Grain and the bread that is born of it, have been at the heart of homes across the globe for millenia. It was one of the first foods that we humans made and still endures as a staple of existence for a large chunk of the globe. Our language is laced with references to its central role in our lives from bread as 'the staff of life' to biblical 'daily bread'. It seems appropriate then, on this day, to share my much requested 'method' for making bread.
Homemade bread still seems too time-consuming for most people to contemplate. We're so busy, our time is so precious and when we can just pick up a pre-packed loaf almost anywhere it seems almost churlish not to...I, however, really like to make bread when I can but my relationship with bread-making is up and down. There are times in my life when I just can't squeeze it in and times when I manage to be more consistent this generally means when I'm not feeling too overwhelmed with the rest of life's little challenges. I like to make it because I know exactly what I'm putting into it - I know it hasn't been driven all over the country in big trucks; it doesn't need packing in a polythene bag and mostly because it's a life-affirming thing to do. The satisfaction is always enormous, no matter how much bread I bake. The warm fragrant kitchen as the loaves bake, the golden glow of the crust on a wooden board, the soft steaminess of that first bite. I also love the process - meditative and slow but not laborious.
My bread method was given to me by a friend and whole-food genius and it is virtually fool-proof. The dough gets lots of resting and not much kneading and almost always, hateful oven notwithstanding, delivers even crumbed, well textured deliciousness.
Here is my very vague, non-scientific 'recipe':
- Put 250g of white and 25og of brown bread flour into a big bowl with 2tsp of Doves Farm dried yeast and enough hand-hot water ( approx a pint and a bit) to make an almost sloppy, stirrable 'sponge' mixture. Stir it all together well, cover with a wet tea towel and leave for a minimum of three hours but preferably and, more easily, overnight. This is what the sponge should look like:
- Add a further 500g of mixed white and brown flour, a generous couple of pinches of salt, a glug of olive oil and any seeds you might fancy. Mix with a wooden spoon (this is definitely the hardest bit!) adding small amounts of warm water as needed. Cover again and leave for 10 mins. Oil, not flour, your kneading surface and your hands. Take out the dough and knead no more than eight times, then put it back in the bowl for a further 10 minutes. Repeat twice leaving the dough after the third kneading for 30 mins
- For the final kneading and folding you need to flour the board. Then grease your tins and divide the dough evenly between them.
- Leave to rise a little over the tops of the tins - this will take very little time ( approx 45mins) in humid conditions and considerably longer (maybe 2hrs or so) in a cold house.
- Slash the tops of your loaves before placing in the oven. Some people use razor blades for this, I use my bread knife. Whichever way you do it, they need to be clean cuts.
- I should point out at this juncture that my oven has a mind of its own. I and it must do a little dance of discovery whenever I bake, therefore, it would be impossible for me to recommend accurate times and temperatures. Having given that disclaimer, the oven will need to be pretty hot when you put the loaves in, about gas mark 9. After 10 mins or so I always turn the heat down a bit. They probably take between 30 and 40 mins to bake. They should be crispy and golden on top and as everyone knows, sound hollow when you tap the bottom.
at the home of the real bread campaign.
If you'd like a slightly melancholy song about the grain harvest you'll find one here by the legendary Martin Carthy:
On that note, and after the longest post in history, I think I'll call it a night.
Happy beer drinking and breadmaking!