When I tell friends that I bake my own bread, the first look I get is normally one of astonishment. People find it strange that I have the skills and time to make bread in my own kitchen. These days people seem surprised to learn that bread does not have to be bought from supermarkets or made in machines.

What you will need (equipment):

A Mixing Bowl
A loaf tin or a flat baking tray.
An oven, preferably fan-assisted.
Some aluminum-foil.

What you will need (ingredients):

Bakers Yeast - This is usually obtained in sachets of granules.

Flour - You cant use any flour, make sure it’s “Strong” flour. Strong flour has more gluten in it, that’s the substance that gives good bread it’s crunchy texture. It’s best not to use plain flour or self-rising flour. Those are for cakes and biscuits, not bread.

Warm Water - (About body temperature)

Oil or butter - Some recipes suggest lard. I don’t much like the sound of that, and neither do my vegetarian friends. I prefer to use olive oil, althaugh corn oil seems to make bread crunchy - I use that in pizza bases.

A pinch of salt - Even in dessert breads, a pinch of salt enhances the bread’s flavour. wertperch informs me that "The salt also strengthens the gluten, and this makes the dough less likely to drop back when you prove it.".

Method:

1. Put the yeast granules in a large jug or cup. Add 3/4 pint of warm water. Stir or swirl the mixture until the yeast is mostly dissolved. Althaugh you can add granular yeast directly to the flour, I find that dissolving it in water first seems to make it more active and dispersed thorough the flour. The bread rises quicker and more evenly.

2. Add flour to a bowl. Usually, a 1 kilo pack is good for about four or five loaves of bread. Feel the weight of a shop-bought loaf. If you want to make a loaf that big you will need to add slightly more than it’s weight in flour. The reason for this is that home made bread tends to be more dense than commercial products.

3. Add a pinch of salt, and a few tablespoons full of oil or butter. This helps the consistency of the bread as it is rising. It’s possible to make bread without any oils or fats, but in my opinion it does not taste as nice.

4. With one hand, knead the mixture as you add in the water. Soon it will become a thick pasty dough. If you used mainly brown flour you might want to add a little bit extra yeasty water because brown flour has a tendency to absorb water more slowly than white. You need to find a compromise between dough that’s too watery and dough that’s too dry. Watery dough will be too moist after you have baked it, but dry dough wont rise properly.

5. Once you have mixed in all the ingredients you can leave it in the mixing bowl to rise. After about half an hour the mixture should have puffed up to twice its volume.  At this point you should knock as much of the air out as you can and re-knead the dough. This rising process may seem pointless, but it helps stretch the dough into a nice texture. Bread that isn’t left to rise has a bland texture and an insipid crust.

6. Leave it another half an hour and repeat the process, knocking all the air bubbles out of the mixture. This time transfer the mix into a baking tin or a tray. Most ovenware will do as long as they are made of heatproof conductive metal or glass. If you are using a try that isn’t specifically designed for bread you might want to line it with a layer of foil. In any case you should smear some butter around the tin. That will help prevent the bread sticking when you try to remove it.

7. At this point you should think about pre-heating the oven. Bread needs to cook on a high heat. About 220 Celsius is good for most recipes. If you have an older oven you will need to let it pre-heat for longer.

8. Once the bread has risen again (twice it’s original size is a good amount) put it in the oven. It’s best to keep regular watch the first time you do this. You need to take it out once its become golden brown. If your oven heats un-evenly you might want to turn the bread around in mid-bake.

9. After less than 25 minutes of baking your bread should be ready. Once you take it out of the oven, you should leave it to cool for a few minutes before eating it. Put it on a raised wire tray: you need to allow the air to circulate around - there is a lot of moisture that is still evaporating. If you want to keep the crust crunchy you need to make sure that water does not re-condense on the bread. If you dont have a wire tray you can just put the bred down upside-down.

Enjoy!

PS. You can add flavourings after stage 4. One of my favourites is chopped dates and walnuts. Also, in my opinion, the nicest thing you can spread on a freshly baked loaf is Marmite!

Introduction to an alternative bread

I had many, many failures when I first started baking my own bread - I had everything from house-bricks to the legendary Blob on my initial attempts. They were full of holes, or totally devoid of holes. Some were rock-solid, others empty shells. But they all tasted so good and I persisted, found what I was doing wrong and as if by magic, one day got the perfect loaf!

I experimented, found that are many variations on the basic recipe for bread, and discovered that my own preference is for a denser loaf. I also add oatmeal and rye flour to the mix, which subtly alters both the taste and texture, giving a nuttiness which is very appealing! For a different texture, I prove the dough only once, adding it to the bread tins after one thorough kneading. This produces a slightly heavier bread, with a coarser texture; it is also somewhat tastier, as the volatile oils in the flours are retained in the dough.

The Importance of preparation and ingredients

The choice of ingredients is critical - regular baking flours do not contain sufficient gluten to allow the bread to rise (prove). It is best to obtain a proper bread flour - I have been fortunate enough to find a bakery which sells 1½ kilo bags of specialist flour, although you will find a suitable flour in most supermarkets. In addition, if you can find a source of 'live' baker's yeast, you will find that the proving process is faster, as the yeast is working efficiently from the outset. Never use yeast designed for wine or beer brewing!. Oils and fats are a matter of choice - I prefer extra virgin olive oil or pressed sunflower oil.

Watch where you work, too. When preparing the dough, the temperature should be moderate - too hot and the crust may dry out, too cold and the yeast is not working at its best! In either case, your bread will not rise, or will collapse in the oven. Most bakers agree that 18-22°C (65-75°F) is ideal - kneading is also hard work, and the temperature will suit you better, too!

My own recipe, then, is as follows (apologies for the imperial measures rather than metric or US cups). It makes three loaves of about 2lbs each:

1½lbs strong wholemeal flour (all flour should be at room temperature)
1lb strong white flour
3oz fine oatmeal
3oz rye flour
1 oz fresh yeast (barm)
1 tablespoon molasses (or honey)
1 oz fat or oil
1 heaped teaspoon of salt
1½ pints lukewarm water (about 1¾ US pints)
Heat the oven to 425°F (220°C or Gas Mark 7) before you start anything - a cool oven spells disaster! Dissolve the molasses in the water, then add the yeast and stir thoroughly. Leave in a warm place for about 5 minutes (longer if you use dried yeast) until frothy. Mix the flours and salt in a large bowl, and gradually add the water/yeast mix, stirring thoroughly. Do not add all the water at once - I usually add about 90% of it, as some flours take up water at different rates. Mix in the oil or fat as you add the water, and incorporate it well.

Now comes the fun.

Take it out of the bowl. Throw it onto a floured worktop. Knead. Pull. Push, Tug, stretch, pull and push again. Squeeze. For the best effect, think of your boss/ex-partner/housemate from hell. Get serious with it, show it who's boss. This is the secret - the more you pull, stretch and tug, the better the bread will be. The principle here is to stretch the gluten, as this supports the bread and provides the open texture.

I normally knead for about 5-10 minutes, until I end up with a smooth dough. You may find you need to add a little flour or water to get it right - if it is still slimy, more flour! You will learn the qualities of the flour you use, but you may need a couple of attempts to get it right.

Once you have the right texture, and are suitably tired, divide the loaf into three lumps and place each into a greased 2lb loaf tin and leave, covered with a damp cloth, until the dough has doubled in size. (You can do anything with it at this point - I often plait loaves, and bake them as they are, or pop the plaits in the tins for a nice finish. Garnish with poppy seeds or other stuff like cracked wheat or oats.) It should need between 35 and 40 minutes in the oven - rotate the loaves after about 25 minutes, then check they are done by tapping the base of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, it's done! Leave on a wire rack to cool off, then serve with a little butter and honey - wonderful - enjoy!

The Idiot's Guide to Bread making

A lot has been written about the art of bread making.  For much of the world, bread really is the staff of life and the making of it justifiably takes on almost religious gravity in many circles.  I won't pretend to have the deep and broad knowledge of bread making that would even allow me to comment knowledgably on the scope of bread types, or bread making techniques, or even scratch the surface of the vast knowledge that the most novice professional baker has at their command.  In short I'm no expert on the subject, and I know it. 

What I am though, is a person who has made a bunch of bread, spanning the entire experience curve from my first lead-like doorstops at a commune in La Honda, to some (self-proclaimed) masterloafies that still make my eyes glaze over in fond reverie.  In the process, I've made most of the common mistakes and tried a bunch of things until I found a bread making system that works really well for me and is easily adaptable for use by almost anyone.  The recipes I've provided below are guaranteed winners, but they are only three out of hundreds that are easily obtained from the Bread Maker books, and even more that you can create on your own once you get the hang of it.

The bread making technique I'm going to describe below has the following four important attributes:  

  1. It's dead simple, I'll tell you everything you need to know for complete success right here.
  2. It's quick generally taking 20 minutes or less, total preparation time.
  3. It doesn't require anything exotic.  In fact you can get everything you need at most any general grocery store.
  4. It makes a variety of really yummy breads

So with that as a prelude, let's get started.

Equipment & Supplies

The secret, if you can call it that, is that we'll use an inexpensive and readily available machine, commonly known as a bread maker. We'll let the bread maker do most of the work, while we take all the credit.  The bread maker will initially mix the ingredients, knead the dough, manage one or more rising cycles and finally bake the finished loaf for us.  Many readers already have a bread maker sitting on a shelf unused, I'd like to convince you to press them into service.  Others will know what a bread maker is, but never have gotten up close and personal with one before.  I'll show them what features to look for in purchasing a bread maker.  I'll also give you a short grocery list of the bread making ingredients used for all three of the loafs we'll discuss.  This will allow you to stock up on everything you'll need on your next grocery run.

Bread makers

If you already have a bread maker sitting around somewhere you can skip this section. Tens of thousands of words have been written comparing and contrasting the hundreds of different makes and models of bread makers available.  If that sort of thing interests you, by all means do the research and let us all know what you find. If you just want to make good bread as soon as possible, go on Amazon.com and purchase a Zojirushi BBCC-V20 Home Bakery for $149 U.S. This machine is a good value that will handle most people's demands on it with ease and last for many years.  It has all the features that I've found to be actually useful over the years and is reportedly as reliable as the day is long.  Amazon has them in stock and it currently ships for free.  Whip out that plastic and make it happen!

Grocery List

Add the following items to your shopping list the next time you go to the store.

  • Five pound sack of "Bread Flour."  If you see one that says "Bread maker Ready," or something similar on the label, that's the one you want.  Otherwise just be sure that it says "Bread Flour," somewhere. 
  • Five pound sack of "Wheat Flour." Wheat flour won't usually mention bread makers, but don't worry, it will still work fine.
  • Small jar of active dry yeast.  In the U.S. a popular and common brand is Fleischmann's.  Buy the kind that comes loose, in a jar, rather than in small packages.
  • A bottle of pure maple syrup.  This is an expensive but incredibly good substitute for sugar, so buy a small bottle of the best stuff they have.
  • Natural honey.  If you can find a brand that has a chunk of honeycomb in the jar, get that.  Otherwise just get one of those cute little Honey Bear ones and move on.
  • A head or two of fresh garlic.
  • Dried Basil and Rosemary
  • A 16 oz tub of Ricotta cheese.
  • A small package of shortening.  
  • A gallon of fresh natural spring water.
  • 8oz bag of Sliced Almonds
  • 8oz bag of shelled, unsalted sunflower seeds

Basic French Bread

Add the ingredients below in order, select the two-hour setting on your bread maker if it has one. Press the Start Button.

Simple huh? See, I told you so!  Come back in two hours to a mouthwatering loaf of hot fluffy bread that will satisfy some deep instinctual craving in your soul and make you want to immediately try the other, more advanced recipes.

  • 2 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 3 Cups Bread Flour
  • 1½ tablespoon honey
  • 1½ tablespoon shortening
  • 1½ cups water
  • 1½  teaspoon salt
  • Optional, ½ cup sliced almonds

 

Basic Wheat Bread

This recipe makes a nice healthy brown bread loaf.  After trying it, you can experiment with reducing the bread flour and increasing the wheat flour until you find a mix that suits you.  Sunflower seeds, wheat berries, sesame seeds, even caraway seeds are all nice additions, just don't get carried away or you'll end up with a brick rather than a triumph. 

As before, add the ingredients below in order, DO NOT use the two-hour (quick cycle) setting on your bread maker for any whole wheat flour breads. Press the Start Button.

Still simple huh? Slather this one up with some whipped butter and a quick shot with the Honey Bear and you'll be grooving.

 

Ricotta Basil Bread

Okay, now we're ready for graduate school  This cake-like bread substitutes several simple ingredients with more complex ones to produce a loaf that your guests will be talking about on the way home.  Served with homemade Mushroom Lasagna and a late harvest Zinfandel, it is elite. 

As before, add the ingredients below in order, You can  use the two-hour setting on your bread maker or not depending on how much time you have.  The longer setting will make a more textured and nuanced loaf, but the two hour run is a lot of bang for the buck when you are pressed for time. Press the Start Button.

Still under twenty minutes prep time, right?  You'll be smirking at those helpless little moaning sounds your people make when they walk through the door and are assaulted by the smell of this puppy!  

  • 3 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 1 cup Bread Flour
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2½ tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1½ cups water
  • 1  teaspoon salt
  • Optional ½ cup sunflower seeds

=======================&=======================

One place to purchase the Zojirushi BBCC-V20 Home Bakery: Search www.amazon.com for "Zojirushi BBCC-V20"

I bake bread every morning. Not with a machine. I do it all by hand; and yes, I have a full-time job as well. It's not a problem. It takes about 30 minutes each morning, and we eat fresh bread each day. It is as light and well-structured as shop-bought bread, and, I guess, has fewer additives.

The secret is in the proving. The books don't really emphasise how important the proving process is, but if you want light, airy bread, then you are going to have to leave it to prove for a decent period of time.

My recipe is very basic. I make a single batch from 750g of strong white bread flour; about 450 ml of water; yeast and a generous teaspoon of salt. The 'strong' simply means the flour has extra gluten. Plain flour can work, but never use self-raising because that contains bicarbonate of soda.

Update April 2005. I've progressed to wholemeal bread. I now mix a kilo of strong white flour with a kilo of strong wholemeal flour, add about four teaspoons of salt (one per 500g flour), then add the wet ingredients. The yeast mix uses one level teaspoon of dried yeast per kilo of flour, so I use two level teaspoons. Then enough water to make a soft dough.

Update September 2005. Now I use seeds too. Caraway, which adds an exotic east European flavour that goes especially well with cold meats and cheeses. Then some poppy seeds and chopped pumpkin seeds and linseed seeds and chopped sunflower seeds for a bit of texture and added goodness.

I first weigh out about 20g each of pumpkin and sunflower seeds, then pour them onto a chopping board, to chop them down to a sensible size, or whizz them in a seed mill. Return them to a small pot on the scales, and add a further 10 - 15g of caraway and10g of poppy seeds and another 20g or so of linseed seeds. Obviously, you choose your own mixture to suit your own tastes, but about 100g of seeds to 2 kg of flour makes a good combination.

The most important bit of my recipe is activating the yeast. I choose not to use the quick-rise stuff, which is made into tiny particles ready to add to the flour and water. Instead, I buy large packs of dried yeast, mix about a teaspoon of it with about 100ml of warm water and half a teaspoon of sugar, and leave it in a not-too-cold place for five to ten minutes until the dried yeast has re-constituted itself and the mixture has a really good foamy head on it (at least the same volume as the water/yeast mixture). It is important not to rush this step. You have to have good, active yeast, or the bread won't rise. And if it is not activated, another five minutes' wait is not going to do any harm.

My local Italian baker told me that he uses fresh yeast, but only because of the cost. Dried, he said is probably better, but too expensive for commercial bakeries. He offered me some fresh yeast, but said he was not allowed to sell it because it has not passed the relevant food safety tests.

SharQ says fresh yeast is readily available in Norway, while heyoka says you can buy it from the supermarkets which also have a bakery.

Once the yeast is properly activated, I mix it with the flour and salt, then use the remaining water to wash out the yeasty jug, and mix the ingredients up. I don't worry too much about the temperature of the extra water, except to ensure that it is not above 40C, when it might kill the yeasts. Usually it is pretty much straight from the cold tap. I have thought about adding some ascorbic acid to help the proving process, but never really seem to need it.

I knead the dough by hand. It does not take long and sometimes the children help. I tend to make the dough wetter than some. I make it soft enough that it is easy to work. That is just a fraction drier than too gloopy. If I discover that it is too wet and sticky, even after all the flour is mixed in, then it is easy to correct by adding a small amount of extra flour. Once the flour has absorbed the water, and the dough is reasonably homogeneous, I stop.

Update Long experience has taught me that light airy bread results only from a wet dough. If the dough is too stiff, then it won't rise properly. Here's how to get dough of the right texture. First mix the dry ingredients in a big bowl. Then add a little less water than you need, mix it gently and lift the lumpy mass onto a work surface, then knead it into a dough. It will probably be too dry. Add more water to the remaining flour until you have a paste. Spread this paste onto the too-dry dough mixture and knead it together. Repeat as necessary until the dough mixture is firm enough to knead, but still soft enough to be easily worked.

A double batch of dough (1.5kg flour, and double all the other quantities) is enough for three days, so I tend to make one double batch of dough, and split it into three parts. Each part weighs about 800g by the time the water and other ingredients are mixed in. Getting to this stage takes 20 minutes or so㬚 if you include the time waiting for the yeast to activate. Then another 10 to 15 minutes to wash up means the dough-making phase takes well under an hour.

I put each of the three balls of dough into a plastic freezer bag, and put those in the 'fridge to cool down. After an hour or three, the dough has both cooled and risen, so I take it out of the bags, punch it down, knead it lightly, return the dough to the bags and put all three in the freezer. This step takes only a few minutes.

Update No need for all that punching down. Just split the dough into portions, drop them into freezer bags and into the freezer.

Last thing at night, I take one of the frozen balls out of the freezer, remove it from the plastic, and put the frozen dough into a bowl and place the whole lot into a large, moist plastic bag, otherwise a dry crust forms on the uncooked dough.

The dough rises again overnight, and becomes smooth and elastic. Perhaps even a bit on the soggy side. This is good. As soon as I get up, I switch the oven to about 210C and start dividing the dough into buns, or making a loaf**, but buns seem to go down well in our house. I don't knead it at all, just split the dough into the right sized pieces and put them in the oven. I don't glaze it or put seeds on or anything. After 12 to 15 minutes, it is cooked and the children have fresh bread for their breakfast.

Update if you want to make a loaf, then you need more proving time. Rolls and buns you can simply split the risen dough into portions and whack it into the oven with no need for a second proving time. For a loaf, the mass of dough is too much, so you need to leave it for a while to rise again before baking it.

One more tip. I said that I make my dough fairly wet. This makes it easier to work and helps the proving, but it also means I need to wipe the baking trays with a hint of oil before putting the uncooked bread onto them prior to baking. You don't have to do this, but you risk having the bread stick to the tray, which is a pain, and means more washing up.

I have to make a batch of dough a couple of times a week. I can do this in the evening or at the weekend with little inconvenience.

A note on proving.

My bread-making enthusiasm was triggered when we bought a fancy new oven with all the settings for bread-making. In the early days I used to make a double batch of dough, then leave it to prove in the warm oven for an hour or so. This ended up being a very variable process. The dough sometimes rose a lot and sometimes not enough. And I had to make sure everything kept warm, and get temperatures right. It was a pain, and I always seemed to want to speed the process up. It would take a minimum of two hours from starting until we could eat the bread. This was not practical except on lazy weekend mornings. It is also the wrong way to make good bread. I ended up with bread which was a bit heavy, inelastic and tended to crumble when cut with a knife. Now that I leave the bread to prove for a lot longer—albeit at much lower temperatures—I never get a bad batch of bread. It is always airy, light and delicious.

Another point to note is that even with bread that has repeatedly risen and been kneaded down again, is that there are plenty of microcells within the dough. It looks like a solid mass, but when it goes into the oven, those microcells open up and the dough transforms into light, airy, well-textured bread. The point is, that if it has proved enough, then you needn't be afraid of getting rid of all the bubbles before slamming it in the oven.

Because I use such a simple recipe, the bread does not keep—it is much better eaten on the day it is made, but that never seems to be a problem in our house.

I spent weeks looking for a recipe for bread when I suddenly realized that the invention of bread precedes the invention of writing, and there are large swaths of European history when the people who baked the bread and the people who knew how to read didn't even speak to each other very much (I take no responsibility for the factualness, or not, of these insights). So I could ignore all the recipes that made two loaves or had ingredients I regarded as weird or extraneous.

A loaf of bread, it turns out, is a pound of flour, 10 grams of instant yeast or some other type yeast with equivalent leavening power, a pinch of salt, maybe a tablespoon or so of something sweet to feed the yeast with (sugar, malt syrup, molasses, whatever), and enough water to make the dough look like dough (bottled or filtered, please, lest the chlorine kill the yeast). That's it. You're done. If you're using a sourdough starter you don't even need to add the yeast—just remember that some of the flour will already be in the starter.

You can play around with this by using different kinds of flour, different sweeteners, different kinds of salt (I guess, my exotic salt I got from Amazon was stolen from my apartment building foyer) or whatever, but that's all you need.

Ah, fresh baked bread. The very smell of which permeates our senses, ensnaring our minds and drawing us almost inexplicably towards the source. On that note, Here's my guide to how to bake bread, without sight.

First, decide which kind of bread you're going to bake. Will it be rustic or sophisticated? Will it have seeds, spices, nuts or fruit? Will it be buns or a loaf? Okay, let's begin.
First, please wash your hands and your counter and utensils. Rinse in hot water and allow them to cool. I don't want you to get sick.
Grab the following:


Please note that if you're using oatmeal, you can use it to replace up to 1/3 of the flour with the oatmeal before needing to adjust the amount of liquid in the recipe.
Okay, let's go.

Measure the flour into a bowl. Melt the butter and mix with the milk, ensuring that both are at body temperature. Proof the yeast by dissolving it into the warm water for about five-ten minutes with the sugar, (do this whilst melting the butter and milk) Add the yeasty water into the flour, then the milk and butter. Stir, stir stir. Add more [flour, make sure that the dough begins to pull away a bit from the sides of the bowl.
Pull it out, begin to knead, beat the hell out of it. Do this for about ten minutes. Keep going, I know your arms are tired. Once the dough feels elastic], toss it into the washed (you did rewash the bowl, didn't you?) and greased bowl, put the lid on if it has one and put it in a warm draft-free spot for about an hour. When it's doubled in volume, take it out, and lift it up. Be careful here, you don't want to knead it a second time. You want to carefully squish the air out. Not all of it but a good portion of it, I'd say maybe 95 percent.
Roll it into a rough cylinder and tuck the ends down as best you can. Don't worry if it doesn't look perfect. Put it seam-side down in a greased loaf pan.
(note: if, for some reason the loaf becomes too long for the pan, i.e you rolled it too long, make a French loaf, on a cookie sheet. Don't try a loaf tin method. I did and for some reason half my loaf stuck to the pan and I ended up making bread pudding.)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Place the pan over one of the heat outlets on the top of the stove if yours does that, i.e if one of the burners gets warm when you use the oven, put it on that one.
When the dough has risen to just above the rim of the pan, put it in the middle rack for exactly 35 minutes. Pull it out and cool on its side on a wire rack.

If you decide to use optional ingredients, either add them in the very beginning, or roll them up into the dough to make a swirly effect.

Enjoy!


Starsong's sandwich bread

Makes one loaf

1/2 cup milk
1/2 stick (1/4 cup [butter) unsalted
3-1/4 to 3-3/4 flour
2 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1 envelope yeast

Melt the butter and combine with the milk. Add the Yeast, water, sugar and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Blend well. Add 2 cups of the flour stir with a wooden spoon. Add the milk and butter if they're cool enough. Add 1-1/4 cup of the flour, stir and turn onto lightly floured countertop and start kneading Keep kneading, adding in the remaining 1/2 cup of flour if it's needed depending on the conditions for the day. Put into greased bowl, cover with a damp cloth or the bowl's lid and put in a warm place for about an hour or so, until it's doubled in bulk.
Lift the huge mass of dough out, and carefully squish all the air out. Roll into a loaf, place in a greased loaf pan and preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Place again in a warm spot, covered with a cloth. Once the dough has reached just above the pan rim it's ready. Slide it in for 35 minutes, then pull it out and thump it good. If it sounds hollow, it's ready. Cool on it's side on a wire rack.

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