So you've never made bread before. No problem, that applies to millions of you. We're into February, so I'm not trying to get you to make resolutions. Assuming you eat bread, and buy some or all of it as part of your supermarket shopping, I give you one very small challenge. Follow this column and make just one loaf. It will change your life. And if you are one of many followers who is an expert bread maker, your challenge is to pass this and some of your basic knowledge on to one other person. The column per se will be of no use to you, but it might help your teaching skills.
I learned to make bread for the first time in 2015. Since then I have made about 95% of the bread which we eat. Astonishingly, it means we eat less of the stuff, and we know exactly what we're putting in our mouths. So let's have a Q & A session.
Bread's just flour, water, yeast and salt. How can supermarket stuff be different from home made?
OURS will just be made like that, but let me quote from the ingredients list of a "healthy" seeded loaf which I found in a major supermarket this week. It includes, inter alia, Emulsifiers (Mono- and Diacetyl Tartaric Acid), Esters of Mono- and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids, Spirit Vinegar, Preservative (Calcium Propionate) and Flour Treatment Agent (Ascorbic Acid). How you think the slices stay feather light and soft for weeks?
But supermarket stuff is cheaper.
On today's website, an 800g loaf in Sainsbury's costs 85p. My basic loaf of the same size uses 58p of flour and 11p of yeast. Now you have to add in energy bills. Running an oven for 45 minutes, I am told, costs 16p, so that's about even-stevens. I'll leave aside for now the difference in flavour. Be hungry. Eat two slices of our loaf. Tomorrow, attack your prepackaged job and find out how much you need to eat to make you feel as full.
And that's a loaf. My amount of dough will yield 10 full size rolls. Buy some when you're down getting your Sunday paper, and compare the cost.
I don't have time to make my own bread
Facts. Weighing and mixing time - 5 minutes; first kneading time - 10 minutes; second kneading time - 5 minutes; clearing up time, 10 minutes. Total - 30 minutes max.
How long does it take you to get to the shops and back?
But I don't know how to
Well, which of us did until we first tried it? And promise me that's what you're going to do. In an ideal world you'll have someone you can watch or who can help you, but this column will do its best to steer you through.
You've got over the barrier? Congratulations. You're going for it. So what equipment do you need? You probably have more than you think, and the outlay won't be huge.
Oven; baking bowl* (preferably 2); scales*; loaf tin*; dough scraper*; measuring jug; wire rack.
- the bowl needs to be able to hold 800g/ml with room for stirring
- your scales should be digital if possible, as accurate measurements are important, but don't worry if they're old fashioned balance scales. The latter will be OK for your flour but not for your yeast. Fear not, you can buy yeast in 7g sachets, the correct size for our loaf - but it will be more expensive.
- the loaf tin, despite decimalisation, is still known as a 2 pound loaf tin. Get a non-stick one if you can. It must be metal. Silicon ones will bulge out, yielding a loaf looking like a pregnant cow
- a dough scraper is very handy if you have sticky dough, but you can get away with a plastic spatula
Add a decent sized pinny to protect your clothes and a clean flat surface to work on, and hey presto! you're a baker.
I'm assuming you won't thank me for stopping there - as somebody no doubt said to someone else - but the downside is that this will be a very long column. If you have a short attention span come back later and start at the asterisks.
My good friends at Scotland The Bread have just become followers on Twitter, but will disapprove of me because we are going to start at the beginning with the most basic white loaf using ingredients bought from your local supermarket. The purists will sneer at your flour, and your loaf won't win the Scottish Bread Championship because of the yeast. Don't listen to them. Go to the store - my local one is Secret Sainsbury's, the one behind Murrayfield Stadium. It's next door to the heroin factory, but that's another story. Buy some flour and some yeast - details below.
For your first attempt, as long as it's strong bread flour, it doesn't matter. You will get it in 1.5kg bags, which will make 3 white loaves. If you buy larger bags it becomes much cheaper. What does strong flour mean? Without getting too technical, it's to do with the level of protein in the flour. To prevent your dough turning into a cannonball, it must rise and the finished bread must contain air bubbles. The flour has to be strong enough to do that.
We'll get fancier with flour later.
Andrew and his pals at Scotland The Bread are really going to hate me now. If you have decent scales buy a 100g tin of Allison's fast action yeast, which failing a few 7g sachets. A word on the naming. Fast action, instant, quick - they're all the same. They come in the form of tiny round granules, and need no prior treatment, unlike fresh yeast.
Assuming you have a source of water, you're ready to go.
I'm no chemist, but I do think it's important that you understand why you're doing what you're doing. Blind obedience has never sat well with the Johnston family. (Mind you, even when I try to explain it scientifically, bread making to me always has a sense of magic.)
Flour and water will form a paste. With those alone you could make a type of bread, but it would be flat (unleavened). The addition of yeast can cause some bubbles, but they wouldn't last long. What you need to do is to create a structure which is strong enough to contain these bubbles as the dough rises, hence the need for strong flour.
More specifically, what will contain these bubbles will be the gluten to be found in the wheat. That has, and here I quote, viscoelastic and adhesive properties. For properties read possibilities. Like a prospective son- or daughter-in-law, that flour has great potential, but it's not there yet. Put simply, it requires putting into shape. And in baking terms, that's called kneading.
The process of kneading involves stretching the gluten in the flour. Dry yeast is inert, but the combination of water and heat will cause it, and therefore your dough, to rise. This is called proving. That's something that has to happen twice. No idea why, it just does. Let's get started.
If I were to go through all the possibilities this column would be three times the usual length. Let's just go for it and we'll analyse more next week.
Basic White Loaf
500g strong white bread flour; 1.5 tsp salt; 7g fast action yeast; 1 tbsp olive oil (and more for oiling the bench); 300 ml warm water.
Put the flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast and salt, taking care not to let the yeast and salt touch each other. Add the oil and stir the ingredients together well. Add the water a little at a time, mixing it in as you go. I start by using a broad bladed knife then get the hands in. Keep adding the water until you have something which is starting to form a ball, but is not completely wet. Run the dough round the bowl to pick up any remaining flour (and making the cleaning easier). Tip on to a lightly oiled (not floured) surface. At this stage if you feel you need more water, do it one teaspoonful at a time. The books may tell you that wetter is better, but sloshy dough is more difficult to work, especially if you're a beginner. Spread a little oil (NOT flour) on your work surface.
Then the fun starts. I find kneading very therapeutic. Everyone has their own style, but remember that you are looking to stretch the dough and the glutens which it contains. Using the heel of your hand and starting in the middle, push the dough away from you, then fold it back. Repeat this, rotating the ball regularly. Make sure you are applying plenty of pressure, not just rolling it about. It will take about ten minutes, by which time you should have a smooth ball and it should bounce back when you make a finger mark on it. Click here to watch Paul Hollywood at work.
Transfer to a clean bowl into which you have poured a drizzle of olive oil, cover and leave in a draught free warm place for at least a couple of hours, longer if possible. Your dough should double in size. The time will vary according to temperature, and the mood your dough is in. (Trust me, dough is fickle.) This is known as the first prove.
After the first prove, remove the dough from the bowl and thump it back down on your surface to knock the air out of it, then knead again for about five minutes. You may need to oil the surface again. Dust your loaf tin with a fine layer of flour. Shape the loaf into something resembling a rugby ball, pop into the tin and leave it to rise again. This is known as the second prove. Don't pat it down hard or worry too much about the shape as it will rise. It will be ready to go in the oven once it has risen above the level of the tin and has a nice loaf shape. This will take about 30 minutes. Leave it too long and it will start to overflow the tin.
Preheat your oven to 230ºC/Mark 8. Ideally switch the oven on 15 minutes after the loaf starts its second prove. It takes longer than you might think to reach such a high temperature.
Just before you put the loaf in the oven make two or three deep slashes diagonally across the top. Wetting the knife will avoid dragging the dough. For a crisper crust, pour a small amount of water into a hot tray in the bottom of the oven to create steam. When your oven is hot pop the loaf in. After 15 minutes reduce the oven to 200ºC/Mark 6 and bake for a further 20 minutes. You can tell your loaf is done if it sounds hollow when you tap its base (you do have to take it out of the tin first, doh!). Allow it to cool on a wire rack.
When (and only when) it has cooled completely, slather with good butter, then ask yourself why it’s taken you so long to get round to doing this.