Making bread is one of the most simple pleasures I enjoy in the kitchen. I had dabbled a bit here and there before, and my husband used to make bread a bit…sourdough actually… as well as pizza dough. Now I make bread at least once a week, in fact I make almost all the bread my family eats.
Being able to make a variety of different breads is just a wonderful skill to have
I completed the Pastry Arts programme at George Brown College Chef School (a number of years ago… took forever to do part time) and the course I enjoyed the most was Breadmaking. It is an act of mindfulness, especially when kneading by hand. Have to admit, I do have a great mixer that I generally let do the heavy work.
The comforting smell of bread baking
As a child living in the UK, I remember a bakery strike and there was no bread in the shops. Everybody’s Mum, including mine, made bread at home. I remember to this day, going into other kids’ houses and smelling bread baking…everywhere! Perhaps that’s part of the emotion attached to bread baking? The sensory nostalgia that comes with the act of baking bread gets me every time.
One of the basic needs of bread making is yeast. I’ll do a post about the different types of yeast soon. I typically use dried active yeast, but do enjoy the fresh stuff… kinda hard to find, but gives an additional pleasurable aspect to make the dough. However, you can get fantastic results using the little grainy dried stuff that comes in a jar!
Yeast, flour, water and salt – that’s the basics. Add-ins include butter, milk, oil and one of my favourites – molasses. That gives a great colour and sweetness to the bread. Typically I add molasses when making a whole wheat or a multi-grain bread. Like to add grains and seeds too! They can go in cooked or raw, depending on what sort of breads you enjoy.
One of the important steps is making sure your yeast is alive, a simple stir into some water with a little sugar will tell you that. The yeast will start to froth and you’re good to go.
Add your ingredients (keep the salt away from the yeast right away as it will kill it) and slowly mix – if you’re doing by hand, this is a bit messy, but that’s all good. Once the ingredients are all incorporated, start the kneading process. If you’re doing by hand, drop the dough onto a clean countertop lightly dusted with flour and start the kneading motions. If you’re using a machine, knead for about six to eight minutes until the dough is elastic. You’re creating gluten with the kneading process.
Rest… for you and the dough
Once the dough has been kneaded, you have to let it rest… or to proof. Time for this will vary depending on the recipe and the type of bread you are making. Find a warm spot, cover the bowl and let the dough rest until it has doubled in size.
Shaping and baking
Now you’re going to shape the bread … or buns. Gently press your hand onto the puffy risen dough and push down. The dough should collapse and you can tip it out onto the counter again. You don’t have to knead it again, this is all about shaping. Decide what size loaves you want, or if this is a single batch, then what shape. Using pans versus a sheet tray will be covered in another post. Once shaped, cover again (with a floured tea towel or plastic wrap) put back into the warm spot until the dough has risen again.
When it comes to baking, bread likes a hot oven (I generally bake around 375-400F or 190-205 C). My preferred way to test the doneness of bread is to stick a thermometer in it. It should read at least 88C or 190F for fully cooked bread. The problem with under-cooked bread is that it is gummy and will taste doughy and not be pleasant to eat.
Just a suggestion….
I also recommend learning to ‘scale’ your ingredients for breadmaking – for any baking really. Baking is a science and amounts matter. Cooking is art and you have more flexibility. Having said that, you can still make fine bread without a scale. I also do encourage my US friends to dip a toe into the world of metric, just makes things so simple. One of the lessons I remember about learning to ‘scale’ is that you can just keep adding lots of ingredients to your bowl – cuts down on dishwashing!
Once the bread is done, remove it from the pans right away, this will help the crust maintain a crisp exterior. Just turn the pan upside down and it should pop right out. Set it on a cooling rack – do try to let it cool, it slices much more easily that way. Very hard to resist the warm bread though!
So go ahead.. dive in, make some bread. It’s magic!
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