My "old" school friend, Sean, has been asking about getting started in home baking and I thought maybe other people might find this brief introduction useful too. Sean asks:
...And when baking at home, do you knead the dough by hand? Because in my book, "The Larousse Book of Bread" by Éric Kayser, kneading by hand appears to take awhile.
He also advises using a Liquid Starter and Fresh Baker's Yeast.
All this fascinates me but scares me at the same time, because I love cooking as one of my favourite past times, but baking bread is definitely more of a science.....and I was crap at that at SGS*, lol!
(*Shaftesbury Grammar School)
I do all my kneading by hand but kneading is one of those areas about which there is a bit of twaddle talked and written. Dan Lepard in his book The Handmade Loaf recommends minimal kneading but stretching the dough. Really kneading is done to develop the gluten so that small gas pockets fill up in the dough to raise the bread. This will happen to some extent anyway through the fermentation process so he suggests returning to the dough every ten to fifteen minutes and just stretching it after the initial mix. This is quite a useful technique if you are in a busy kitchen with lots of things going on at the same time – which is how he used to work as a restaurant chef.
I personally enjoy the kneading, finding it a bit meditative. I'll knead for five minutes or so and stretch the dough after an hour or so.
I prefer to use fresh yeast too – I get much better results with it. I get mine for our shop from a local bakery suppliers – 1kg lumps – you have to be a bit careful what you get because lots of commercial yeast have horrible additives and processing agents already in them that don't have to be declared on ingredients lists – frightening really! That's why so many artisan bakers will go for sourdough fermentation – just flour and water fermenting together.
(Note: in the UK fresh organic yeast is available by mail order from Shipton Mill. Fresh yeast can be frozen in useful-sized quantities but tends to lose a little potency on defrosting and also tends to turn liquid - which in itself isn't a problem but can be messy if it's in a bag - so if you freeze it put it in a pot to defrost!)
As for liquid starters – there are as many different starter styles (poolish, biga etc) as there are bakers it seems to me. The basic tenet for bread making is “the wetter the better”. Wetter dough is harder to handle but makes a better bread.
The best advice I can give though is to just have a go... a lot... and don't worry about it – it's only a bit of flour and water so if it goes wrong it's not going to kill anyone! It is easy to get put off by the science of it but don't be – you don't need to know it to get started. The science becomes more interesting and accessible as you go along and you try to find out why things have gone wrong!
I don't know the Larousse book but, from a brief squint at it, it looks quite a serious one – sourdough starters means more advanced techniques and less predictable results – it may be that you need to allow yourself to be a beginner for a while and could do with a book that takes you right back to basics. I recommend the Dorling Kindersley “Bread” by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno or Andrew Whiteley's “Bread Matters” but even that gets a bit caught up in itself. Richard Bertinet has two books out both great as starter books “Dough” and “Crust”.
I don't know what level you're at, Sean, but I suggest you start with a really basic bread recipe:
- Strong White flour (preferably organic, stoneground) 550g
- Water 350g
- Salt 10g
- Fresh Yeast 10g or Dried yeast 5g
- Oil 15 ml
If you're using dried yeast mix it with a little of the water and a couple of spoonfuls of the flour first and let it get active – some recommend a spoonful of sugar to help.
- Mix all the ingredients together to get a shaggy mass of dough. If it's a bit sticky let it sit for fifteen minutes - you'll find it easier to handle. If it is sticky try to avoid adding more flour to the dough as this will toughen it up. If you are desperate dust your hands with flour and shake off the excess.
- Knead it for 5 to ten minutes
- Let it prove in a warm ( not too warm) place for an hour
- Turn it out and knead for a minute or two
- Let it prove again for an hour
- Turn it out again and shape it by flattening it out into a rough circle then fold in the sides and roll into a swiss roll shape
- Pop it into a lightly greased or non-stick 2lb tin and prove for another half an hour or so while the oven preheats to 220C
- When the dough is crowning the top of the tin pop it into the oven for 35 to 40 minutes.
- Spray the oven as you do so with about twenty squirts of water from a mister spray.
- I spray again after about 10 minutes and turn the heat down to about 200C or even lower 190C and continue to bake. It depends on your oven.
- Best way to test for done-ness is with a probe thermometer – the internal temperature should be 95C. The bread should sound hollow when tapped but this is no guarantee on its own, and the shoulders of the loaf should be firm to the touch (ie you should be able to pick it up!)
- When it's cool - eat it.
- Make another one.
Once you've made a few you should become more familiar with how the dough will feel – try a few variations – use butter instead of oil – use half in half milk and water...
Report back to me!