Bread Baking: Introduction

    This is some home made bread with my very first home-made cheese. Unfortunately, there wasn't much bread left... as we ate most of it while the cheese was finishing. This is how I got hooked on making both... and maybe gained a few extra kilos.

    Bread baking is one of the things I just love to do. I don't always have the time I'd like to do it, but it's a skill well worth learning. Nothing beats the smell of freshly baked bread in the kitchen... except the taste of course. Learning to make bread isn't necessarily "hard" However, I have an extensive library of books on the subject because bread across the world has so many varieties. Some of the more famous national varieties include:

    • India has naan, kulcha, roti and dosa.
    • England has crumpets, English muffin, and scone.
    • Egypt has "aish merahrah",
    • Madagascar has "mofo gasy" (no that's not rude, mofo means bread, and gasy is short for Malagasy which means "Madagascan") Yes, it's name really is, at the end of the day, "Madagascan bread".
    • Japan has nanpan,
    • Italy has panettone & focaccia,
    • South Africa has "sweet corn bread", "beer bread", "pot brood", and "vet koek".
    • Austria is famous for Vienna loaves,
    • Mexico has tortilla and fajita,
    • China has laobing,
    • Bolivia has cunape,
    • Australia has the classic "damper".
    • Mali has ngome. (please note that's not a typo of gnome).

    In short, every country on Earth has at least one type of bread. Countries with colonial and multicultural heritages or bakery excellence in general, are renowned for their breads. As a result, they may have dozens or even hundreds of breads and bread like offerings. France is utterly spoiled for choice.

    Whether you like the flat breads or raised breads, breads based on nuts, corn, wheat, maize, or some other grain, white versus dark, sweet or savoury, light and airy versus dense and heavy, a crunchy or soft crust, thick or thin crust pizza bases, (let's face it, that's bread too) there's a bread type to suit almost anyone.

    While the basic bread is simple as far as ingredients go, making great tasting bread is truly an art. Of course, you can get tasty bread from almost no fancy equipment, or even a lot of expertise. People make bread this way in many places across the world every day. Alternatively, you can buy yourself a bread maker, throw the bread mix in with the right amount of water, and you will get a preservative free, freshly baked loaf of bread. But with a little time, experimentation, and a willingness to get your hands covered in dough, you'll quickly learn to make substantially better bread that's actually more healthy for you.

    So what's in bread anyway?

    Well that's a very loaded question. You see, if you are in the habit of buying commercially made bread from your average supermarket, and look at the ingredients, you'll find all manner of ingredients, chemicals, preservatives, colours, flavours, and most of them masked under various colour and flavour codes, scientific names, and marketing "spin" aimed at hiding anything "off-putting" and extolling "anything healthy or beneficial". It honestly scares me what gets put into foods these days, and having food scientist friends, the stories they tell me about chemical treatments making even fruit and vegetables last 6 months to a year on the shelf means that healthy foods are not only harder to find, but harder to even identify. That is one of the main reasons I got into bread baking.

    The home made approach:

    Fresh, home made bread is usually comprised of a handful of ingredients, (seeds/grains, flour, water, yeast, and salt). Flour can be made from almost any grain, even some nuts, so if you have gluten tolerance issues in your family, you can swap it out for gluten free alternatives. Note that because your bread doesn't have preservatives in it, that it will not last as long as many commercially made breads. I find mine (depending on the weather, and the moisture content of the recipe) can last between 3 and 5 days. However,  in my home, a loaf of freshly made bread often struggles to survive the day it's made... especially if we have guests.

    If 3-5 days sounds too short because you don't eat that much bread, there's no reason why you can't just make a batch of dough, and cook smaller loaves as needed. You'll need to adjust the recipe according to the time line.  There are whole books dedicated to "make ahead" bread types, and I'd strongly encourage you to try them if you're short of time through the week.

    Where does the artistry come into bread making?

    Making world-class, professional bread is a task with many variables. These variables not only relate to your choice of ingredients, but to the process itself. Some might include:

    • The type(s) of flour, (you don't have to limit yourself to just one)
    • the moisture level, (which comes down to the accuracy of the recipe and measurements of the ingredients),
    • the temperature of ingredients at every stage of the process,
    • ambient temperature and humidity of your kitchen,
    • the method of mixing,
    • the extent of mixing,
    • proofing times,
    • "punch down",
    • additional ingredients (seeds, fruit, nuts, herbs, etc)
    • the shaping process,
    • whether you slice your dough or glaze it,
    • whether or not you use steam when baking, and of course,
    • the cooking times/temperatures.

    No need to panic!

    While all of the above sounds really scary. The truth is that bread making can be as simple or complicated as you like. For example: I've cooked Australian damper bread using nothing more than a stick over an open campfire. The dough was made with bread flour, salt, and water. I just wrapped the dough around a stick and baked it near the fire. You probably have access to much more ingredients and better cooking methods than that.

    There are plenty of good bread making videos online, as well as web sites. One the sites I found particularly inspiring/informative, is the Bread Kitchen found at www.thebreadkitchen.com

    Here is the introductory video outlining the cheap equipment needed for bread making:

    There's a lot more videos, but you can go through all of the basic videos in an hour or so.

    Ham's Top Tips For Bread Making Success:

    1. Note your baking down. What you used, which method, and any adjustments you made. Then take a photo of the end result with your phone. Keep it in a book so you learn what works, what doesn't work, and whether or not you liked the bread in question.
    2. Don't use cake flours (plain or self raising). Bread flours can be found in health food shops, and if you're unsure, you're usually looking for gluten/protein content percentages above 13%. Many countries have their own grading system of flour. France has a "T score" system, depending on the intended recipe. T45 is for pastries/cakes, T55 and T65 for white bread, T150 for wholegrain bread. (Avoid T130, as the rye is particularly challenging for beginners, it's meant to be an additive to a predominantly T55 mix).
    3. Make your life easier by using fresh flour! Don't use that stuff that's been sitting on the shelf for months/years. Same with yeast.. if your yeast has been sitting around the back of the cupboard since the phones were wired, "Millennial" wasn't a common term, and one of the "Bush's" were president... it's time for you to let it go, and get some new stuff.
    4. Weigh your ingredients rather than using cup/teaspoon/measuring jugs, as volume based measurements are often inaccurate. So buy yourself a kitchen scale if you don't already have one.
    5. Plan out your bake. Bread making isn't all that time consuming if you plan. There are plenty of times you just need to wait for the dough to rise, rest, or bake. You're not actually doing anything at these times. However, if you're constantly worrying about it, (most beginners do) you'll find the process is very time consuming and can take all day. As you get more experience, you'll find that just leaving it alone can render equal, or even superior results.
    6. Resist the urge to add more flour and/or water until the dough is well and truly combined. The number of times I messed up the recipe because I thought the mix was "too wet" or "too dry" and tried to compensate. It's the end result that matters. Similarly, if you're kneading by hand, make sure you don't continually add extra flour to your work surface and work it into your dough. Some doughs are meant to be sticky and a little bit "gooey". Don't assume that they're all meant to have the same consistency, or even texture.
    7. Expect things to stick in bread tins, or on cooking stones when you're starting out. Baking paper is my preferred method for avoiding this issue. Spray a little oil onto the tin and stick the paper to the sides. Feel free to cut your paper to shape, and avoid those wrinkles which makes for wrinkled loaves. Personally, I just use a pizza stone for most of mine, or the inside of a cast iron cook pot (some people call them "Dutch ovens"). Just make sure everything (handles especially) are oven safe! (Not plastic).
    8. When cleaning mixing bowls, and other dough coated utensils, clean them promptly! Dried out dough makes cleaning so much harder than necessary.
    9. Hate kneading? Consider using a kitchen mixer. However, be aware that cake mixing is much easier than bread/dough mixing, so low-powered mixers (even the "Artisan" series of Kitchen Aid mixers) may struggle. Also, do NOT be tempted to use the usual cake mixer attachment as it will NOT work. You want a "dough hook". However, they're not all equal. My Kitchen Aid came with an enamel-coated dough hook, and it works, but when Ren complained about its lack of "dishwasher safe" status, I bought the stainless steel model. The stainless model seems to place a little less stress on the motor, and can be tossed into the dishwasher, has been dropped on the tile floor, without any fear of "chipping the enamel". In short, the stainless gear will outlast me. Consequently, I think all attachments should be made with stainless steel and just forget enamel ones entirely.
    10. Accept that you are going to make a mess, and there will be both triumphs and set-backs. Even if your bread doesn't rise, you left it proofing too long and it developed massive bubbles (or holes) in your sliced bread.... or you burned the crust a bit... it'll still be very tasty.
    11. Be proud! By attempting to make bread, you're going to make something more than 80% of the world has never tried. Be willing to give it a go, and find time every now and then to practice. It's great to involve kids, (the dough is 90% of the way to play dough), and outsource some of the hand kneading. If you have kids that are a bit older, ask what they do and don't like about the bread, and tweak it.

    Ideas for going further (to keep bread making interesting):

    Try making fresh German-style pretzels!
    • Drop some dried fruit into it (diced dried apricots, dates, sultanas, etc) make for a much more amazing fruit toast! However, give it a little longer to proof to deal with the additional weight the fruit adds).
    • Alternatively, adding minced/diced garlic can create an amazing garlic-infused bread.
    • Try adding grated beetroot for interesting colours, a little extra sweetness, and a delicious/healthy alternative.
    • Many people have heard of banana bread, some have even had pumpkin bread, but have you had mango bread? Perhaps pear and cinnamon? If it goes well in a muffin, you'll probably find that it goes well with bread. It's just a sugar-reduced/more savoury option.
    • Add spices, like all-spice, caraway, cinnamon, & nutmeg to taste! Perhaps herbs like rosemary and sage.
    • If you're making pizza bases, try adding basil, diced sun-dried tomato, and a bit of finely diced garlic into the dough.
    • Have a crack at flat breads, naan, fajitas, etc, to make home made wraps.
    • Have a go at making simple pastries. (I recommend choux pastry for profiteroles, it's surprisingly easy, (once you get that texture right) and then you can fill it with melted chocolate-infused cream, or even custard... dip half into melted choc for an easy and professional finish).
    • Try different types of flours. There are places in Australia to import both French and Italian flours. This makes quite a bit of difference in some types of bread, while very little in others.

     

    Here's a pizza-stone cooked loaf of bread, fresh out of the oven. Without sides to support it, the dough needs to be a little thicker.... unfortunately it didn't quite rise as much as I expected... only 10cm or so... but that's half the fun of making bread. However, the middle slices are going to make for an impressively long, foot long sandwich...  I'll use a far better filling than Subway seems to put in it's (in)famous offerings. I'm thinking either home made, smoked salmon, or thick cut smoked bacon, home grown salad with a home made relish/sauce, and some grated home made Gruyere, Cheddar, or Pepato cheese.. from my other home-made foodie obsessions.

    I'm warning you now... when you start making food the way you like it... not only will you enjoy eating it more, you'll start learning about other types of food.. and it's a slippery slope from there. Then the kitchen will be a place of wacky creations, and an unending torrent of deliciousness and mess. Don't be surprised when people start asking you to bring something you've "thrown together" (as if you would just throw it, when you can skillfully engineer wonderfully tantalising food stuffs).

    Heck, I'm the most uncoordinated guy I know, and I've made plenty of dough infused messes.. but anyone can learn this with enough practice.

    Enjoy!

    Ham.

     


    © 2020 WaywardHam.net. All Rights Reserved.