Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Bread of the Week: Mine

I tried to make my own bread for years. I think my first experiments were when I was 15. And it never bloody worked. I used to think yeast hated me. Then two things happened. One was that I met Stephen and his Pops who both had their own bread speciality and that made me very jealous. The other was making the pizza from Vegan With A Vengeance.

And with that my yeast worries where over. Since we moved into the flat I have taken over the position of principal bread maker and this is how I do it. My method is cobbled together from a few sources, most notably The New English Kitchen (an interesting read but not much for veggies) and Bread: River Cottage Handbook (fabulous) So here goes...

  • 350g Strong White Bread Flour
  • one 7g sachet of fast action yeast
  • 2 pinches of salt (do not leave the salt out, we've tried it in moments of health consciousness and the bread tastes like arse)
  • 2 pinches of sugar
  • 210ml of water
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
First we shove everything together except the oil. You can knead by hand or - if you are lucky enough - with a dough hook on a stand mixer. If you are kneading by hand I suggest staring it off in a bowl until the dough is workable and then taking it to your floured work surface. Push the dough away with the heel of your hand and pull it back. Keep going until everything is stuck together and the dough is smooth and easy to work.

Alternatively throw it in your mixer and let that do all the work. That is what we like to do. Even so I often take it out just as the dough has formed a rough ball and do the rest of the kneading by hand. This gives me a feel for the dough and let's me see if it's too dry (not coming together enough, try wetting your hands to work in a small amount of water) or too wet (sticking to the surface, try flouring your hands)

Then our aim is to get it splatted on the work surface in a rough circle. Pat it down with your finger tips. Next we have to shape it into a round.

Start wherever you want in the circle; pinching the dough and folding it into the centre. Continue tucking the circle in.

Eventually it should look a bit like this. We make a round like this to allow the dough to rise evenly. I always do it if I have time but I do cut it out guilt free if I've over slept.

The next step is to leave the dough to rise. It's a myth that it has to be hot. Indeed, if the dough is too hot it will kill off the yeast. It will rise perfectly happily in the fridge, it will just take longer. I leave my basic loaf to rise at room temperature. I only cover it if there is a danger of a fly landing (insects trapped in your bread = not vegan)

Put your oil into a bowl (we use plastic because it's easier to clean) and place the round into it. Leave to rise for 1 1/2 hours. Catch up with the other Vegan MoFo blogs in that time.

After your one and a half hours are up (and not a minute before, set a timer) take the blob out of the bowl (it should have doubled in size) because it's time to knock back. Give it a quick knead to integrate the oil into the loaf. This should get some of the air out too. Don't be too rough, you don't need to push it and punch it like before. Then, and I advise doing this directly onto the oven tray to avoid getting your counters full of oil, use your fingertips to push it out into a rectangle.

Then we bring the top side in to the middle, pressing down the join as we go. After that bring the bottom side up, just above the first join and press it down again. Flip over so that the joins are on the bottom.

Then we have to leave the dough to prove . Certain people, and you know who you (Stephen!) are, could do well to read that again. Proving the dough gives the yeast time to work again. Proving that the yeast is still working and making the bread light and airy. It will take half an hour. In that time you can preheat the oven. You have to preheat the oven for bread. Our environmentalist streak means we often skip this step for other types of food we never do in baking. Heat it to the highest it can go and put a roasting pan full of water directly on the oven floor. The steam will create a lovely crust.

Half an hour later and your bread has proven it's worth. It's time to make slashes across the top. Do it diagonally with a serrated knife, going three quarters of the way down. Turn your oven down to 230 C (which goggle informs me is 446 Fahrenheit) and take up the baking tray. The key here is to open the oven door, put the bread in and close it again as quick as you can. But don't panic. There is plenty of time to turn it into an Olympic event later. For now just open the door as much as you have to, slide in the bread and close it again.

Another half an hour later and you should have a loaf of bread. Transfer to a wire rack. Like a cupcake we have to wait until it's cool. Breaking into it now will ruin the nice texture you have inside. But once it is cool it is perfect. Home made bread.

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