Sunday, 28 August 2011

A Short Guide To Bread

Making your own bread is not particularly hard, but may appear to be time consuming. The truth is, once you’ve got used to the processes involved and the timings, you can make the bread fit your own schedule. Bread making is one of the most satisfying things you will ever do in the kitchen.
Though infinitely tastier than supermarket bought, I find that homemade starts to go stale after 2-3 days. But this is far from the end of its life. First, there’s always toast. Then, how about ladling soup or stew over it in a bowl? Following that, desserts like bread and butter pudding. And, finally, you could make it into breadcrumbs. (I make breadcrumbs regularly out of the scraps left and freeze them).
So, for the 50p or so it costs to make a loaf, there are a multitude of uses, ensuring none goes to waste.
There are a few things you need to know, if you’re planning on baking a loaf of bread...

Homemade ciabatta. There are many types of bread.

Yeast is a living organism that is used as a leavening agent. It converts the sugars in the dough into gas that makes the dough expand and rise. Recipes most commonly call for dried or easy-blend yeast. As a general rule, if you are using fresh yeast instead of dried triple the amount called for e.g. 7g dried yeast = 21g fresh yeast.
Kneading the dough sufficiently works the gluten. This makes the dough soft and springy, allowing it to hold the gas the yeast releases and ensures the final baked product is soft.  To knead, pin the dough down with one hand and, with the heel of the other hand, stretch it away from you. Fold the dough over on itself, rotate by a quarter turn and repeat. (The Cook’s Book has an excellent description of this technique).
During the rising stage, leaving it in a warm place and covered, can speed up the process. But be careful that the heat is not too harsh as this can kill the yeast.
Once the dough has doubled in size, the next stage is knocking down the dough and proving it. This simply makes sure that the dough has an even texture and that the yeast is still alive. If it has died, the dough will not rise during baking.

Other short guides:

 Soft White Bread

Makes 2 loaves
500g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
2 teaspoons table salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for greasing
2 teaspoons dried active yeast
2 teaspoons maple syrup (or sugar or honey)
300ml warm water

Grease two 2lb (130mm x 230mm) loaf tins.

Place the flour in a bowl and mix in the salt. Separately, put 150ml warm water into a jug and whisk in the salt, olive oil, yeast and maple syrup. Set aside, in a warm place, for 15 minutes until it froths.

Before and after kneading
Then, slowly pour the yeasty water, along with the remaining 150ml warm water, into the flour whilst stirring with the end of a wooden spoon; using your hands towards the end. If the dough is too sticky, add a bit more flour. If it’s too dry, add a bit more water. Turn the dough out on to a floured work surface and knead for at least 15 minutes. The dough should become smooth and elastic.

Place the dough back into the bowl and cover with cling film. Set aside in a warm place for 1 hour or at room temperature for 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size. (You could even leave it in the fridge overnight).

Turn the dough out on to a floured work surface, knock it back and knead for 5 minutes. Half the dough into two equal portions and shape into oblongs. Fold the ends of each dough underneath itself and place into the greased loaf tins. Allow to prove.
Preheat oven Gas 9 (240°C/475°F).

Once the dough has risen to just above the top of the loaf tins, place them in the oven for 10 minutes. Then, reduce the oven temperature to Gas 6 (200°C/400°F) for another 10 minutes. Remove the loaves from the oven and carefully turn them out of their tins. Place back in the oven, upside down, for 5 minutes.

Remove the loaves from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.

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