Saturday, 7 April 2012

Go Ahead, Bake My Day: Bread Basket

I love baking bread. The tactile sensation of silky dough, the smell of the yeast and the bread baking fill the house, the taste of new bread straight from the oven smothered in butter...and the satisfaction of making it myself.  Once upon a time I used a bread machine, but it died, and I didn't want to buy another one. So I taught myself how to make bread from scratch. There is a huge difference between machine made bread and handmade bread. I find machine bread too airy and crumbly. This I think is largely due to not testing the dough during the kneading process. When you have made bread for a while, you will get a real feel for the dough, you will throw away your measures, and concentrate only on how it rolls under your fingers. It depends on the flour and yeast you use, the humidity of the day, and the temperature. In warmer months, the dough rises quickly; in winter, I often have to warm the oven for 10 minutes, turn it off, and leave the dough in there with the door open (it really works!). Today I made basic bread dough, then divided it into 4 and added different flavours - rosemary and garlic, olive and paprika, cheese and chive, and pickled onion and caraway. 

Basic Bread Dough
3 cups of bakers flour
approx 500 mls warm water
2 tablespoons dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tsp salt
approx 4 tablespoons olive oil

Whisk together yeast, sugar, salt, oil and water. Set aside until bubbly and frothy - if it doesn't bubble your yeast is dead! Some people will tell you not to put sugar in your bread -certainly you can do without it. But -  sugar feeds the yeast, and you will get a better rise, particularly if you use dry rather than fresh yeast. The salt in turn, balances the sugar out. It also gives the bread some flavour.

Activated yeast - alive and kicking!

Add 2 cups of flour and stir with a wooden spoon, gradually adding remaining flour, and adding more if required. You want a nice soft dough, easily indented with a finger. If it appears tough you have put too much flour in. 

Turn the dough out onto a floured bench top or board and knead, knead, knead for about 10 minutes. The best way to knead is to fold over the dough on itself, and use your weight to push forward and squash the dough - which is less tiring than using only your arm muscles. give it a quarter turn and repeat. Pop on your favourite few songs, I usually knead to three or four tracks rather than timing it. There are recipes out there that claim to be "no knead." I am here to tell you, they will not be as good, will probably be quite crumbly (like a scone) and in my opinion, suggests a certain amount of laziness. Kneading is not hard!! It's 10 minutes - consider it part of a workout! Kneading activates the gluten in the flour, which gives the dough the elasticity it needs to capture gases created by the yeast creating air pockets and giving structure to your loaf, and  a chewy texture. Properly kneaded dough rises quickly and well. when it is ready the dough will be silky soft, and elastic - ie if you try to pull a bit off, it won't tear easily.
This is what the dough should look like, nice and smooth

Put your dough into a greased bowl and cover with a clean tea towel. Leave in a warm place for about 3/4 an hour, or until doubled in size.

And 45 minutes later, doubled in size

Punch down your dough. At this point I divided into four and added herbs, spices, chopped onion etc, and kneaded for about a minute until incorporate.

Next, shape into the loaf you would like and put on a baking tray, or use a bread tin. I have an assortment of sizes for various breads. Just make sure there is plenty of room so your bread doesn't explode over the side and all over your oven.

Leave aside covered, for at least an hour, slashing the top after about 15 minutes (if you like). I often leave mine for even longer, an hour and a half. 

Preheat your oven to 180C and bake until bread sounds hollow when tapped. If the top is browning too quickly, just put some foil over the top. 40 minutes does the trick in my gas oven, but may take less or longer in yours. Turn out when done, and allow to cool.

Voila! You have bread!

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