I’ve ‘tried’ making bread in the past and just assumed I wasn’t any good at it. What I now realise is, as with pretty much everything else in life, practice pays off! I’m currently baking about 8 loaves a week, some for us, some for my parents and some for the freezer. Whilst I by no means claim to be an expert on the subject, I have now made enough errors & discoveries to be able to turn out an edible loaf (and occasionally an epic loaf!) every time. Although the smell of a freshly baked loaf is adorable, for the me the absolute best smell of the whole process, is when you take the proofed dough out of the plastic bag to knock back. The sweet, yeasty scent is incredibly evocative. It’s just wonderful.
Here’s my top 5 tips to help you if you’re new to the tasty world of bread baking!
1/ Increase the Water
It took me a while to understand why my dough never became elastic or smooth. Every recipe I’ve tried made a dusty, dry, cracked dough that wouldn’t stretch or spring like I’d seen other peoples. Until I upped the water content – Bingo! Try adding up to an extra 10% warm water to your mix if you have this problem.
2/ Set the timer
Kneading changes the structure of gluten in flour, and it’s vital to getting a light loaf. You can feel a change in the dough after 6-8 minutes of kneading, but initially, keep going for 10 minutes. 10 minutes is a surprisingly long time, and very hard to judge when you first start out, so set the kitchen timer and zone out. It’s very satisfying.
3/ Try Cold Proofing
I have found that when I proof in a warm place (ie the airing cupboard) the dough may rise quicker, but the resulting bread is more dense and stales more quickly. However, cold proofing (in the fridge over night or just on a kitchen work surface until doubled in size) has worked brilliantly for me. Try it, and let me know what you think.
4/ Proof Twice
Again, a lot of recipes suggest only proofing once. Whilst this certainly leaves you with an edible loaf of bread, the loaves I’ve proofed twice have tasted amazing. Seriously. I mix, then knead my dough and put it in an oiled bowl. The entire bowl goes in a huge clear plastic bag (making sure the bag & dough won’t touch as it’s not a food grade plastic bag) and leave on the windowsill or counter. When it’s doubled in size (can take 2 or more hours depending on temperature) take out of bowl, knock back, form the loaf shape you want in a loaf tin or on a baking sheet. Put the tin/sheet back into the bag to double in size again (this time doesn’t seem to take as long as the first proof). When fully risen, put straight into hot oven.
5/ Double Up Recipe & Freeze
Making bread takes a fair amount of time and electricity. Double up your recipes and freeze the extra, they’ll taste just as good when defrosted, unlike shop bought bread. And as an afterthought;
6/ Look on Youtube
I think I learnt pretty much all I needed to know on Youtube! These are a few of my favourite videos, but there are loads out there! How to Knead How to get different shaped loaves Toppings anyone? And lastly, this one is brilliant to watch but looks so exhausting!!! If you’ve never delved into the doughy world of baking breads, I hope this has inspired you. Have fun with it, play around by mixing different flours or adding seeds, nut, olives, (soaked) dried tomatoes/onions/mushrooms, anything you fancy really! Enjoy :)
ETA: I’ve just come across this historic recipe for Mediaeval horsebread. I’m off to give it a go & will let you know how it goes!