Although it takes a little time there is nothing quite like the smell of fresh bread emerging from the oven. Toast and smother with butter, dunk into homemade soup or sandwich together with crispy bacon and tomato sauce for the perfect sarnie!
How to measure the correct temperature to make bread: The temperature of the air, flour and water together needs to be 56c. First measure the temperature of the air and the temperature of the flour and add these together, say they add up to 42c then the water will need to be at 14c.
To test the dough for gluten, roll a piece of dough into a ball about the size of a ping pong ball and gently pull into a large circle. If it does not break and you can read through it you have a good gluten structure.
Should you over prove your dough, on the second prove knock it back and prove again. You will know if your dough has over proved as it will have collapsed back on itself and will be wrinkly. Don’t cook it like this as it will be tough and dry.
Your dough is ready to cook when it’s twice the size and soft and springy to touch. The more you bake bread you will know instinctively when its ready.
Bread will keep longer if it has a high fat content – oil and butter. Items like doughnuts and sliced bread have large quantities of white fat and keep longer, but have less taste. Good tasty bread has very little and French bread has no fat in at – so is best eaten straight away. You can revive a French loaf by popping it in the oven for a few minutes.
To help create a nice crust place a tray in the oven and when you come to cook your bread put some ice or cold water in the tray and this will create steam. You can also start the baking on a high heat at 220c and then turn it down to 180c after 5 minutes.
Flat breads need very little proving so you can cook them within half an hour of making them. I just use a simple bread recipe and prove the dough for half an hour and then slice off even sized portions, roll it very thinly, brush with melted butter or oil and then griddle or fry for a couple of minutes on each side until the breads puff up. To make a naan bread add chopped garlic and coriander to the dough before proving.
Sour sough, biga, leaven, saved dough and froth starters here is some bread terminology for you!
Sour dough bread is made from a natural yeast that occurs in the air and there are many ways of capturing it but the easiest is to mix some organic bread flour and warm water and allow it to sit in a warm room, covered in a damp cloth and it will start to bubble – this is the starter for sour dough bread.
Biga is a saltless piece of yeasted dough that is proved to at least three times its size and then allowed to collapse and is then added to fresh dough for flavour. This process usually takes about 12 hours and is popular in Italian bread making and used in loaves such as ciabatta.
Saved dough is when a piece of dough is kept and used in the making of the next loaf and it shouldn’t contain dairy or eggs and can be kept for up to a week in an airtight container in a fridge.
Leavening is the process of mixing and proving that gives bread its structure, smell, texture and taste
A froth starter is when fresh yeast is mixed with water or milk and allowed to activate
It is really important to stretch the dough after mixing. Turn it out onto a lightly floured table and stretch the dough by pulling back with one hand and then pushing out with the heel of the other hand. Do this ten times to get the gluten working in the bread.
Gluten is a protein and without it we would be without bread. The stronger the flour, the higher the gluten content will be. It is activated when the flour is mixed with water and then by kneading which then forms the structure of the bread. Gluten is vital for an even textured well risen loaf as the strands of gluten enable the dough to stretch as the bubbles of gas produced by the yeast expands.
550g strong white flour – look out for ‘00’ flour
25g fresh yeast
1½ tsp fresh oregano
90g virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic crushed
90ml dry white wine
70g black olives, pitted and cut into quarters
70g sundried cherry tomatoes, drained
Prepare a ferment by mixing the yeast, a tbsp of flour, a pinch of sugar and ¼ pint water and leave in warm place until a head forms.
Blend the garlic with the olive oil
Place the flour in a mixing bowl fitted with a dough hook and add the ferment, garlic oil, wine, 2/3 of the water and work until all is blended together. The dough should feel tacky, if its dry add more water and mix until smooth. Remove from the bowl, put in a clean bowl and leave to rise.
Once risen, knock back. Ball up the dough and then roll out to 3cm thick and then evenly distribute the olives and tomatoes across the dough
Fold the dough over the olives and tomatoes so that they are sealed in a large ball and then roll out again to 3cm thickness.
Place your foccacia on a tray and with your finger tips gently push down to make ‘holes’ in the dough, do this all over.
Now brush all over with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and to set aside in a warm place to prove until doubled in size and is spongy to touch.
Cook in a pre-heated oven 200c for 15-20 minutes until nice and golden, firm to touch and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Simple bread recipe
400g bread flour
200ml luke warm water
1 sachet of activated dried yeast
1 level tsp salt
1 level tsp sugar
40ml sunflower oil
Place all the dry ingredients into a mixer with a dough hook
Pour on the water and the oil and mix for about 10 minutes on a medium speed
Turn out onto a lightly floured table, stretch the dough as per the instructions earlier and then pull it together into a ball, place in a clean bowl and cover with a damp cloth or place in a plastic bag. Leave in a warm place for about an hour until it has doubled in size.
Knock back, shape into a ball again and leave to prove until it has doubled in size.
Press into a loaf tin and bake for 20 minutes at 200c.
You could always portion up the dough and then make into rolls and bake them for 10 minutes at 180c
2½ lb of T55 Flour or Strong White Flour
1½ oz fresh yeast
1 tsp sugar
½ lb semolina
1½ oz milk powder
1½ pints of water
5 level tsp of salt
Place the yeast in a bowl with the sugar and a large pinch of flour, add ¼ pint of the water to this mix, cover and allow to froth.
Now put the flour, semolina, salt and milk powder into the mixing bowl and add the frothed yeast and ¾ of the remaining water and mix with a dough hook. If the mix is to dry add more water until you reach the desired consistency (dry but slightly tacky) and them mix for a further five minutes.
Turn out onto a clean table, knead for a further two minutes by hand, stretching the dough as you go. Roll into a ball and place in a bowl large enough to allow the dough to rise to three times its size, cover with cling film and prove in a warm place.
Once the dough has risen, remove from the bowl and knock back slightly into shape, prove again until its risen by two to three times its original size.
Cook as before; rolls for 10 minutes at 180c and loaves for 20 minutes at 200c
When cooked your bread should sound hollow when tapped on the underside. Remove to a wire rack and cool.
1lb / 500g Granary Flour
½ lb / 250g Strong White Flour
2 level tsp salt
¾ oz / 20g Milk Powder
¾ oz / 20g Fresh yeast or 1 sachet of dried yeast
Large pinch of strong white flour
¾ pint luke warm water
Place the yeast in a bowl with the sugar and a large pinch of flour, add ¼ pint of the water to this mix, cover and allow to froth
Now put the flours, salt and milk powder into a mixing bowl add the frothed yeast and ¾ of the remaining water until you reach the desired consistency (which should be dry and slightly tacky) and mix for a further five minutes.
Turn out onto a clean and lightly floured table and knead for a further two minutes by hand stretching the dough as you go. Roll into a ball, place in a bowl big enough to allow the dough to rise to three times its size, cover with cling film and allow to rise in a warm place.
Once the dough has risen, remove from the bowl, knock back slightly, shape again and prove until its risen by two to three times.
Cook rolls for 8-10 minutes at 180c and loaves for 20 minutes at 200c.
Check that it’s cooked and rest on a wire rack and cool.
Parmesan, garlic and spinach bread
Use the white bread dough recipe and add two cloves of crushed garlic – only allow to prove once.
Pan fry 4oz baby spinach in a little butter with a grating of nutmeg and a few twists of black pepper, cool this and then squeeze out the moisture
Chop the spinach and mix together with 75g grated parmesan.
Roll the bread dough out into a rectangle and ½ inch thick. Spread the spinach and parmesan mix over ¾ of the dough with the top edge left clear.
Egg wash the top edge and roll up from the bottom, like a swiss roll, so that it rolls onto the top edge and is sealed by the egg wash.
You should now have a long sausage. Cut the sausage into 1½ inch pieces and place them on a baking sheet with high sides and keep the pieces quite close together – no more than an inch apart.
This is called batch cooking – the idea is that when they rise the pieces will join together and once cooked you can tear them apart.
Egg wash the tops and then cover with a plastic bag or damp tea towel and allow to double in size in a warm place. Cook in a pre-heated oven at 200c for 12 to 15 minutes.
Perfect with pasta, to take on a picnic or on a sharing board with cold meats and cheese
Not all breads are savoury and here are a few ideas for those of you with a sweet tooth.
15g fresh yeast or one sachet of dried
3 tbsp warm water
250g plain flour
3 eggs, beaten
125g soft butter
Mix the rum and currants together and soak for a few hours, or even better, overnight.
Ferment the yeast with the water and sugar.
In a mixer with a dough hook, place the flour and salt and then when the ferment is ready add to the flour along with the egg and beat until smooth.
Strain the currants from the rum and add to them to the bowl – keep the rum – and beat.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and place the butter on top and cover with cling film.
Prove the dough until its doubled in size and then place back on the mixer and beat the butter in.
Fill buttered muffin tins with the batter, about half way up each mould and allow them to rise until they fill the mould. Place in a pre-heated oven, 190c for 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool in the tins for 5 minutes before turning out.
For the soaking syrup
400g / 14oz caster sugar
400ml / 14fl oz water
3 tbsp clear honey
4-6 tbsp dark rum
Place the sugar into a saucepan with the cold water and heat gently, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a simmer and then add the reserved rum from earlier, additional rum and the honey.
Simmer for a few more seconds then remove from the heat and set aside.
Turn the babas out onto a large, shallow ceramic dish
Pour half of the syrup over the babas and set aside for 5 minutes to allow the syrup to absorb.
Now turn them over and pour over the remaining syrup until soaked in.
Serve with whipped cream and fresh fruit.
Make the dough as above but once it’s proved pipe into rings about 1½ inches across and freeze. Once frozen heat vegetable oil to 180c and fry from frozen until golden brown.
Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon onto kitchen paper briefly and then roll in cinnamon sugar and serve.
500g strong flour
1 packet of dried yeast or 50g of fresh yeast
50g caster sugar
Sift the flour with the salt and add the dried yeast and sugar. If you are using fresh yeast make a ferment by mixing 50ml water (luke warm) with the yeast and 1tsp sugar and a large pinch of flour – mix together and allow to froth up.
Put the flour into a mixing bowl and rub in the butter, add the sugar and now add the ferment (if using) if not you will have added your yeast at the beginning with the salt and sugar.
Using a dough hook attachment on your mixer beat for 8-10 minutes on a medium speed until its smooth and elastic. Now add the fruit and mix in gently so that you don’t break it up.
Place the bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and put in a warm place and allow to rise until double in size.
Knock back the dough, shape it and allow to prove up again until it is twice its size. Place in a loaf tin and bake in a pre-heated oven (180c) for twenty minutes.
You can always add a cinnamon or other spices to the dough such as cardamom for extra flavour.
Slice and serve with a nice cup of tea!