Beginner’s guide to bread making

brotform

I love baking bread, I find it really rather therapeutic. Some have even suggested recently that baking can make you happier. When I find the time I always try to bake us bread, however it does have its downsides. There is nothing more delicious in this world than bread fresh from the oven and slathered in butter.

Some people think making bread can be tricky. It isn’t. You just need a bit of patience and if the dough doesn’t rise like it should do just make pizza with the dough.

Books

River Cottage Handbook – Bread – This is my bible in the kitchen. No waffle, no pretentious nonsense just straight forward bread recipes and advice.

Paul Hollywood – How to Bake – I like this book. While it’s not one I use for basic recipes both the ciabatta and cheese & bacon loaves from this book are delicious.

cherry berry and almond bread

Courses

It’s always worthwhile booking yourself on a course. A few years back I went on the River Cottage Bread course and it transformed how I made bread. Reading books and watching videos can teach you so much, but having someone show you the ropes in invaluable.

It doesn’t have to be an expensive all-day course. Many bakeries run half-day courses and local authorities run 10 week cookery courses from as little as £50.

Ingredients

Fast action yeast (also known as easy bake yeast) – I find I get the best results with this type of yeast. Fresh yeast is hard to find near me so I’m more than happy to use fast action.

Bread flour I use supermarket own brand as a base and have never had any problems with it. Once you are confident with making your dough experiment with different flours and blends.

Warm water You need the warmth from the water to activate the yeast however if it is too hot it will kill the yeast. To get the optimum temperature I mix 1/3 freshly boiled water with 2/3 cold water.

Salt it is needed not only for taste but to also help keep the yeast under control. Use table/fine salt as this distributes through the dough better. Save your fancy flaky salts for sprinkling on top of the bread.

Sugar I don’t always put sugar in my bread dough as the yeast can get enough food from the flour. Sugar can change the taste of a dough and you can use this to your advantage. You can use different types of sugar or even replace the sugar and some liquid in your dough with apple juice.

Some of the most delicious bread I’ve eaten recently was a hazelnut & treacle bread served with our starters at Fischer’s Baslow Hall. Almost like a savoury malt loaf.

Polenta sprinkle it on the surface you are baking your bread on. The polenta works in a few ways. It lifts your bread a small amount away from the surface helping it to cook it also acts as mini ball bearings meaning your bread is less likely to stick to the baking tray.

chilli blue cheese bread

How to Knead

You have a few options available to you:

  • Throw it in the food mixer – for the days I’m lazy
  • Use the traditional method by hand.
  • Dan Lepard 10 second kneading method – I use this method more than any others now. Great for when you’re pushed for time and or working with big batches of dough. I have used this method to successfully knead a 3kg batch of dough.
  • Bertinet (or French kneading) method – Good for when you’ve had a bad day.

Essential equipment

In theory all I need to make bread is a heat source, be it oven, fire or pizza oven, and a surface to mix the dough on. If you’re feeling brave forgo the bowl and make the dough directly on the worktop.

Plastic flexible dough scraper – possibly the cheapest piece of equipment you’ll ever have in the kitchen but the most useful. It’s simply a piece of flexible plastic with straight edge. You could even use an old (cleaned!) credit card. I picked mine up from a cookshop for £1. Not only is it good for mixing dough it’s also good for scraping up dried dough that has stuck to the work top.

Digital scales – A must for any baker.I have two Salters digital scales that cost no more than £10. They are worth their weight in gold. If you’ve often found your baking hasn’t worked well try using digital scales. I also weigh liquids for baking (see below in Tips).

Shower cap – I haven’t gone mad. I use shower caps to cover the mixing bowl when dough is rising. I have quite a collection of them now as friends bring back the free ones in hotels for me.

Pain d'Epi

Nice to have

Pizza stone – we have a terracotta one that was given to us as a housewarming gift. It’s always worth checking the size of your oven before you buy one as they are surprisingly big!

Banneton/brotform – this type of basket supports your bread as it is rising and gives a lovely pattern on the top of the loaf.

Grignette/lame – while a good kitchen knife works I find I get better results with a lame when slashing the dough. You usually make a cut in the dough before baking to help control how the dough expands in the oven. I bought my banneton and grignette from the fabulous Bakery Bits

Tips

  • Remember salt kills yeast. Make sure they are not touching each other in the bowl until all the ingredients are well mixed.
  • Weigh your water, hence why I say digital scales are essential. 1 millilitre water = 1 gram This rule also works for milk at the quantities used in domestic baking.
  • Save time and make a double batch of bread. The second loaf can be frozen, defrosted then refreshed in the oven at 200°c for around 8 minutes. This warmth relaxes the gluten and the bread goes soft again.
  • Want fresh pizza dough for a weekday dinner but don’t fancy having to wait for it to rise when you get home? Knead the dough in the morning before work then leave to rise during the day in the fridge. The cold will slow down how fast the dough rises. Some say a slow rise gives better flavour.

parmesan and onion knot loaf

Favourite recipes

Do you bake bread? What’s your favourite thing to bake and do you have any tips?



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