Before Covid-19 took over our lives and made it difficult to go out, except for essentials, few people made their own bread. I have always made it from time to time. I find it therapeutic, and the bread tastes so much better than the shop-bought stuff.
Hand-made is better than bread machine, too, in my opinion. I somehow feel that in a bread machine, it’s not really made by me. I stick in the ingredients and leave the machine to do the work.
However, when the lockdown came, everyone seemed to decide that this was the time to make their own bread (and cakes, probably biscuits, pies and everything else that needed flour). Flour vanished from the shelves, as did yeast, so I was stuck.
Amazon came to the rescue, however, and I got bread flour and yeast. (Both from the UK) I could only buy 16kg flour, so that’s a lot of loaves! I also bought some bread improver, too.
So we set off to make bread. We decided to experiment and wrote what we thought of each experiment.
First of all, I would like to mention the yeast. Of course, you can use fresh bakers’ yeast if you can get it. (I got some from Morrison’s before all this lockdown stuff kicked off.)
The problem with fresh yeast is that you need to use it fairly quickly as it only keeps 2 weeks maximum in a refrigerator.
Also, be careful when using dried yeast. Some is ‘quick’ or ‘fast-acting’ and some isn’t. If you have the fast-actingtype, you can simply sprinkle it on your flour and mix well in. For the other, non-quick, you need to activate it first in some warm water taken from the total amount you are going to use. If you like, you can add some sugar to help it get going, but not too much.
Here is my final recipe:
500g strong bread flour
350ml warm water (about 30C)
2 teaspoons sugar
7g dried yeast (activated if necessary with ½ teaspoon sugar)
5g bread improver (optional)
2 teaspoons salt.
- Put the yeast into a cup and add ½ teaspoon from the sugar. Pour in about 50ml of warm (30C) water from the 350ml and stir with a fork. Put to one side and leave for around 10-15 minutes, or until it’s bubbling and frothy.
- Carefully weigh the flour and put it into a large basin. Add the bread improver (if used) salt and the remaining sugar. Mix thoroughly together.
- When the yeast is nice and frothy, pour it into the flour. Use a little of the warm water to make sure it’s all out of the cup, then add the rest of the water.
- Mix until it comes together and makes a fairly sticky dough. Turn it out onto your work surface WITHOUT adding flour. If you put flour on your work surface, it will make your carefully weight amounts wrong.
- Knead the dough. I used a technique from Richard Bertinet who is a professional baker. You can watch a video of how he kneads bread on YouTube.
- When the dough is elastic, dust a large bowl, put the dough in and cover it with a clean tea towel. Leave in a fairly warm place for at least an hour. The length of time will depend on the warmth of the room. Wait until it has doubled in size.
- Shape the dough and make rolls, round loaves, long rolls, or put it into a tin. Cover again with a tea towel and leave until doubled in size once again. The longer you leave it at this stage, the lighter your loaves will be. The yeast will produce more carbon dioxide and thus more holes.
- Preheat your oven to its highest temperature (ideally around 250C). I heated mine to 230C which is as high as it will go. Heat for at least 30 minutes. I used a baking stone, already in the oven, but you can use an upturned baking tray, heated in the oven for the half hour.
- I used a wooden slider thingy to get the bread off the tray it had proved on, but you can use whatever you have. Be very careful not to handle it as it will quickly collapse. Slide it onto your stone or tray and shut the oven door. I allowed it to cook for 10 minutes at the highest temperature then turned it down 20C as the first ones I made were slightly burned on the crust.
Cooking time will depend on what you’ve made. Rolls will take around 15-20 minutes, but a large loaf can take up to 45 minutes.
When cooked, the bread will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
You can get the ebook version of my first recipe book, Viv’s Family Recipes FREE from today until June 2nd. I have an interest in history as well as cooking and this book has recipes from the early part of the 20th Century until now. It is interesting to see how our tastes have changed during that time.
I’ve been wondering whether to publish another recipe book. This time it would be a yeast cookery book, I think. What do you think of that idea?
Let me know in the comments box.