Bread Baking – Pure Genius?

The best thing since sliced bread is home baked bread, baked in your own oven!!!

But who was it that discovered that the combination of crushed grain, yeast, salt and water, mixed, kneaded and left for a few hours would expand to make the most amazing food?
Seriously, the simple act of baking bread never ceases to amaze me. The simplest of ingredients, put together and dealt with in the correct order produces the yummiest of treats – but who was it that found that correct order?? Whether it happened by accident or design I consider them a genius!

Bread offers simplicity and therapy for a baker – no fancy shopping lists to buy, the opportunity to get your hands in, you can take out all your frustrations with the kneading, then you leave it for a couple of hours and magic – proper magic – happens! It goes from a small globby mess to a big ball of lovely gooeyness. Then, you can get aggressive again and punch it down, only for it to pop back up. Then for the absolute highlight, baking it makes your house smell delish!! And it tastes better than anything you buy at the supermarket.

Genius! Absolute Genius!!

Oh, and by the way, its a myth that baking bread takes too long. Today’s loaf took a total of 13 man minutes! 7 minutes mixing and kneading, 3 minutes knocking back and putting it in the tin, 1 minute putting it in the oven, 2 minutes removing it from the oven and putting it on a cooling tray – too long? Pah!!! Granted, the whole process with rising, proving and baking takes over 4 hours, but you can get on with your life whilst its doing its magic!

Basic White Bread (small 1lb Loaf)

350g Sieved Strong White bread flour

1/2 tablespoon Salt

3/4 teaspoon Easy Bake Dried Yeast

1/2 teaspoon Sugar

200ml Luke Warm Water

Warm the flour for a minute or two in the oven. I sieved the flour into my mixing bowl and popped it into a warm oven for just a couple of minutes.

Mix in the salt, yeast and sugar and make a well (small indent) in the middle of the dry ingredients.

Pour half the water into the well and mix everything together, initially with a wooden spoon. Then get you hands in (I know I shouldn’t need to say it, but make sure they’re clean). Add most of the rest of the water, but save a dribble back. Combine it all with your hands. At first it will be really gooey, but keep going and it will come together as a dough. With the remaining dribble of water, pour onto any remaining dried ingredients and mix it all together.

Once you’ve got a big ball of dough, sprinkle some flour onto a work surface. Turn out your dough and it’s time to get rid of all you frustrations by kneading. Kneading it basically manipulating the dough to get the gluten in the flour to stretch, and there are many techniques. Mine is to hold my left hand on the dough, whilst pushing the heel of my right hand away to stretch the dough. Bring it back to the middle, turn the dough a quarter of a turn and do it again. It’s lovely and repetitive, and quite physical. I knead for about 3 to 5 minutes, until my dough is smoother and stretchy.

Put your dough back in the mixing bowl, cover with a tea towel and walk away, for at least 2 hours. When you come back the magic has happens. The yeast will have reacted with the water to create air bubbles. Your dough will be at least double in size, and completely smooth.

Now you “knock it back”, by punching all the air back out of it. Give it a good few blows whilst in the bowl.

Next butter your loaf tin. The above ingredients should make one 1lb loaf.

Turn out you dough from your bowl. Shape it into a sausage and put it into your buttered tin, pushing down into the corners.

Cover it, and again walk away. The magic starts again as your loaf ‘proves’ – it proves it had risen the first time, by proving the yeast is still working as it rises again. I usually leave for about an hour and a half.

A loaf that’s ‘Proved’ itself and is ready for the oven.

Pre-heat your oven to 220c (200c fan) or gas mark 6. Pop in your ‘proved’ loaf and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden and risen. To test if you loaf is baked, turn it out onto a teatowel and tap the bottom – it should sound hollow!

I should say at this point that you should cool on a rack, but lets face it, who can resist a loaf fresh out of the oven, covered in melted butter.

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