Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A Basic Bread Recipe

My friend Astor in Hong Kong asked me for a simple bread recipe so I thought I would share the method I use.


Bread Flour 1000g   (you can mix flours. I like 50% white bread flour, 25% brown, 25% grannery)
Water 600ml
Dried Yeast 10g        (or as per instructions on the packet)
Salt 20g                     (I like a bit more but that's my personal taste)
Oil  20ml                   (suggestions: olive oil, rapeseed oil, vegetable oil)

1.  First prepare the yeast.  Follow the instructions on your yeast packet (some yeasts are instant).  I use dried active yeast which is dissolved into 150ml water at blood temperature as the yeast will activate at this temperature.  Be careful not to use water too hot as this can harm the effectiveness of the yeast.  A way of obtaining this temperature is 50ml boiling water to 100ml cold water.  Leave the yeast to start foaming for about 10-15 minutes.  When it has a head on it like beer, it is ready to use.

2.  While the yeast is activating, measure your flour, salt and oil and put it into a mixing bowl.  For the water measure out 450ml as the rest of the water will be provided by the yeast/water mix that is still activating.  Make a well in the flour and add the 450ml of water.  Mix together with a big wooden spoon.

3.  The yeast should be ready now.  If it hasn't activated, dip your finger in the water and if it feels luke warm add a touch more hot water until it feels like a nice warm temperature on your skin.  This should be about right for the yeast to activate.

4.  Add the yeast mixture to the bowl and mix this through with the wooden spoon.  When it all looks like its combined together nicely (take any rings off!) and start kneading with your hands.  If the dough feels a little dry add a touch more water, if it feels too wet add a little flour.

5.  Now knead or stretch the dough on a work surface or table for about 15 minutes.  You want to have one end held by the heal of your hand and really stretch the dough across the table with your other hand.  Make sure each bit and part of the dough all gets a good stretching.  The more stretching now, the more the loaf will rise in the oven.

6.  Form the dough into a ball, place in the bowl to let the dough rise.  This is called proving as you are trying to prove that the yeast will rise when it is placed in the oven.  Either coat the dough with the same oil you used in the bread ingredients or lightly coat with some flour.  Cover with a tea towel or cling film and leave for about an hour.  (You can leave it for longer if you wish - sometimes I leave for about 2-3 hours)

7.  After at least an hour check the dough.  It should have roughly doubled its size now.  Get the dough out of the bowl and back on the table.  Squash all the air out of the dough and shape into the loaves you will bake.  Place them on a tin tray dusted with flour and leave in a warm place to rise once more.  Leave for about an hour.

8.  15 minutes before you are ready to bake your bread, get the oven ready.  Crank it up to the highest temperature available.  Mine goes up to 220 degrees centigrade.  Place a bowl of boiling water at the bottom of the oven.  This will provide steam in the oven.

9.  When your loaves are nicely risen and ready to go in the oven, slash the tops of the loaves with a serrated knife (about 2 inch deep depth).  This will expose some of the dough (and yeast) that has not been exposed and will help the loaf rise even more when baking in the oven.
  • Small rolls 10 - 20 minutes baking, 
  • 3 loaves     30 - 40 minutes baking
  • 2 loaves     40 - 50 minutes baking
10.  Now place the loaves in the oven.

11.  After 10 minutes, check the colour of the loaves and adjust the temperature accordingly:
  • Crust is pale - adjust to 200 degrees centigrade
  • Crust is browning nicely - adjust to 180 degrees centigrade
  • Crust is browning quickly - adjust to 170 degrees centigrade
12.  Continue to bake for the remainder of the cooking time.

I find each batch you bake you get better and better so don't feel too disappointed with the very first batch baked.  I've been baking for about 6 months now and never, ever buy bread.  All the bread I eat has been made at home.  This might sound time consuming, but I bake a batch of bread every fortnight and freeze any extra loaves.  I also freeze some dough for pizza and have not bought pizza for a very long time as it just doesn't compare!  Each batch I bake is just that little bit different.  I find it a really organic process and it is even more fun if you bake with a friend as you can sip tea and chat while waiting for the loaves to prove.  A great way to catch up!

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