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.
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.
- 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
- 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!)
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!