I bake bread almost every weekend. I do it for a range of reasons, including the fact that bread should really only have a few ingredients and bought bread seems to be riddled with alien substances. I also just get great pleasure from toasting and eating my own home-baked bread for breakfast.
Another reason is that although I wouldn’t call myself gluten intolerant (a symptom of modern diets, void of real food if you ask me), I do notice that when I eat bought bread I really feel the difference in my digestive system: bloated, uncomfortable and, ahem, very windy, so to speak. Not pleasant at all.
Just a little aside on the subject of gluten intolerance: while watching chef Raymond Blanc make bread via a Youtube video the other day I noted a comment in the segment on gluten free bread about the amount of people with gluten intolerance in this day and age. The chap in the flour mill Blanc was visiting commented that the increase seemed to be linked to the mass produced, over engineered bread that many people pick up from the shelves of supermarkets or other chain style bakeries.
What really sparked my interest, however, was his comment about dough not fermenting like it used to and how that may be linked to people’s inability to tolerate gluten. This made sense to me because, even though I source real bread from good bakeries when I can’t bake, the difference I feel is really noticeable, as mentioned above.
Back to today’s baking.
For more than two years I’ve started my bread with a wet starter. I leave this to ferment for up to 24 hours (although 12 is probably ideal) before actually making the dough. This fermentation really helps with both flavour and from what I have read about gut flora and fermented foods, it must be what helps me digest the bread, because I love my two pieces of toast for breakfast with a fresh pot of good quality Earl Grey leaf tea, which I now buy from T2.
For today’s baking, I began with the usual 24 hour starter. I use dried yeast because since moving to country Tasmania I find it difficult to source fresh.
Here’s the recipe.
For the starter
250g strong white unbleached flour
1 tsp dried yeast
1.5 cups lukewarm water
Place all ingredients into your mixing bowl, mix well and set aside in a draft-free spot, covered with a damp tea towel, then cling film, so the yeast can work its magic over the next 12 or so hours.
Make the dough
100g rye flour
300g whole wheat flour (preferably stone ground from a mill)
350g strong white bread flour
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp sugar (brown, raw or molasses for a rich flavour)
3.5 teaspoons dried yeast
1.5 cups lukewarm water
What to do
Take your bubbling, frothy starter and tip the flours right on top. Add the salt on one side of the flour, then add your yeast and sugar on the other. The sugar feeds the yeast and gets it started and the salt acts like brakes so it doesn’t go too crazy. Together they’re a beautiful balancing act.
Place your mixing bowl in your mixer with a dough hook attached and turn on to slow speed. On my Kitchenaid Artisan, that’s speed number 1. Pour one cup of the water in and watch it come together. If the dough looks dry an still has bits of unmixed flour after a minute or so, add the rest of your water. If it looks a bit wet and slushy, well that’s okay, just don’t put the rest of the water in.
Here you can either mix with your dough hook for 10 minutes on low speed or just mix for a couple of minutes and tip out of the bowl to knead by hand for 10 minutes. You want a nice, smooth and doughy dough that smells sweet and bready. That’s the pre-ferment working its magic.
Set the dough to rest and rise in a warm, draft-free spot for up to an hour – until it’s doubled in size. I tend to cover with another upended bowl, which protects the dough and prevents the rising dough sticking to cling film or tea towel if it rises over the top of the bowl, which it sometimes does.
When the dough has risen, gently turn out of the bowl onto a clean, lightly floured surface. For one regular size loaf and a smaller one, I cut the dough by 2/3 and 1/3. The large piece is shaped for my everyday bread tin. The smaller piece I’ll shape and put into a smaller bread tin or make into baguettes (as I did today) or a small cob or crusty loaf.
Once the bread is shaped and in its tin or on its tray, set aside once again in a warm, draft-free spot to rise again.
Preheat your oven to 240 degrees centigrade – preferably non fan-forced.
When the loaves have doubled in size, you can brush with beaten egg/milk mixture and sprinkle sesame seeds or other seeds on top. If you have a sharp enough knife or clean razor blade, you can score the top. Today I left the bread plain.
I don’t have a steam oven and steam helps the crust form. To make steam, place a tray of hot water in the bottom rack of the oven prior to adding the bread.
Once your loaves have risen to double their original size again, bung them in the oven with the steaming tray of hot water for 10 minutes, then turn oven down to 210C (non fan forced). After 20 minutes, take out the smaller loaves and, using a clean tea towel, hold each one upside down and tap the bottom. If it feels crusty and sounds hollow, it’s cooked. If not, place directly onto your oven rack to finish cooking.
Wait another five or so minutes and do the same with the regular loaf. Tap the bottom with your knuckle. If it sounds spongy it needs more time. Leave the loaf out of its tin and place directly on the rack to finish cooking. At this stage I remove the tray of water. It works for me to do it this way.
Bread that is fresh out of the oven will be ruined if cut too soon and it’s also not good for you. I don’t actually know why it’s not good for you, but it’s what I heard years ago and it’s stuck. Must do some research on that one.
Once cooled sufficiently:
Top with butter and anything else you please.