Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Daily Bread

Some time ago I made the decision that I was going to try not buying any more bread. (the plastic wrapped sort anyway) I was sick and tired of finding mouldy bread in the pantry - even though it was only a day or two old and should have been fresh. What makes modern bread go mouldy so quickly, even before it has time to stale? I wonder is the bread being wrapped in plastic whilst still warm and this is causing the mould. At least if bread goes stale you can use it for bread crumbs or bread and butter pudding, but mouldy bread is useless!

Anyhow I decided I was going to look after the family’s health and produce beautiful, additive-free fresh bread from my own kitchen. Leading a very busy life I needed a method of making bread that would be quick and convenient. Easier said than done as it turned out and it took many months of trial and error before I could produce a decent loaf.

I don’t have the patience for all that kneading. I never give it long enough to produce the ’silky smooth’ texture that you should have - "smooth as a baby’s bum" - I had to look at other more convenient/mechanical ways to produce my dough.

So I bought myself a bread machine. This produces decent tasting loaves and is very convenient and ‘hands free’ but I prefer to make the medium sized loaves rather than large as I don't like the shape of the large - too tall and difficult to slice. It has a really handy delay timer function so I can throw the ingredients into the machine in the morning and have freshly baked bread waiting when I get home from work. This delay timer is great for a basic white bread but it doesn't work for any of the more complicated recipes particularly if they contain milk or eggs. I have discovered that this machine is also very convenient for just mixing and proving the dough (a process that takes 1.5 hours exactly) and then I can shape the dough however I want, give it a half hour 2nd rise in a warm place, and bake in the conventional oven. Lovely bread with very little manual effort from me.

At the weekends I like to experiment with more hands-on methods, making the dough by hand or in the Kitchenaid, but I'll leave that to another post. The 'half bread machine' method above is the one I use for our regular daily bread. It is handy to throw the ingredients into the bread machine and leave it to work whilst I get on with other things. When finished mixing and proving, I punch the dough to let out the air and shape it into loaves or rolls and leave to rise again for about 1/2 hour, dust with flour or brush over with egg wash and a sprinkling of sesame seeds or poppy seeds then bake in a pre-heated oven.

Tip: I often make bread in the evenings and place in the fridge just after the final shaping stage. The bread rises very slowly overnight and the next morning I take it out (gently! not to knock the air out) to come to room temperature whilst I heat the oven and then bake as usual. This is particularly useful if you want fresh rolls for lunch. Warning: If you are rising the bread overnight do not slash the top of the bread before baking or the bread will collapse. I have done it several times!

Basic white bread recipe

This is the 'every day' white bread that I make using the 'half machine' method above

  • 300ml warm water
  • 1 sachet yeast
  • 450g Strong White Flour
  • heaped teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil/sunflower oil/soft butter
Use the bread machine's manufacturers directions for dough only. (Usually takes 1 1/2 hours) Remove from the machine, place onto a lightly dusted board and shape as you wish. Leave to prove in a warm place for about another 1/2 to 3/4 hour and then bake in a preheated oven 190C until browned and the base sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a rack and then enjoy!

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