Sunday, September 20, 2009
I discovered baking bread for myself only a year ago. I have always appreciated home baked bread and sometimes been involved in its making. I have even used a bread maker but only in the past year have I baked bread the old fashioned way for my daily sustenance and I have been amazed at how much I enjoy the process as well as the results. There is something very relaxing about the smell and texture of a yeasty dough. The working of the dough under your hands, the waiting for it to rise, the warmth of the elements involved and the immense satisfaction of freshhot bread with cheese and jam or even on its own.
For anyone seeking peace and tranquility in a rushed and unsettled world I recommend taking the time to bake bread. It really doesn't take much time at all, but the minutes spent doing it settle the soul and calm the nerves. And I'll make a bet that serving it hot to someone else will help them relax as well!
I don't use recipes as once you understand the basic principles of bread making it becomes very simple so despite the fact that the rather vague instructions to follow may distress some of you I'm going to tell you how I do it, the way I do it.
In a large bowl put some warm (warm to touch but not hot) water. About 2-3 cups, you'll soon get the feel for how much is right. Anyway the amount of water dictates the amount of flour so it all pans out in the end.
Into this water put 2-3 tablespoons of dried yeast and about 2 tablespoons of sugar or honey.
Let stand in a warm spot. I have a sunny window seat, in front of the fire, or the hot water cupboard as options.(about 5-10 minutes)
When the mixture has "erupted" which takes 2-10 minutes add a dash of salt and a dob of butter( if the butter is hard just grate it), about 5 cups of flour (plain or wholewheat) and beat until smooth. Use a cake mixer on low with those wiggly things instead of beaters otherwise give yourself a sore forearm and use a knife for about 100 strokes minimum (or ask for a volunteer).
Now add extra flour, about 2-3 cups until a workable dough has formed, turn out on a floured surface and knead, adding flour as required to stop the dough sticking. Keep kneading until dough is smooth and elastic , ie: it feels silky and warm and sensual.
Place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise in your preferred warm spot until it has doubled in size. Go do something else in the meantime as this can take 30- 60 minutes depending on where you put it, and if it rises more because you are away for longer it doesn't matter.
Punch down the dough to it's original size and then leave to rise again ( If you are really impatient just throw in a cold oven and bake it. It will be OK but not as good as it could be).
When risen for the second time divide into rolls or place in well greased loaf tins or old spaggetti tins, pudding bowls, camp ovens, etc. Use butter to grease as oil will make the bread stick. About 1/3 fill the tins with dough and bake in a preheated oven at 160 degrees celcius until golden on top and hollow sounding when tapped. How long will depend on how big the loaves are, small round buns like the ones above took 35 minutes. The whole mixture in one loaf takes about 75 minutes.
When you've got the feel for this you can add anything you like to flavour the bread. I often throw a handful of rolled oats into the initial water and yeast mix just because i felt like it once and it seemed to work. Fruit and the like should be added between the rises.
Butter, cheese and wine should be on hand when bread is removed from the oven. Wrap any uneaten bread in a teatowel and store in a cool dry place. Enjoy, and let me know how you get on.