Posted on: by Alistair
Mono & Di-glycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate (SSL), Diacetyl Esters of Tartaric Acid (DATEM), Calcium propionate, Ammonium sulfate, Monocalcium phosphate
This is a list of the typical ingredients you will find in a store bought loaf of bread. Appetizing? If not, here’s a simple recipe that you can use to bake a healthy loaf at home.
First, the ingredients.
- 1kg regular flour
- 625ml tepid water
- 30g fresh yeast or 3 x 7g sachets dried yeast
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 level tablespoon fine sea salt
- extra flour for dusting
You will also need a bread pan, an oven and a food thermometer.
Baking bread at home can appear to be an intimidating task but this recipe is surprisingly straightforward. You will refine the steps over time and get a hang of the different consistencies that vary with season, humidity and variations in oven design. Take your time, be patient and most of all, have fun.
- Measure the ingredients
This may seem a trivial step but under-doing things here is going to cost you a loaf of bread later on.
Measure and mix the flour, sugar and salt.
There are two containers of flour in the picture because I use of a mix of refined and wholegrain. The ratio varies but it’s never less than 50% wholegrain. Using a majority of refined flour is going to cause you to come to a messy end. No, not at the end of the bread making process, I mean the end, end. Refined foods are to be avoided wherever possible and I only make an exception in the case of flour because 100% wholegrain can be a little much to digest for most people.
- Add Yeast
- The yeast is a vital ingredient in the bread making process. Measure carefully and keep it away from the salt initially – you don’t need to separate them like bullies in a playground, just don’t put the yeast right on top of the salt. The salt impedes the growth of the yeast while the sugar feeds it so you need both. It’s a balance that you work gently towards.
I tend to make a well with the flour and place the yeast in the middle. This allows the water to get to work on the yeast immediately – activating the yeast as it’s called.
- Add Water
- Fill a measuring container with 625ml of tepid (warm) water. On some days you’ll use all the water and then some while on other days you’ll have water left even after the dough reaches a perfect consistency. This is the art of bread making.
Pour 75% of the water into the well you have created in the flour. You can add the rest as you knead it.
- Bring It All Together
- This can be a tricky part of the process but it’s like anything in life – you get the hang of it the more often you do it.
Start with the well in the middle, tipping the flour into the water gently and methodically. Be careful not to create a weakness in the wall – the resulting tsunami will drench your counter.
Don’t add the rest of the water just yet, wait until the next step for that.
- Need to Knead
- This step involves some intuition and practice. You need to gauge just how much water to add and when to add it.
Follow on from the previous step by mixing everything together, chances are there will be too much flour and not enough water to get it to congeal. That’s a good start. Now add a little water at a time, kneading and mixing in between. Depending on the humidity and season, you will reach a point where everything has mixed together and the resulting ball has a slightly sticky but not wet consistency.
If the dough is too wet then your loaf won’t cook and won’t rise uniformly. If your dough is too dry the flour will burn without baking. Knowing the difference is experience and practice.
- Pick a bread pan that can handle the dough you’re about to bake. A pan with a small footprint will cause the dough to push up and over while a pan with a large footprint will make a flatter loaf. The right pan will make a loaf that is sized to your liking.
Drop some ghee or butter in the bottom of the pan and spread it around the inside. Dust some flour on top of the ghee.
- Perhaps the most satisfying step of all, carving lines on top of your loaf. Be creative and make the cuts fairly deep.
As the bread rises these cuts will allow the bread to spread and leave marks that will last as long as the bread does.
- Another important step that can be overlooked and underdone.
Find a cupboard that is warmer than room temperature, cover the bread and put it inside. It will take about an hour but the bread will expand to about twice the size if was when you placed it in the pan. This illustrates the effect of the yeast and is a sign that you’re on the right track.
Several websites will give you a hundred reasons you why you should proof several times. This recipe called for two proofings but dropped the second one because I didn’t notice the difference and the bread had a more “yeasty” taste that I preferred to go without.
Each to his/her own, you will know your way when you find it.
- We’re almost done and while you might be excited to get this last step over with, you can so easily stumble at the last hurdle if you don’t bake the bread all the way through.
Plan ahead and pre-heat an oven to 400℉ so that the loaf has proofed when the oven is ready. Set a timer for 25 minutes and gently slide the pan into the oven. Check periodically so see how things are going. The bread is ready when the internal temperature at all levels is at 180℉ (hint: the top section takes longer). If the bread is not ready, wait 5 minutes and repeat (the timing of this largely depends on the oven being used).
If you prefer a soft crust, lightly browned loaf then I would suggest a couple of caveats to the baking step. Place a separate pan containing about an inch of water in a convection oven set to 400℉. After 5 minutes, put the proofed bread in the oven and set a timer for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off remove the pan of water, cover the top of the bread with tin foil (this speeds up the baking process and stops the bread from browning too much) and set the timer for 15 minutes. When that timer goes off check the temperature and wait longer if necessary.
Baking bread at home is healthier and costs far less than buying a loaf at the store. Add raisins, nuts and various other ingredients as you gain confidence and creativity. In no time you’ll be tweaking the main ingredients too and perhaps even scoring up a storm to impress friends at parties. Not that bread at parties is a big thing but if it was…