in a dry place and don't stack them.

White Loaf recipe
Oven at 220˚C
A metal roasting tin placed in the bottom of the oven as it heats up will allow you to add water and create steam for a softer crust. Just make sure it's metal - I broke a le cruset stoneware roasting dish by doing this incorrectly the other month, I was not best pleased!
You can use a handheld or freestanding mixer with a dough hook attachment or your hands, just look for the same stretchy and pliable smooth feel to the dough.
Once you've opened a tin of yeast you need to keep it in the fridge and use it within 3 months. Apparently you can freeze the yeast to make it last longer - it works straight from frozen.
If you're unsure as to whether or not your yeast is good to go then just sprinkle a bit in some warm water and a little sugar - if it starts bubbling and frothing in a few minutes then it's still live, if it doesn't then you might want to buy a new pot.

ready for the first prove
500g strong white bread flour
2tsp (7g) dried instant yeast (If you have dry yeast that isn't instant then place it in a small amount of the warm water with 1tsp sugar for 5-10 minutes, until it''s really frothy)
1½tsp salt
1tsp sugar
300ml warm water (1 part boiling to 2 parts cold)
15g soft butter or olive oil

Place the flour in a large bowl (or the mixer bowl) and then place the yeast on one side and the salt on an other and the sugar on a third - if you mix them the salt will kill the yeast and your bread won't rise.
Add the soft butter and the water and mix with a spoon, or the dough hook, until the mixture just begins to come together. Try to make sure you get the flour at the bottom of the bowl too.
Next, attach the bowl and dough hook to your machine and set it to run, or tip it out onto a well floured surface and start kneading, adding flour as necessary. If the mixture is too wet then add more flour, if it's too dry then add water a teaspoon at a time - it's far too easy to add too much water.
Knead the dough until it is smooth and stretchy. You can do the "windowpane test" where you get a small piece of dough and see if you can stretch it so that you can see light through it without the dough tearing. It'll take 10-15 minutes of kneading, less with a machine so check it every minute or so after 8 minutes, you don't want to overwork it.

the windowpane test
Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover the bowl with 2 layers of clingfilm. Leave to rise until doubled in size - it should take about an hour. If you don't think you you'll be able to remember the size it was before then take a photo on your phone and compare it. Also, if you poke the dough it will bounce back, sometimes with an air bubble forming from the carbon dioxide.
Now you have to knock back the dough that's just risen, to get out some of the air - mad, isn't it?! Just knead the dough by hand for 2 minutes.

waiting to be knocked back

You're now ready to shape the dough. How you do this depends on what you're baking/proving it in. If it's a metal or silicone rectangular loaf tin that you can put in the oven then you need to shape it into a sausage the length of the tin and then pop in in the non-stick tin with the crease side down, pressing the corners down towards the edges. If you're baking it free form without a tin then you need to flatten the dough into a rectangular shape before rolling it into a sausage shape. I often split the dough into 2 and make a pair of loaves with this, otherwise you can end up with one behemoth of a loaf. With the sausage pointing away from you, you need to fold the 2 short ends into the centre to meet each other and form a square-ish shape. Turn it over so the join is underneath. Now you need to use curved palms to stroke 2 sides of the dough down and under the curve of the loaf. You need a smooth, taut top but a messy underside, which will take around 5 minutes. Do this manoeuvre a couple of times on the shorter ends too, else it'll just rise out instead of up. Place on a piece of baking paper covering a baking tray. Using a banneton to shape the dough mean that you must shape the dough in a similar fashion to the free form loaf but in a circle. Don't forget to halve the dough and use 2 bannetons. Place the spherical dough into the bannetons with the rough side facing up (it'll go to the bottom when you turn it out). Once it's proved then you must tip it out onto a baking paper covered tray to cook.
the free form loaf before it goes into the oven
Heat the oven to 220˚C and place a metal tin in the bottom.
Whichever method you've used to shape the dough, you now need to cover it loosely with a plastic bag (I use a clean, unscented white/see through bin liner). Make sure you ballon it out before tucking the open end under the tray so that it can rise unimpeded. Leave it to prove for another 30-45 minutes until the dough has reached the top of the moulds (or doubled in size for the free form loaf) and the dough bounces back when poked. Gently turn out the banneton moulds.
Lightly scatter flour over the tops of the loaves and then slash the top with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape during cooking.
Place cold water into the hot tin in the oven and put the loaves on the shelf on top.
For the smaller loaves 15-25 minutes in the oven is sufficient. For the larger ones you'll probably need an extra 15 minutes with the temperature turned down to 200˚C. It's ready when you tap the bottom of loaf and it sounds hollow - a weird idea but it really does work!
Tip out of the tin if you used it and allow to cool on a rack covered with a clean tea towel for at least 30 minutes before you start to eat it - it continues to cook as it cools.

yummy, can't wait to eat it

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I love to cook and this blog follows my successes (and a few failures) in the kitchen. If you enjoy my posts, or think there is a problem with a recipe then please let me know