With all the cooking that we do, we do not normally eat a lot of bread. A 500g loaf sees us through a week, and a few remaining slices may even end up adorning the (commercially processed) compost. I am happy to report that the bread quality in our house has risen quite a bit recently, at least on our own opinion (and, face it, who else matters with regards to our own bread?). The increased consumption certainly speaks for itself.
While I entertain secret visions of becoming a destination for bread-loving pilgrims from all over the world, I think it is easier if I may just post a few key points:
First, maintain a mother dough: take away 15% of the dough you made, place it in a little dish, cover with cling film and keep in the fridge until you make the next bread. In my experience, this lasts well over a week with ease – it’s sour anyway – and is well worth it.
Second, give it time: I prepare the dough in the afternoon or evening, to rise over night, and bake in the morning – or even later! 12 hours and more is fine.
Third, steam it: when the bread goes into the oven, I pour a cup of water into the oven to generate a cloud of steam. This helps the bread rise, crack open, and become just perfect.
Many other recommendations that I read here or there, such as a stern warning not to kneed the dough by machine, I find pretentious nonsense. The tiny bubbles turn smaller and more regular when using a kneading machine, hands produce a more rustic appearance but more sticky mess – you choose. Anyway, here is my preferred method for a 450g loaf of can-I-have-some-more bread:
300g long white wheat flour (the “bread making” variety, gluten-rich)
50g white spelt flour
50g wholemeal (stone ground) spelt flour
50g rye flour
20g fresh yeast (alternatively, use 15g dried yeast)
For every 100g of this flour mix, you need 70 ml liquid. I compose this from a splash of olive oil, possibly a rather runny sourdough top-up, and filtered water. I don’t like the sourdough mess myself, so I use commercial sourdough. Nice, cheap and easy (if you can get it), and I add some every second or third time I make bread. Because the commercial sourdough is quite liquid, it counts with the liquids.
Finally, add the mother dough. Don’t worry if it smells a little “ripe” – as long as it looks all right, it’ll be fine.
I use a Bosch kitchen machine, but any similar device or your own hands will do. Put the mix into the bowl, bowl into the machine, then start on the low gear, slowly progressing to a more aggressive speed. Give it a good few minutes; you do want a good thorough mix. Turn the machine off and give it a rest for 10..20 minutes. The wholemeal flour and rye flour components need this time; do not skip this step. Then, give it another good kneading.
At the end, your dough should look and feel a little too moist. It comes off the bowl only just, and only with a spatula’s help: keep it so. You want it on the moist side.
Transfer into a large bowl. Cover with Clingfilm and store in a warm place. (Don’t worry about light levels – more pretentious nonsense.) Have a nice meal, enjoy a movie, sleep.
In the morning…
Set approximately 15% of the dough aside. Put into a small dish, Clingfilm it, and store in the fridge. The remainder goes onto your baking tray. When using a flat tray, I often use a spring form’s ring to stop it spreading out too far, but normally, I use a silicone tray for simplicity. Be gentle and do not knead the dough again. Store in a warm location near to the oven so that it can rise again. Give it 2..3 hours.
Heat the oven to 220C. When hot, use a mister to moisten the surface of the bread, sprinkle some salt and flour on top, then place the bread inside (Be gentle! Don’t let it collapse again!). Pour a cup of water into the oven’s base and quickly close the door. Set the timer to 31 minutes 17 seconds, and remember where you put the timer.
Remove from tray, let cool down, then enjoy.
I realize this article is almost 2km long, and it looks as if making this bread was incredible complicated – it is not. Just try it once or twice. You’ll get the hang of it, and it’s actually less effort than trying to find similar quality bread somewhere in the shops. Good luck & let us know how it goes.