I love bread. Bread of life, putting bread on the table, bread of heaven, this staple is ingrained in our lives and culture. We all deserve to eat good bread and it is a real shame that 91.5% (a very precise made up figure) of the bread available to buy in the shops is so shit. It really, really is disappointing stuff especially when you buy it again after a long stint of good homemade bread loaves.
Our country has an odd relationship with the old loaf, especially when compared to continental bread. I read that Gregg's (the "bakers") is now stopping selling bread in some of it's stores, not that I would associate Gregg's with anything bread like, I always think of cheese-and-baked-bean pasties in soggy pastry.
We were very lucky growing up in our family because Dad always made his own bread. We only ever had shop bought white bread when visiting friends' houses. Dad's bread was, and still is, a tasty and versatile loaf. It makes good sandwiches and great toast and played a significant part in helping me and my brother grow into the massive people we are today. Needless to say he doesn't have to make an oven full of bread every 6 days any more since we moved out. I think he's quite glad really.
Given the baking pedigree in the Pawson household I'm surprised just how long it has taken me to start making my own bread. I've done my own pizza bases for years but never taken it that step further.
Fuelled partly by the Great British Bake Off and partly by having a nice shiny new kitchen to play in after moving house, I decided that I should have a go at making my own bread. I borrowed Dad's copy of "How to Bake" by that silver fox himself Paul Hollywood and started working my way through the recipies.
The first results were pretty successful but the wholemeal and malted breads suffered from a lack of rise.
I think the book that has had the most impact on my bread making is Andrew Whitley's "Bread Matters". He has a strong philosophy on breadmaking and is the founder of the Real Bread Campaign. In fact his book, in the first part, is a look at the state of modern "baking" and an analysis of the processes, chemicals and additives found in modern supermarket bread. It makes for scary reading and from then on I promised myself that I would do my best to always make our own bread for L, the kids and I.
So, after a year of making my own bread I've pretty much got the recipie how I like it and got the process down so that I can make two loaves in an evening with minimal fuss. I eat a lot of bread so I end up baking about once a week. More when the kids are round - now I know how my Dad felt!
Healthy Supplies are a good place to buy nuts and seeds from - large bags, more economical
Doves Farm flours always seem to produce good results and I use their strong white and strong wholemeal flours below. Strong bread flours have the right amount of gluten in to get a good rise (11% to 13% I think). If you use plain flour it will fall flat. I made bread in Iceland when on holiday and the flour there was STRONG at 14-15% gluten. Good rise!
For two large loaves:
650g strong white bread flour (I use )
650g strong wholemeal bread flour ( again)
10g dried yeast
1 very large tablespoon of Lyle's Black Treacle
950ml warm water (hot bath temperature)
Some fat for greasing the loaf tins, like Trex
1 handful brown or golden linseeds (flax seeds)
1 handful poppy seeds
2 handfuls sunflower seeds
3 handfuls pumpkin seeds
After reading Tim Hayward's Food DIY book (I like it, it makes me hungry) I've experimented with the level of hydration in my dough. The more water, the stickier the dough but the better rise you get in a shorter amount of time. Plus when you put it into the oven the steam created really makes the loaf pop up and gives it a great
Put the yeast and treacle into the water and mix well. It will turn a very attractive mid brown colour. Weight the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl, add the seeds and about 90% of the liquid. Loosely combine with a spoon and then get your hands in there to mix up the last bit. Keep adding water until the dough is quite sticky and you've got all the bits of flour off the sides of the bowl.
The amount of water is the hardest bit to get right and you might find you need to add a bit more flour or water to get it just right. This gets easier with practice.
If you've never kneaded bread before then there are loads of instructional videos on YouTube. You might find the Breadmaking Basics series useful especially the ones on mixing/kneading and knocking back/shaping.
I don't use flour on the worktop so there is always a bit of sticking initially (because of the wet dough) but as it comes together it becomes less so. It's easy enough to unstick the dough from the worktop using a scraper.
I stretch the dough, fold it back and then turn it through 90° repeating again and again for about 2-3 songs on the radio. You can feel the change in the dough when the gluten is stretched enough. If there were no seeds in, I'd only knead for 2 songs as the lumpy seeds interrupt the formation of the gluten strands. You should be able to take a small bit of dough and tease it out into a slightly translucent window when the gluten has formed enough so that the dough can be left to rise.
Kneading is a great de-stress after a day at work so enjoy it.
The kneaded dough goes back into the lightly oiled mixing bowl and gets covered with an elasticated shower cap (unused!) to prevent the top skin of the dough drying out and retarding the rise. Because I often make bread in an evening I don't have time to let the bread have a long slow rise in a cool kitchen. So I perch it precariously on top of the combi boiler for a bit of warmth and set the timer for 2 hours. The loaf tins also go on there to pre-warm them.
Go and do something else for a bit.
Knocking Back & Proving
When the original dough has doubled in volume I empty it out onto the worktop. I'm not too concerned about knocking it back too hard to get all the air out of it because that slows down the proving stage. Besides, handling and shaping the dough has this effect anyway.
I shape it into a long sausage and cut it approximately in half with the scraper. The long sausage shape makes it easier to estimate where halfway is. Shape into loaves and pop into the GREASED loaf tins. Do not forget to grease them otherwise it will stick and you will say rude words when you can't extract your loaves. Put a shower cap on top of each one. A spot of oil coating the inside of the cap will stop them sticking.
Turn the oven on. 200°C conventional for preference or 180ºC fan, rotating the loaves halfway through cooking otherwise the one next to the fan can turn out overdone.
45 minutes proving should be OK for a quick bake, don't worry if they haven't risen much beyond the top edge of the tin.
Make a 1 cm deep slash cut longways in the centre of each loaf. This will allow the top to expand when it bakes and stop the sides of the loaf from splitting, Straight into the hot oven for 35 minutes. Pop them out of the tin and give them a tap on the bottom (ooer). Stick back in for another 5 minutes if it doesn't sound firm and hollow.
Failing to take the shower cap off before placing in the oven means that you will have a bad day and no bread.
The bread is ready when it goes a deep golden brown and sounds hollow-ish when tapped. Leave to cool for as long as you can stand the smell. Cut at least two slices and eat them both. Make crumbs everywhere.
Adapting the Recipe
Obviously you can leave the seeds out or the treacle. You can rub some hard fat into the flour before adding the liquid to give the loaf a bit more shelf life but I don't bother as it always gets eaten in our house before it goes off!
I use a similar recipe for pizza bases but omit the seeds and treacle. I scale the flour for 250g per 13 inch pizza base and add a large measure of olive oil into the mix. I like the flavour of the wholemeal flour in the base, definitely not to Italian standards.
If you change the ratio of flours then you may need more or less water. Wholemeal absorbs more water per weight than white flour.
A pure white loaf will result in a silky smooth dough that will rise really well. Maybe try this first if you've never made bread before.
Now, go forth and bake.