Thursday, January 20, 2011

When you're baking bread, the sun rises in the yeast.

I mentioned in a post last year that my grandfather was a baker by trade. That post was mainly about organic sourdough bread I'd been buying from the local markets. Sadly we missed getting to the markets in December - we were interstate - and last week, when the markets should have been on they weren't. Something tells me they don't hold them in January; with so many people away on school holidays it's probably not worth their while.

So to get my fix of decent bread I've been baking my own.

My recipe is simple:

450 grams wholemeal flour
300 mls tepid water.
7gms of yeast
equal amount(ish) of raw sugar
a teaspoon of salt.

Mix the sugar and yeast with a little water from the 300mls and let it bubble away for about ten minutes - or at least until you get a head on it that's roughly four or five times the size of the yeast/sugar mix at the bottom.

Put half your flour with the salt into your bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the yeast mixture and mix well with a fork. Add the rest of the water (I use it to rinse out the yeast glass first), then mix in the rest of the flour.

At this point I cheat. I use my Mixmaster and set it to between 1 and 2 (kneading) with the dough hooks on for about five minutes. You'll know when the dough is ready because it forms a ball rather than a snake-like shape around the inside of the bowl. It should also feel springy when you press it. Keep an eye on it and don't overknead the dough or you'll get tough bread.

Grease your baking tin. Gently knead the dough into shape by hand and put it in the tin. Leave it covered with a clean tea towel in a warm place until it doubles in size. This could take between 40-60 minutes. It's summer here now so our patio is prime for that. Meanwhile, heat your oven to about 225-230 Celsius.

When the dough has risen, put it in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes. I find 35 minutes is spot on. You'll know when it's ready as if you take the bread out of the tin and tap on the bottom of the loaf it will sound hollow. Let it cool for at least an hour on a rack before cutting and eating.  (Note: what's nice about this wholemeal recipe is that the bread only has to rise once; great for those busy days.)

Here's what the end result looks like:
Once you start making your own bread you'll never want to eat supermarket bread again; you'll keep making your own or finding a good quality artisan baker nearby.

My friend Mark has also been trying his hand at bread-making but with little success. He likes white bread; specifically white bread that is nice and crusty outside and soft inside. With a family of four in his house they go through loaves of bread (Wonder White... ugh!) very quickly. Mark has tried with a bread machine with no success. He doesn't like the crust as it's a bit soft. He's using strong bakers' flour and has tried half a dozen recipes. He's tried fresh yeast and dried yeast, yeast with sugar, yeast with honey. He's tried kneading by hand and baking in the oven. But he ends up feeding most of his loaves to his hens. 

I was at his place yesterday and he gave me a kilo of flour to play with to see if the flour was OK. So today I baked some white bread for a change.

Using Jamie Oliver's bread recipe, which has stood me in good stead in the past for white bread, I made enough dough for a loaf and some rolls. I let my dough rise in the sun (and heck, did it rise!) with a towel over it. 

This recipe calls for the dough to rise twice; the second time it rose a little too much I think and I ended up with a pocket of air under the crust. My grandfather had an answer for customers who complained about an air pocket in their bread: "Cut it out and bring it back then," he'd say kindly. Often it took a while for the penny to drop!

Anyway, here are my rolls and my loaf.
The white loaf - lovely texture. You can see the beginning of the air bubble below though.

Fresh from the oven! The bread has a slightly creamy colour which is probably due to the colour of the yeast and the brown sugar. Unlike commercial bakeries I don't add any bread improver or anything else which could make it that blindingly white colour of commercial white bread.

Hearty rolls! I've put my hand next to one for comparison. 

Look at the texture inside.. just right! Not too dense, and the bread bounces back when you press it. 

So now I'll take this lot to Mark and see if he likes it. Being Mark, a grumpy bugger, and used to Wonder White, he probably won't. This bread has plenty of body and texture, a marvellous taste and no added preservatives. I'm not sure what preservatives might already be in the flour but I certainly haven't added any.

My big aim is to keep up the breadmaking as the year gets busier. It's hard to get the dough rising well in autumn and spring when the temps are just right for me without heating or cooling but not warm enough for my dough. In winter, I put it in front of the heater :-). 

If you haven't made bread before, give my wholemeal recipe a try - it's easier than you think!

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