Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Our daily bread

The smell of fresh bread is something that few can resist. Anyone trying to sell a house will be tempted to bake a loaf just to give that homely feeling. As I type there is a loaf baking and the smell is making me very hungry (and it's only 10am!)

When making bread the dough must first be kneaded: a vigorous massaging and stretching process that encourages the development of the flour's gluten and makes the dough smoother and more elastic. The kneaded dough then needs to '"prove" (left to rise) until it has doubled in size (usually around 1½ - 2 hours). Once the dough has risen, it's "knocked back" (which just means it is pushed down into the bowl with the knuckles to dispel the air that has formed in the dough). The dough is then lightly kneaded and shaped into the desired loaf. You may then leave the shaped dough to prove again on the baking tray or in the tin before baking.

Instead of letting the dough rise in a warm room it can be left to rise slowly in the refrigerator overnight, where the chill slows rather than halts the action of the yeast. This means the loaf will have a crumb that stays moist for longer. Most doughs can be covered and refrigerated immediately after mixing, before kneading, and left for up to 8 hours.

Tthe ingredients used to make a loaf of bread are as follows:

FLOUR: Bread flour ("strong" flour) contains a lot more gluten, a protein that makes the dough elastic. You can use normal regular plain flour but it will not rise as well, the crust will be hard and the texture more crumbly. Spelt is excellent flour for bread-making. Bear in mind that flour takes time to fully absorb moisture, so leave the dough for 10 to 15 minutes after combining to reduce stickiness.

YEAST: This is a raising agent that is usually necessary for leavened bread. When the yeast grows, it produces carbon dioxide, which makes the dough expand and rise. For 500g of flour you usually need 1tsp of dried yeast (if using fresh yeast use half the specified amount). Extreme heat will kill the yeast preventing it from rising when it is baked so don't use very hot water in the dough.

WATER: Usually you need 300ml/10½fl oz of water per 500g/17oz of flour. For a softer dough to make baps etc use 350ml/12½fl oz per 500g/17oz of flour. Careful measuring here is important.

I have been converted by my Panasonic breadmaker and haven't bought a loaf of bread since I acquired it from a friend. I can have bread whenever I wish and just make sure I have the staple ingredients constantly in the cupboards. Have a look around for a breadmaker to suit you since they do have different functions. This Panasonic breadmaker also has a gluten free option which is extremely useful in case you are making bread for anyone that doesn't want to have any gluten.

My basic recipe for a loaf of bread in the bread maker is as follows (and this is the order you should put the ingredients into the tin):
1tsp dried yeast
450g strong white flour
50g strong wholemeal flour
1tbsp sugar
2 tbsps dried milk powder
1.5 tsps salt (not low-salt)
1 tbsp oil (or butter)
1 large tsp golden syrup (gives a nicer crust and slight sweetness)
300ml water

This is then put in the machine and 4 hours later I have a perfect loaf of bread.

So easy (my husband timed me and it takes less than 2 minutes to have everything in the breadmaker with it ready to go). You should remove the loaf as soon as it is done (they will normally beep) even if there is an hour slot where it is supposed to stay warm since the crust will soften if left in the warm breadmaker.Don't forget to wear oven gloves since the tin will be hot! Turn out straight away onto a bread board to cool.

There are lots of other things that can be made with your breadmaker also with various additions such as olives, cheese, raisins, eggs etc...And most breadmakers will have other settings including those to prepare doughs. My family love homemade pizza and the following recipe makes a lovely dough:

0.5 tsp yeast
300g Strong white flour
0.5 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp milk powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp oil (or butter)
210ml water

My breadmaker setting for pizza dough that takes 45 minutes. As I said above leave it for 10-15 minutes when it is done for the flour to absorb the moisture and make it less sticky to handle. This can then be rolled out, topped with tomato puree/passatta and then any pizza toppings you fancy. Cook at about 220 degrees C for about 15-20 minutes until golden. Here is one I did with four cheeses, spinach and olives with a drizzle of truffle oil

The same dough can be used to make dough balls (which both adults and kids love!) Simply bread off small pieces of the dough and roll into balls. Bake again as above until golden and then serve with dips, oil, garlic butter (or even chocolate sauce for an alternative pudding!)

So enjoy baking your own breads. Impress your friends- when you next have them over for a casual lunch serve homemade soup and fresh bread and enjoy an easy meal that also tastes amazing.

Till soon...

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