I really love making bread, but for one reason and another (mainly the one labelled 'work') I haven't made any for ages. Two things last week hardened my resolve to get back to it. The first was Jo's recipe in the brilliant notes on the menu which I hope she won't mind me adapting a bit here, and the second was the Time Shift documentary A Loaf Affair (three days left to see that on iPlayer at the time of writing). This mentioned the Chorleywood Bread Process, developed in 1961 to speed up the breadmaking process, and largely responsible for what we refer to as bread nowadays. P also gave me the River Cottage Bread Handbook for Christmas; which is a lovely little book if a little frighteningly detailed for non-bread makers, in my opinion. Before the day before yesterday I'd been happily using the recipe from the back of the Allinson packet with great success. However I have to admit that the two loaves I've made since Friday have been far superior.
Here's what I've been doing, with apologies for the mixed units of measurement. What can I say? My scales do both.
25g fresh yeast (available from your supermarket's bakery section, and ridiculously cheap)*
14 fluid oz warm water
1 tbsp sugar
1 lb strong white bread flour
4 oz plain wholemeal flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp vegetable oil (I used olive oil).
60g 'extras' (seeds, oats, currants, whatever).
- Dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the sugar. My Dad says you should wait for it to froth, but I'm not convinced I did the first time I did this, and it rose just fine. I waited the second time just in case, though.
- Add the yeasty mixture to the flour and salt and mix together. I add the oil at the very end. I usually mix everything in a bowl; as the dough is very sticky at first. Others do it straight on the kitchen surface. Notes on the menu suggests mixing in the food processor with a dough hook for about 10 mins until it's all smooth. I prefer to
- Turn out onto the kitchen surface and knead, stretching the dough to develop the gluten in the yeast. This take about 10-15 minutes. The dough is ready once you can stretch it thin enough to see some light through it. At this point you can knead in some seeds or currants if you fancy.
- Put the dough back into a bowl (it's worth oiling or flouring the bowl so it'll come out again easily), cover with some cling film or a cloth and leave in a warm place until the dough doubles in size. With luck this happens in about an hour. My kitchen isn't very warm so I often put the oven on very low and leave the bowl on top of it.
- Once the dough has risen, flop it out of the bowl onto a floured surface and poke it all over to deflate it. This is my favourite bit. Just so you know.
- Shape your bread (in the River Cottage book they dedicate three pages to shaping dough) and either put in a bread tin (sorry no idea what size as I never use one..), or put onto a baking tray.If you fancy paint it with milk and sprinkle some more seeds on. The milk helps the seeds stick.
- Leave for about 20 mins, until the bread has roughly doubled in size again.
- At this point I put my oven up as high as it will go (Gas mark 9 or 475 F, for the curious) and preheat the hell out of it. I rarely preheat ovens, but in this case it's worth it.
- Put the bread into the oven on the middle shelf. The other day I'd also preheated a roasting tray at the bottom of the oven, and just after putting the bread in I poured boiling water into the tray, filling the oven with steam. Apparently this helps develop the crust. I didn't do this today, as I didn't feel like it. So there.
- After ten minutes check the bread, and turn down the oven to Gas mark 4 or 350 F. I then set the timer for 40 minutes and go away and do some bad knitting. The bread is ready once it makes a hollow sound once you knock it on the bottom. My oven is frankly useless so my bread needed at least another 30 minutes, but yours may be ready sooner. You won't get as much knitting done though.
- Take the bread out of the oven and cool on a wire rack. Resist eating any until it's cool, if you like a bit of pleasure deferment. Otherwise for goodness sakes cut off the end and eat it with some butter. Oh My.