Sunday, 7 August 2011

A recipe for... bread

I’ve always been very nervous about bread-making. Cakes? Yes. Muffins? No problem. Bread? Much too scary. However, I recently went to a friend’s for dinner and was more than a little impressed when she whipped out a homemade loaf in that Blue Peter, ‘and here’s one I made earlier’ fashion.

Asking what her secret was, my friend (quite rightly) had no shame in admitting that she uses a supermarket bought bread mix and the bread hook attachments on her food mixer to ensure a reliable result every time. The different varieties of bread mix on offer these days and the simple method of ‘just add water’ means there’s no excuse for not giving it a go. So I did.

Opting for Wright’s mixed grain bread mix I spent a very pleasant afternoon mixing, kneading and waiting for the bread to prove and then bake. The process was more labour intensive than cake making, even with the readymade bread mix, but the results were stunning (see image above) and we literally polished off half the loaf within an hour of it coming out the oven.

So, part one of bread-gate over, I felt I had proved to myself than I wasn’t a completely useless baker. However, I am one of those people that find it hard to stop at the halfway point. Initial success is often enough to spur me on to more and more ambitious projects which most often do not end well....

However, in this case I surprised myself. I already had some strong bread flour left over from recent pizza making and topped it up with some plain flour to form the basis of my first loaf from scratch. This is how it went (recipe based on one from The River Cottage Family Cookbook):

200g strong wholemeal flour
300g plain flour
Salt, 2 teaspoons
Fast action yeast, 1 sachet
Olive oil, 2 tablespoons
Honey, 2 teaspoons
Warm water, 300ml

1.    Mix the flour salt and yeast together in a big mixing bowl
Pour the oil and honey into a measuring jug and top up with warm water from the hot tap up to 300ml, stir together
Pour the water mix into the flour a bit at a time mixing it together with one hand as you go
Keep going until all the water is in the bowl and the dough has come together (add extra water if too dry and extra flour if too wet/sticky)

2.    Flour a work surface and knead the dough on it by pushing down and away from you – you need to squash it and stretch it at the same time – for about 10 mins or until it feels smooth
Shape the dough into a ball, put it back in the bowl and cover with cling film. Put it somewhere warm and sheltered from drafts.

3.    Leave until doubled in size – 40 mins to an hour, grease a loaf tin while you’re waiting then have a bath, or read your book, or make some muffins to pre-heat the oven

4.    Take your dough out of it’s warm hidey-hole and squish the air out of it with your fist
Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for 30 secs then shape it into a sausage and place in your loaf tin

5.    Leave to rise in your warm place again with a tea towel over for 30 mins (eat a muffin and have a cup of tea) Pre heat your oven to its highest temperature

6.    After 30 mins the dough should have risen and look more loaf shaped, put it in the oven at top temperature for 20 mins then take it out, tip it out of the tin and tap the bottom. It’s cooked if it sounds hollow.
Cool on a cooling rack for 20 mins and then have a slice with some butter on while it’s still warm. Try not to eat the whole loaf at once.

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