Friday, 9 March 2012

Smug White Bread.

I think I could easily be persuaded to buy a house by the fact that it smells of freshly baked bread, isn’t it just one of the best smells EVEer? Aaand if it comes from your owwwn oven as a result of the work of your own fair hands, well, it’s pretty much the warmest glowiest feeling there is. Oh dear, I have a feeling that this post is going to quickly spiral into twee-upon-smug-dom, but hey, I am pretty much Mrs Twee and happen to think that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with feeling a bit smug now and again, why else do you think I ran around outside like a loony for 5 miles this morning, braving Scottish winds and fighter jets (not lying, they are looooud), befoooore breakfast? For the good of my health? Naaaaaah, smugsmugsmug. So let’s just go with it for now.

The next thing to say though is so smug sounding that you might hate me a teensy (huge) bit. That’s the problem with smugness; it makes your own insides feel all glowy and lovely but can really make other people’s insides feel the opposite. But anyway, here the last year and a half I’ve bought less than 5 loaves of bread, and that’s not through lack of eating. I live with a hungryhungry boy. Now I don’t tell you this as a bid to persuade you to immediately reassess your bread buying practices or to convince you to run out right now and buy a fancy loaf tin.

I know that I care a LOT more about what goes in my tummy than most normal people and making bread is something I love to do...but it is just a testament to how easy and non-time consuming it is. So what I’m saying is, you should do it, if only once, so that you can tick it off the list of ‘things to do before you die’ list; ‘make your own bread and eat it fresh from the oven’ is definitely up there. We all need days when we can pat ourselves on the back with rosy cheeks of self made glee and eat something delicious. It’s one of those things which delivers rewards infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. So go forth and knead, I’ll talk you through it. With Love and Cake.

P.S. I’m sorry that the ‘notes’ are leaning towards essay length, but I’ve made soooo many loaves in so many ovens on so many different days in all the seasons that I’ve accidentally learnt what little tweaks you can make to turn a homemade loaf good for toast into a ‘knock your socks off brill’ homemade loaf perfect for supersoft sarnies. Lots of little things make lots of difference, some of which you can control, some you can’t, so getting a handle on the things you can is worth a bit of reading.

White Bread 
A few notes:
  • If I want to feel like a healthy bean I leave the salt out, but its addition really is priceless when it comes to flavour. Also, fine textured salt is best because courser grains or flakes need dissolving in the yeasty water if they are to be properly incorporated and yeast and salt are not best buds. 
  •  If, by chance, you’re boiling up some potatoes any time soon, save the water and use it in this recipe. You can even put it in the freezer and defrost it when you’re in the bread making mood. The extra starch in the water keeps the bread softer and springier for longer...perfect for sandwiches. 
  • The temperature of the dough when it’s trying to rise is one of the things I’ve found makes the most difference. On a hot summer’s day all is hunky doory, but most days in Scotland the dough needs a little help. If you have a roasytoasty airing cupboard, brill, if not you’ll need to improvise. I like to turn my (electric) hob on for just half a minute or so, so it is juuust warm, never too hot to hold your hand against, and set the bowl on it for its rising time. I’ve also seen people put the oven on and set the bowl on a chair next to it, or you could get creative with your radiators. Either or...just make sure it’s a cosy temperate that you would enjoy. 
  • Unlike with cake baking, when baking bread there is leeway in terms of tins. I use a silicone loaf tin because it is what I have and works. But you could also use a metal loaf tin, greased and floured, or you could just leave it as a nice round on a lined baking sheet. If you do the latter, just before you pop it in the oven, give it a few slashes on top with as sharp a knife as poss to give it lots of room to grow. 
Makes one nice big loaf

You will need

A large-ish loaf tin or baking sheet, greased and lined 

500g strong white bread flour 
½ tsp fine salt 
2 tsps ‘Easy-Blend’ or ‘Active’ dried yeast 
300ml-ish of warm water 
Splosh flavourless oil (olive or veg or groundnut, whatever) 

  • First job...weigh out the flour into a big bowl and sprinkle over the salt. 
  • Next, add the yeast to the water and give it a mix around to let the yeast dissolve a little. 
  • Now pour around 2/3 of the yeasty water over the dough and with a spread out hand, start to churn it up and mix it in. Then keep adding the rest of the water, or even a little more if you need, until it all comes together and you have a ball of soft dough and a mostly clean bowl. It’s best to err on the ‘too sticky’ side, rather than the ‘too dry’ if you’re in doubt. 
  • Put a fairly big blob of oil on a clean, dry surface and spread it out a bit with your hands. 
  • Turn the dough out on top of the oil and fold the dough around in it so it is covered all over. 
  • Knead for around 5 minutes; pushing and pulling it around and folding it on top of itself until it looks shiny and feels stretchy. Don’t worry if it sticks to the surface you are working on, it probably will a bit, just keep going and it will recollect any bits it leaves behind. 
  • Now time to pop your ball of shiny dough back into the bowl and cover with a tea towel or Clingfilm...or you could put a plastic bag over the top of the bowl like I do...or use a shower cap like the Hairy Bakers do. 
  • Leave it in a cosy place for 1 to 1.5 hours; until it looks big and airy. 
  • Meanwhile, time to prep your tin/baking tray. 
  • When risen and proud, scrape the dough out of the bowl with a big metal spoon, and flop it onto a floured surface. Fold it up a few times to knock the air out and the shape appropriately for your tin. 
  • Now gently pop the dough in your tin or onto your baking sheet and leave for about 1 more hour, until it puffs up and looks proud. Do NOT forget about it at this point, I have, and what happens is that it gets big enough to burst, and then does and then siiiiiiiiinks. Booooo. 
  • Preheat the oven to 220˚c. 
  • Now you’re ready to bake. Pop your lovely loaf in the middle of the oven and leave for around 20-25 mins, until nice and golden and crusty looking. 
  • Now remove the loaf from its tin and place, upside down on the oven shelves, or turn it upside down on the baking tray, so its squidgy bottom can become crispy and tanned. Leave for another 10 minutes. 
  • It’s ready when knocking it on its bottom, like knocking on a door, makes it sound nice and hollow.
  • Cool on a wire rack or tear up right away and eat with too much butter. 

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