~ bread ~
It has to be said, i do make good bread. and while i was kneading, bouncing away, singing along to “Radio GaGa” (which is a good kneading song, i know it sounds wierd but it is), i got to thinking that maybe others would like the recipe(s), so here it is, a weblog on the benefits of breadmaking.
the bread i actually make at home is my grandad’s recipe. He baked this bread every morning for nearly 30 years, so its a tried and tested recipe. It is a part wholemeal recipe however, so i give the variation for plain white bread, and bread with seeds in, so people can cook what they like. its all basically the same anyway, its when you get into cooking other breads like soda bread that it varies.
bread is made in batches referred to in the weight of flour thats used to make it. i.e. a 1 pound loaf, a 2 pound loaf. Similarly, if you get into making bread and you want proper bread tins, then you can buy them in 1 pound tins, 2 pound tins and so on. But they’re not necessary unless you want the proper breadloaf shape. [at least, you could buy them in poundage weight before the EU decided to do away with pounds and ounces. I have no idea if its changed.]
the recipe i give below makes a 2 pound dough which is split in two before baking to make 2 1 pound loaves. i suppose if you didn’t want to make 2 loaves you could halve the mixture, but i make 2, i find there’s no trouble in them keeping long enough. (let me put it this way, i have the opposite problem! they keep just fine in a plastic bag, like normal bread for a few days. i suppose it would freeze like regular bread too, never had it long enough to do that with.. *chortles* )
1 1/4 pounds strong white flour (sometimes called bread flour in the supermarkets, not to be confused with either plain or selfraising flour) / 3/4 pound wholemeal flour (Allisons make a good brand) / 2 oz butter, soft like it would be if it was left out on a warm may day (this can be left out but i think it makes the bread nicer) / 1 sachet of dried yeast (again Allisons make a good one) /2 teaspoons brown sugar (demerara, or you could use granulated in a pinch) / 2 teaspoons salt /about 16 fl oz hand warm water (see notes) /4 tbsp bran / couple handfuls of a mix of seeds (see notes)
take a big mixing bowl, measure out the flours, put into the bowl. you’re meant to sieve it, i never do. Put the bran, sugar, yeast, and salt in the bowl, mix thoroughly with a spoon.
- put the soft butter in the bowl too and dive in with clean hands, rubbing the butter into the flour the way you do with pastry. (just caress the butter in the flour between your finger tips and you’ll find it eventually breaks up and you cant’ tell that there’s butter in there any more.) the alternative to this, and my method, is to nuke the butter till its melted, and pour over the flour mix, stir quickly so that the butter is distributed through out in little melted blobs. unorthodox, but it works [Addendum to this: you can halve the amount of butter – 1 oz instead of 2 – then stir through an equal amount (roughly) of vegetable oil before you pour over the flour mix – and i’ve found this gives a lovely light loaf. Helps with the expense/diet side of butter too.] Scatter seeds on top then stir throughly to distribute the seeds well.
- make a “well” in the mix, pour about 3/4 of the 16 fl oz of water into the well, and go in with a big flat knife or spoon, mixing thoroughly until you can’t see any water left, then go in with your hands and squeeze the dough together, keep doing this, if necessary adding water, until there is no loose flour left and you have a big ball of dough. you should be able to pick the dough up without it sticking to the bowl, but not so dry that bits fall off the dough.
- sprinkle white flour over the clean, dry worksurface, put the dough in the middle, and put the bowl to one side. (not in water, you’ll need it in a minute). now, this is where Freddie Mercury and Radio GaGa come in! I’d recommend you find something similarly bouncy, if Radio GaGa ain’t to your taste. now put your hands on the dough, and with the heel of your right hand, push diagonally across to your left, so that you’re stretching the dough, then with your fingers fold the bread down over itself. then with your left hand do the same, in a diagonal movement across to your right. You’ll find its bloody hard work but it IS much easier if you use your whole body, spread your feet wide on the floor and use your whole body to push. and the music helps too. anyway, do that for about 5 minutes, about the length of radio gaga (lol). you’ll find that towards the end of the 5 minutes it gets much easier to work the dough, and if you look at it, it takes on a different appearance, sort of like cellulite. that’s when the dough is ready.
- At this point you need to pop the dough back in the bowl and leave it to rise. There’s several places/ways to get the bread to rise. a) a warm place, like an airing cupboard. Cover the bowl with a teatowl to stop the surface of it drying out and cracking in the next bit. b) in a very very cool oven, it needs to be cool enough to hold your hand in there comfortably, again cover it with a teatowel. c) at room temperature in a warm kitchen (about 18-20 degrees c) or d) oil one side of a length of clingfilm then cover the bowl with the oiled side facing the bread (it stops the bread sticking to the clingfilm if it rises that far). then fill your washing up bowl with hand hot water, put your dough bowl in the washing up bowl, being careful not to get any water in the dough bowl, cover the whole thing with a thick towel, and keep topping it up during the rising time.
- However you do it, the dough needs to double in size, which at room temperature takes about 2 hours. This is the first “proving” or rising (called proving cos it proves that the yeast is still alive.) i generally just leave it in the kitchen, if its not risen enough after 2 hours i leave it a bit longer. Even on a very cold day, it usually rises sooner or later. (to make bread rolls from this point, click here)
- at the end of the 2 hours, or when your dough is doubled in size, tip it out of the bowl onto a floured surface again, (or just don’t clean the one you were using before, that’s what i do, and dust more flour over) and then bash the dough. I mean it. *very* therapeutic. Its called knocking back, and it feels great, that first bash, it kinda collapses the bread. Anyway, go at it, hammer and tongs for a couple of minutes with your fists, then shape it into a ball and cut with a sharp knife into two equal parts.
- At this point it depends what you’re going to cook the bread on. If you’re going to cook the bread in bread tins then shape the rounds into rectangular sorta shapes, A4 size, and fold em like you would a sheet going into an envelope, into three, so its the size of the tins, and plop em in the bottom.
- If you’re doing them on a baking sheet then make them round and put them on the baking sheet. you can even, if you’re feeling adventurous, make the whole into three parts and make a plait. whatever you do with it though, you *do* have to put it back into a warm place for another hour, covered with a teatowel again, to double in size once more.
- Once its doubled again, remove the tea towel and put into a preheated oven, either gas mark 8, 450 degrees F or 230 degrees C, middle shelf, for 30 to 40 minutes if you’ve got 2 loaves from the above mix, or 35 to 45 minutes if you went with one big loaf from the above mix. Bread is cooked when its a) brown enough on top and b) the bottom sounds “hollow” when tapped. if you want the bottom/sides crisp then turn upside down onto whatever you were cooking them in and return them to the oven for 5 minutes. after that, tip onto a wire rack to cool. if you want a soft top to the bread, cover with the teatowel, if not, leave the towel off.
- try to leave them till they’re at least cool enough to handle. large amounts of hot bread lead to stomach ache. I should know. The problem is that just-cooked-bread smells so achingly devine, that its hard to resist. Do try though.
This recipe gives a loaf that is white to taste, but with some of the goodness of wholemeal bread. It makes fantastic toast, and absolutely gorgeous sandwiches. Don’t cut the bread very thickly though for sandwiches as its quite a heavy loaf. Its not really suitable for doorstop sandwiches. LOL. Its also good for cutting into chunks to dip into soups/stews.
Trouble shooting Notes
1) bread not rising
Bread rises because of the oxygen produced by the yeast you put in bread, Yeast is a bacteria (a good bacteria, don’t worry, it goes in beer too!) and as such needs certain things to thrive: food, water, warmth. food is taken care of with the sugar part, water is the water you added, and warmth. that’s the tricky bit. too hot and you kill it. (thats why it doesn’t keep rising once you take it out of the oven). too cold and it goes to sleep and doesn’t produce so much oxygen. So there’s a fine balance. You’ve probably either put water in the bread that was too hot (i.e. straight out of a kettle), put the bread in a place that was too warm, or bought duff yeast.
2) bread being cooked on top, but not cooked inside when you take it out of the oven
you’ve put it in too high up the oven, try moving it down a couple of shelves
3) solid lump of dough, no air holes or anything resembling breadlike
either you’ve a problem with the yeast or a problem with your kneading. the kneading is necessary to make the gluten in the flour stretchy, and the two provings to introduce the air to the bread. Are you sure your provings doubled the size of the dough? if not, see point no 1.
1) plain white bread
instead of 1 3/4 white to 1/4 wholemeal, just use 100% white bread. otherwise cook the same.
2) more “wholemealy” bread
adjust the balance from 1 3/4 to 1/4 to to 1 1/2 white to 1/2 wholemeal, or 1 to 1. kneading will be harder work, however, and you may find that the yeast needs longer to prove to the point where the dough has doubled as the bread is heavier. you may also need more water, the more wholemeal goes in.
3) putting in seeds
this is something i often do. I make the recipe as above, then scatter (before adding the water), a couple handful of the following mix: poppyseed, sesame seed, linseed, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds. when kneading some of the seeds have a tendency to pop out of the dough, just pick em up when kneading has finished and push em back into the dough. You can also scatter poppy or sesame seeds over the top of the dough before cooking.
Then there are the specialist varieties, such as adding sundried tomatoes and goats cheese and breads cooked with things like olive oil in them, home made pizza, breads cooked without yeast such as irish soda bread. Its a specialist area of cooking but one that provides a lot of reward emotionally. I follow my grandfather in that both he and i often give loaves away to friends and family who visit.
Bread – health and economics
If you’re thinking in terms of making bread to save money, and you only ever eat plain white non-fancy bread then please, don’t bother. The ingredients and cost of using the oven is more than the cheapest loaf of bread at the supermarket (which these days can be as cheap as 20p). If, however, you buy a lot of the more expensive, wholemeal, seeded breads, and this kind of bread is important to you for taste/health reasons, then you may save a lot of money by baking your own. Even more so if you buy a lot of the really expensive breads with things like sundried tomatoes and so on.
healthwise, although bread may not be the healthiest thing known to mankind, with all the carbohydrates in it, home made bread is going to be somewhat healthier than the very cheap supermarket bread. This is because of the amount of yeast used, the very cheap supermarket bread uses a LOT of yeast to get the bread to rise in one proving and rise quickly, so that they can get it onto the shelves to be bought by the consumer. This amount of yeast isn’t healthy – for those who are interested there is a lot of information out there on the internet about the problems of overingesting yeast. And then of course, there’s all the additives that supermarket bread has put into it, often to make the bread last that little bit longer. At least in baking bread yourself you know exactly what goes into it, and for some people, that’s very important.
I hope this has been of help to someone out there.. if anyone wants any other recipes please let me know and i will see what i can do to help.