You may be able to tell from my recent posts that I’ve been on a bit of a baking streak at the moment. It goes hand in hand with my home improving and is all probably due to that crazy pregnant lady phenomenon known as nesting. Ah well, I’m happy and so are all those at the receiving end of my baked goods.
I’ve been making bread by hand for the last few weeks now. It’s not the first time in my life that I’ve done it, in fact I was inspired the year before we conceived Sandy and I made a vow that year to not buy any bread from a shop routinely. It was a resolution I actually kept! However things crept up (my masters dissertation probably) and then I was struck down with morning sickness and I didn’t bake another loaf by hand until, well, a few weeks back. I think it’s one of those things where the longer you are out of it the more of a challenge it seems.
So just how hard is making your own bread? Not hard at all is the simple answer. You don’t need any prior knowledge, experience or baking prowess. Seriously.
That said though there are two things you will need (aside from the ingredients and an oven) and that is ten minutes of elbow grease (just ten minutes, I promise) and to be in/close by the house for roughly three hours. Might be you do your baking on a weekend if you work for example. Being the stay at home bum that I am I tend to do mine whenever our supplies diminish but two bakes a week keeps our family in as much bread as is ever needed.
Now the very simple recipe that will make two small loaves:
1000g strong white flour
10g fast action dried yeast
(Both the flour and yeast are available at your supermarket)
Mix these in a large bowl then add 600ml warm water.
Stir until you can’t any longer then it’s time to get your hands in there. Bring it together to a dough and onto a lightly floured worktop and start to knead.
Kneading is just stretching the dough out. At first the dough will be quite sticky but persevere and don’t add more flour and it will soon firm up. Knead well for ten minutes. Think about things that make you angry and imagine the good it’s doing your arm, shoulder and chest muscles. Oh yeah.
Once done form the dough into a ball and lightly oil it and put back in the bowl. Cover the bowl with clingfilm or a plastic bag.
That’s stage one over and stage two is to leave the dough somewhere warm for 1.5 hours. A warm cupboard is good, or the oven on the lowest of low heats (make sure it’s just warm not hot though). This is the rising stage.
Now if you want just a plain white loaf you can go put your feet up or get on with your day. Just remember what time it will be finished rising at. However, if you want to add some flavour to your loaves now would be the time to get these inserts prepared.
There are a myriad of things you can do to plain white dough to make fun flavoursome loaves, here are some rough ideas:
– Add seeds, any you like… pumpkin, sunflower, linseed, etc.
– Add herbs and spices… black cracked pepper, chilli, cumin and tarragon, rosemary and garlic, etc.
– Add vegetables or fruit… tomato and oregano, cooked pumpkin, fresh berries, etc.
– Go sweet… cinnamon sugar, chocolate, etc.
And finally, just make something up. Imagine a delicious flavour combination and recreate it in bread. For example raspberry and white chocolate sweet loaf or a tomato, mozzarella and basil loaf.
So in this vein here are two of my recent concoctions:
Rarebit bread – cheddar cheese, cracked black pepper, and mustard.
Chilli and herb bread – sliced chillis, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cumin and oregano.
So, on to stage three – proving. You get your risen bread which will now be doubled in size and take it out the bowl and flatten it. Then you add any ingredients you have chosen and roughly knead them in – but try and minimise touching the bread too much.
Then you shape the bread again.
It can be a simple cob shape like this plain white.
Or in a loaf tin like the rarebit bread here.
Or more fancy shapes like plaits which the chilli and herb bread became.
Now allow the bread to ‘prove’. This is also known as the second rise and is usually around 30 minutes to 45 minutes. The more dense your ingredients the longer it will take though so use your own judgement. You want it to get towards doubling again. Plain white is ready in 30 minutes, 45 at least for the rarebit with all that cheese weighing it down.
Then when the prove is over just bang it in a 180 degree oven and cook until it looks like this:
It should be medium brown on top and solid to tap.
Plain white Cob.
Chilli and Herb Plaits.
And that’s it. It really isn’t hard. Make the dough, knead for ten minutes, rise for 1.5 hours, prove for 30 minutes and bake. There’s nothing else you need to do.
Fresh artisan bread that costs less than buying it from the shop. Perfect.