Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Adventures in bread

When I was in year 7 (age 12) my class at school were given few 'cooking lessons' as part of our design classes. I don't remember everything we cooked but I do remember the first lesson making toasted cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate, I don't know how we did it but somehow we managed to make that class last two hours.

As the class went by things got a little more taxing, I remember doing flapjack one week and I can distinctly remember the pizza with the pre-made frozen pizza base, you wouldn't have gone back for a second slice, that's for sure.My last class was right before we split up for the Christmas holidays, and this time there was actually some cooking involved, we were going to make stollen. As you'd expect the marzipan was ready made and the dough was leavened with bicarb not yeast but still, it was cooking and I loved it!

My stollen was a disaster, the bread split as soon as I took it out of the oven, searing hot liquid marzipan gushed out across the worktop and on to the floor and I was lucky not to have been burnt! But that's not the point, I learned to love food and cooking and I've never stopped since.I'm not really going anywhere with this other than to show how far my baking has come along, I've made cakes, buns, scones, puddings and breads and more besides.
From top left clockwise: Chocolate Guinness cake, Sticky Chelsea buns, Clotted cream scones, Christmas pudding, Pumpkin bread

Although I am quite good at making simple breads I know that with a little work I could be a lot better. So I've set myself a challenge to improve my bread making as much as possible, I want to be able to make bread that's crisp on the outside but soft and chewy in the middle, the kind of bread you can buy in French bakeries that has great big air holes in it and bags of flavour. It's no easy task but I'm off to a good start, I've got myself a copy of Daniel Stevens River Cottage Bread Handbook and It's fantastic. I've already got books of bread recipes but where this one differs is that it explains why bread is made the way it is rather than just telling me to do it. No book I've had before has been so clear on what the consistency of the dough should be or how I should fold it, but those little points make the difference between good bread and great bread.These two loaves are my first attempt at making bread using the pre-ferment method, this involves making a small amount of very wet dough at least a day before the make the main batch. The pre-fermented dough is then added to the new dough giving it an amazing boost in flavour and vastly improving the texture. I actually couldn't believe how much difference such a simple technique could make until I tried it. I'll posting about my bread making every couple of weeks or whenever I discover anything new, hopefully by this time next year I'll have successfully baked sourdough and if things go really well croissants...Some other tips I picked up from the book were: -
  • Use Canadian bread flour if you can get it, it has the highest gluten content that results in the best bread.
  • The dough should be relatively sticky before you begin kneading it will begin to feel dryer and more elastic the longer you knead it.
  • Placing a tray of hot water in the oven prior to baking creates steam which keeps the crust softer for longer and allows your bread to rise higher during baking.
  • Most importantly of all, good bread takes time. Be patient!
Does anyone have any tips for making really good bread?

9 comments:

♥peachkins♥ said...

Thanks for the tips..I'll rememeber them when I try baking next year!

Foodycat said...

Good advice! My favourite one is to rise the bread in the fridge overnight. The long, slow rise improves the flavour enormously.

Foodycat said...

On your comment on my blog - dough freezes really well! The pizza dough recipe I make does 4 pizzas, so we always freeze 1 ball, to bring out when we want garlic pizza crusts as a snack. And the baguette recipe I have been following also bounces back with no trouble. You can freeze sourdough leaven too - I have done that bit but I haven't tried reanimating it yet.

The Caked Crusader said...

Bread remains a mystery to me although I'm tempted to try it after the recent TV show "The great british bake off"

croquecamille said...

How fun - I love cooking out of a new book! And bread is one of the most exciting things to bake, in my opinion. Two recommendations: one, try baking your bread in a preheated Dutch oven. This mimics the high heat of a bakery oven, and the steam let off by the dough in such a small space does the same thing as the pan of water, but with less hassle. Two, The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart is the very best bread book I know. If you can get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend it.

Joie de vivre said...

Yes you have come a long way! Everyone needs a place to start from. :) Your bread looks great! Especially for a first attempt! I can't wait to see what else you make.

Pam said...

I want this book!!

Katie said...

Sounds like a fanstic book and your bread looks amazing. I've always found preheating a baking tray ensures the bread has a great crisp base or even cooking it in a preheated casserole dish (with lid) for the first half an hour gives a great crust.
I did the same things in my first few cookery leassons at school - I remember cheese on toast and grilled sausage sandwiches - not very adventerous

Anne said...

I bought myself a copy of that book last xmas and am really pleased with it, everythings explained so clearly and followable!

Tips wise...I rather like Waitrose's organic stoneground wholemeal mixed on a 60/40 ratio with a strong white for my loaves, though if you can get it then Gilchesters Organics farmhouse flour makes fabulous bread rolls!

Mainly though, just enjoy it! Take your time, don't rush your dough and if you havn't already discovered it - invest in baking parchment!