...Food and Recipes

How to Bake Great Bread

July 14, 2016

I figured we have probably all had enough deep and meaningful for the time being at least, and wanted to share you with a solution for a very real life problem I have been struggling with: Bread!

When our eldest was tiny and first moving onto solids, I suddenly became hyper-aware of what was actually in our food. I started looking at the ingredients in the foods we were eating, focussing on the salt and sugar content as well as the preservatives, and our regular sliced loaf really didn’t score too well. (Homemade bread also has the advantage of being Zero Waste!)
I decided I wanted to learn to make my own, and have been baking bread pretty much every week for the last seven years. You would have thought that after all this time I would have had it nailed, but it’s only in the last month or so that I have been able to bake consistently good bread. My first attempts were the stereotypical leaden bricks, that we dutifully and heroically munched our way through. And it has since then been a steady improvement, but still very hit and miss.
Until now…

I stumbled across this recipe when the boys declared a love of ‘Tiger Bread’ that they had had for lunch round at Grandma’s house, and I decided to see if I could have a go at making it myself. I found this fab recipe here, to my surprise it worked, and the kids even declared it “better than the shop bread”! Everyone loved it, but making the whole tiger topping thing is a bit of a faff, so I wanted to see f I could adapt the recipe to make it into a ‘standard’ loaf. With a couple of little changes, it has quickly become my favourite recipe for a standard (non tiger!) loaf. I think the key to it is the extra rise in the method. It does mean it takes longer, but I just tend to pick a morning or an afternoon when I know I will be around the house, and most of the time can be used to do other things while the yeast is doing it’s thing and the dough is rising.
I make a double batch, and use it for either two loaves, or one loaf and a batch 12 rolls. I figure it takes just as long to make a double batch as it does to take a single one and it freezes well, but feel free to halve it if you don’t want quite so much bread in your life.

Ingredients:

  • 750 strong white bread flour
  • 250g malted bread flour
  • 2 tsp fast action yeast (I use Doves)
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp softened butter
  • 700-750ml tepid water

Directions:

  • Weigh out the flours into a large bowl-I use our Kitchen Aid mixer to do most of the mixing and kneading, so use the bowl from that
  • Add the yeast, sugar and salt, but be sure not to place the salt or sugar on top of the yeast as it inhibits it
  • Add the butter
  • If you are using a Kitchen Aid or similar, add the paddle attachment and mix briefly until the butter is incorporated. Or mix with your hands as if you were making breadcrumbs to distribute the butter evenly
  • Slowly add the water. If using a mixer add it while the paddle is going round on the slowest speed. If doing it by hand, I would literally use my hands to get stuck in and mix it all together. Add about 650-700ml and then stop and mix. You shouldn’t see any dry bits of flour.
  • Stop mixing, and cover the bowl with a tea towel for about an hour (this is the magic extra step!)
  • After an hour, change your paddle mixer for a dough hook if you are using a mixer and knead on low speed for about 5 minutes. If you don’t have a mixer with a dough hook, not is the time to break out your kneading muscles. I am attempting to perfect this technique here, championed by Richard Bertinet-it is supposed to make a much airier, lighter loaf, and I find it much less hard work than traditional kneading
  • Once you have kneaded for about 5 minutes, stop and take a look at your dough. You are aiming for quite a loose mixture (I went on a bread day at River Cottage HQ and the baker there said ‘the wetter the better’!). I usually add some more water at this point and knead it in with the dough hook. I find that I get my best loaves when the bread dough itself is verging on becoming too sloppy to hold it’s own shape.
  • Once I’ve incorporated any extra water, I do actually do a little hand kneading at this stage, just so I can get a feel for whether the dough is loose and stretched enough
  • When I am happy with it, I form it into a ball and plop it back into the (unwashed) bowl, cover and leave for another hour (depending on the weather/warmth of the room-in the Summer, it might not need an hour. In the Winter, I tend to pop it by the log burner!)
  • While you are waiting, you can prep your tins: I use a pastry brush to apply a light coating of vegetable oil, and then sprinkle with polenta. For rolls, I just sprinkle a baking tray with polenta
  • When the dough has doubled in size, scoop it out of the bowl onto the work surface and knead it lightly a couple of times
  • Shape into loaves or rolls, cover and leave to rise one final time. Do keep a watch on your loaves-it can be quite easy for them to ‘over-prove’ at this stage, especially in warmer weather. You want the dough to rise but still be holding it’s structure. If you leave it too long, it rises and then collapses back on itself when you bake it. It takes anywhere from 30-60mins depending on the temperature of the room
  • Towards the end of the rising time, pre-heat the oven to ‘as hot as it will go’. Mine is about 240C fan
  • When the oven is hot, pop your bread in quickly and shut the door so as not to let too much heat escape
  • Cook loaves for 12 mins at 240C, and then turn the heat down to 180C for another 18 mins
  • Cook rolls for 12 mins at 240C
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing from tins/trays and transferring to a cooling rack
  • If you aren’t going to start eating it within 24hrs, I would recommend freezing, as homemade bread doesn’t keep as well as shop bread (but it doesn’t have the cocktail of preservatives either!)

Bread-square

The list of directions is off-puttingly long, but it’s really not that hard. I usually use bread making as a great excuse for a bit of time pottering around the kitchen baking up some cakes and biscuits to keep us in treats for the week, so it makes for a very pleasant way to spend a morning!
And once you’ve cracked homemade bread, you will never go back to the commercial stuff-it’s a world apart.

Do you already bake your own bread? If so, let’s hear your fave recipes, and any tips or tricks for getting consistently yummy loaves.
Or are you tempted to have a go? Do let us know if you do-would love to hear how you get on!

 

 

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15 Comments

  • Reply prolificprojectstarter July 15, 2016 at 8:38 am

    I make bread sporadically (and by lovely bread from our local farmers market regularly). Once I helped organise an residential weekend for all ages and we decided to make bread roll making an activity there as we had use of the kitchens. It was a revelation to me, the kitchen was so warm and my bread rose so much better than at home. I realised that it wasn’t my bread making skills that were letting me down, it was my bread proving skills. It doesn’t help that I don’t have an airing cupboard or similar warm place in my house. Now-a-days I tend to make bread in the summer, when I can get it to rise more easily by leaving it in a south facing room. I have considered leaving it to rise overnight, I’d be interested to know if anyones tried this. I also read on Jack Munroes blog that she wraps her is a duvet to help it rise!

    My new favourite bread recipe is the Magic Dough recipe from Hugh Fernley Wittingstalls Veg. It uses half and half normal and bread flour. I have used it to make rolls, wraps, pizza and even pitta’s successfully (the only thing he suggests that I can’t seem to master with it is bread sticks, I’m not good enough at rolling them evenly and thinly).

    Another question, I know that you can in theory freeze your rolls before baking them but I’m not quite sure how to do it, has anyone got that to work?

    • Reply Jane Booth July 15, 2016 at 9:42 am

      Just as a point of interest, it doesn’t need to be warm for bread to rise. Bread dough will rise quite happily in the fridge overnight. If it’s cool it will just take longer. I have frozen uncooked pizza dough very successfully.

      • Reply Jen July 15, 2016 at 11:51 am

        I think I just lack patience Jane!
        I also find that if I put doing in the fridge to rise it develops quite a thick ‘crust’ on top of the dough where it dried out-any tips for how to prevent this?

    • Reply Jen July 15, 2016 at 11:50 am

      I notice such a difference when I try to make bread in the Winter-mine would just never rise, and then in the Summer I would leave it too long and it would over-prove!
      This post here might help with the freezing dough thing http://www.homemadeloaves.co.uk/2016/02/can-you-freeze-bread-dough-yes-and.html

  • Reply lindas garden and wildlife July 15, 2016 at 6:19 am

    Awesome i want to get back into baking bread but hubby things buy the time you got your items pluse cooked it cheap to buy but i have re started my our sour dough starter again this time just using porridge oats put on batch in freezer and one jar in fridge as out of any kind of flour at present

    • Reply Jen July 15, 2016 at 11:47 am

      Oooh, I didn’t know you could make sour dough starters from porridge oats Linda, that sounds interesting!

  • Reply Anne Fraser July 14, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    Yup, I make my own bread, no breadmaker involved and it only takes me 15 mins to get it into the oven for four loaves (I double the recipe). It is the yummiest healthy bread, slices and toasts perfectly and it is thanks to this recipe…http://www.toast-nz.com/2011/01/annabels-busy-peoples-bread.html

    • Reply Jen July 15, 2016 at 11:43 am

      Wow 15 mins! I’ll take a look Anne, thankyou 🙂

  • Reply Chrissy July 14, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    Does anyone make bread in an aga? I want to try it but not sure how to convert “conventional oven” temperatures and times to Aga cooking

    • Reply Jen July 15, 2016 at 11:41 am

      Hi Chrissy
      I don’t have any experience of Aga cooking I’m afraid, but am I right in thinking they have a ‘hot oven’? I would imagine that would work for bread?

    • Reply Jen July 15, 2016 at 11:43 am

      Here’s a couple of links I’ve just found that might be helpful?

      http://www.myagasaga.co.uk/2012/03/01/aga-bread/

      Do let us know how you get on!

      • Reply Chrissy July 15, 2016 at 11:53 am

        That’s very helpful Jen, thanks
        We’re just moving to a new house with an Aga and I’m terrified !!! My cooking is hit and miss at best but now I’m terrified we’ll be eating my home made disasters for a long time before I get the hang of it!!

        • Reply Jen July 19, 2016 at 12:48 pm

          I’m so jealous-I’ve been wanting an Aga for years! As I understand it (and I may well be TOTALLY wrong!) the main oven is a moderate (i.e. 180C) oven, which is what I cook pretty much everything on, so I reckon you’ll be fine!

  • Reply Kate July 14, 2016 at 8:15 pm

    Dan lepard easy white bread or easy wholemeal. Revolutionised my life!

    • Reply Jen July 14, 2016 at 8:27 pm

      Oooh I’ll check it out, thanks Kate!

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