Thursday, 21 June 2012

The smell of home-made bread

There is something wonderful about the smell of bread baking.  For me, it brings back memories of winter on the farm, when we’d arrive in from working in the rain (or snow) to a kitchen fogged up with steam from a massive pot of soup and freshly made baps.  Over time, my parents progressed to a bread-maker, and still make all their own bread.  I love waking up to the smell of fresh bread whenever we stay with them.

I haven’t made bread for years, but I’m motivated by the knowledge that we’re planning a sailing holiday and we might have to make our own bread, so I’d better find a recipe that’s foolproof.  I opened up a selection of books, my old recipe folder and the wonders of the world wide web of recipes.  This is what I came up with:

Easy Bread Recipe
Makes 2 small loaves or 1 large loaf

5 cups white flour (but could easily be a mix of wholemeal or other grains)
2 tsp salt
425ml tepid water
1 tbsp granular yeast
1 tbsp honey

The water should be just on the warm side of tepid (tepid being the exact temperature at which you can’t feel the water when you put your finger into it).  Too cold, and the yeast won’t start doing its magic, too hot and the yeast is dead.  Dissolve the honey in the water, and add the yeast.  Leave for about 5 minutes – the yeast will start to froth.

In a large bowl (preferably crockery or glass rather than metal), combine the flour and salt* and add the water/yeast/honey.   Stir together and then use your hands to combine the last of the flour.  Depending on the day and the flour and how well you measured the water, it may combine perfectly or be too dry or too sticky – just add a small amount of flour or water to get it to combine so that you can tip it onto your floured bench in one blob.

Before you start kneading, rinse out your bowl and fill it to the brim with hot water – this will ensure that you have a lovely warm bowl to start the rising process.

Now knead away for around 8-10 minutes.  For the first few minutes, you may need to add more flour (or water) to reach a smooth consistency.  My kneading involves grabbing the far edge, pulling it towards me, folding it over the near edge and pushing down and away and then turning the dough a ¼ turn and repeating… After about five minutes I get the girls to have a turn.  When it’s ready, it should be smooth, not sticky, and have bubbles developing as you go.

Miss Seven's kneading:
Miss Nine's kneading:
Dry the bowl and brush with oil.  Take your dough, place it in the bowl and then turn it over, so that it is coated in oil.  This stops the dough from drying out or sticking too much to the bowl. 

Cover with cling film and a tea towel and place in a warm spot to rise until it has doubled in size (around 1 ½ to 2 hours). 
Knock the dough down with your hands, and gather into a ball and back onto the bench – you shouldn’t need any flour at this stage.  Knead for a couple of minutes.  Now you’re ready to form into shapes for cooking.

I wanted some that would pull apart for buttering and dipping into soup and some for slicing.  So a plait and a loaf were created, and popped into oiled dishes. 
Now’s when you need to remember to turn the oven on to about 220 C.  A light dusting of flour, then cover with a clean tea towel and leave in that warm place for another 30 minutes.  Then into the oven for 30 minutes.  In my oven, I put them one rack below middle (on bake and not fan bake), and turn them down to 180 C after 20 minutes (they were nicely golden by then).  After 30 minutes, take them out of the oven, turn them out of the pans and tap the bottom to check that they’re cooked (they should sound nicely hollow).  If you like crispy crust, pop them back in the oven, upside-down in the pans, to crust up.  If, like me, you prefer a softer crust, turn them onto a rack and cover with a tea towel.
I lasted about 5 minutes before I was ripping into the plait.  Delicious.

*Bread needs salt for flavour, but if you put salt and yeast in together, the salt will kill the yeast.  As long as the salt is stirred through the flour, your yeast will be safe.

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