I’m typing this with dough under my finger nails, sorry… I’m actually making two kinds of bread today, our normal wholemeal 5 seeded, and some crusty white.
I was always a little scared of trying a white loaf. I kept reading about how it is harder to make one that is all light and fluffy inside, and given that even the supermarket bakeries manage to turn out delicious tasting crusty fluffy bread that makes perfect toast, I kept away. Until I found The Book.
Daniel Steven’s tip was to use half milk or even yoghurt instead of water when making a white loaf, as it creates a lighter, moister crumb (that’s the bit in the middle in non baker speak). As I have a recipe for spelt flour rolls that uses 100% milk to make them lighter (of which more in another post), I decided to go one step further. This is how I make white bread:
1kg organic strong white flour
10g dried fast acting yeast
20g fine sea salt
300ml organic natural yoghurt
300ml milk (I use semi-skimmed because that’s what we have, but any would do)
1 Tbsp olive oil
- Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
- Mix together the yoghurt and milk and heat to medium in a microwave. You don’t want it too hot or it will kill the yeast!
- Add the warm liquid to the dry ingredients and mix to soft and slightly sticky dough, adding the oil near the end. I use a silicone dough scraper now, but hands work well too, and it is a very tactile experience!
- Tip the dough mixture out on to a clean work surface – you don’t want to flour it, the dough sticking to the surface in the early stages actually helps the kneading process.
- Knead the dough until it goes from slightly lumpy and rather sticky to silky smooth. This normally takes around 10 minutes, you can feel the difference, there is a real spring in the dough by now. It is a living thing!
- Brush the inside of your large – and now clean – bowl with a little olive oil. Shape the dough into a tight round by flattening it out, folding the outside edges into the middle, turning over and gently shaping with your hands (the book is really great at explaining this…)
- Put a little olive oil on your hands and gently coat the round of dough with it – this helps prevent the dough from drying out during fermentation.
- Cover the bowl containing the dough in a (clean!) plastic bin liner or some clingfilm and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in size. I’ve given up leaving it in the airing cupboard, and just leave it out on the kitchen worktop. It usually takes about 2 hours, but can be more or less.
- Flatten the risen dough and divide into 2 (for largish loaves e.g. in a normal sized loaf tin) or 3 equal pieces. I like 3 because you get more crust to center…
- Shape each piece of dough into a round as above and leave to rest, covered in the plastic bag, for 15 minutes.
- Shape each piece of dough into a loaf, or shape into loaf tins. One of the problems I always used to have with my bread was that it flattened out into a large round wheel. It never fitted in the toaster! Daniel’s book explains that shaping loaves tightly means they keep their shape and rise more evenly. His book has loads of wonderful pictures, but you could just leave it in tight rounds and it would work better than mine ever used to!
- Put each shaped loaf on a floured board and dust with flour. Leave to prove, covered with that bin liner again, until almost doubled in size. The dough will feel all springy if you gently poke it.
- Now put your oven on at full whack with a heavy baking tray in and a smaller e.g. roasting tray on a shelf below that – or on the floor of the oven. Get yourself a clean plant sprayer full of clean water (left over anti aphid spray is NOT a good idea!) and while you are waiting for the oven to come to temperature boil the kettle. The idea is to start the loaves off at a very high temperature in a steamy environment. They will continue to rise quite a bit before the heat kills off the yeast, and you get a lovely crunchy crust.
- Now the slightly tricky bit. Slash the top of each loaf with a knife. I use a bread knife. I always used to hate this part, there are so many injunctions not to “knock any precious air out”, and you do need to be gentle, but you can be firm. I do a single lengthwise slash, but you can do e.g. three diagonal ones. The slashes enable the loaves to expand in the oven without splitting, and as you cut them you should see the dough spring apart, showing that the yeast is still active.
- Carefully remove the hot baking tray from the oven and transfer each of your loaves on to it, trying to ensure they don’t touch one another or the sides. Spray the tops and gently slide the tray back on to the top shelf. Now put the boiling water into the roasting tray on the bottom of the oven and close the oven. You want to do all this as quickly as possible so as not to lose heat but without rushing.
- Set the timer for 10 minutes. When the buzzer goes turn the oven down to 200C/390F/Mark 6 if the crusts are barely colouring, 180C/355F/Mark 4 if noticeably browning, and 170C/340F/Mark 3 if browning quickly. Bake for a further 20 to 30 minutes. Mine usually take another 20 minutes. They will sound hollow if you pull one out and tap it on the bottom.
- Leave to cool whilst salivating at the idea of crusty white bread that you made yourself!
I was genuinely shocked at how delicious this bread is when I first made it. I suppose it costs a little more making it with yoghurt and milk instead of water, but at least I know exactly what is in it. No chemical leavening agents, flour improvers, preservatives – see the Real Bread website for a toe-curling list of additives commonly found in commercial loaves. I’d encourage anyone to have a go – I’m no cooking genius, if I can do it anyone can. And if you can’t make your own, support the real bread makers out there! In the UK you could use the Real Bread finder, and I’m sure there are equivalents in the US, Canada etc.. The only downside I’ve found is that bread is so delicious it disappears in double quick time and they all pout a little when it runs out.
It makes perfect toast…