Monday, February 13, 2012

Making your own bread

In Grahamstown, we have our very own artisanal baker, who shows up at markets and whose bread is available at a couple of places around town, including Lungi’s farm stall in the Peppergrove mall.

But what if you miss out, or it’s one of those bad days when baking doesn’t go to plan?

Making your own bread is really easy if you use a good flour and the right technique. Sourdough is much harder; you can get good results using commercial dry yeast.

Here are a few hints:
  • slow is good: don’t believe claims that you should hasten the activation of the yeast
  • thorough mixing is the key; kneading is less essential than you’ve been lead to believe (it can’t hurt, but it’s a pain when you are making a sticky dough as in brown or ciabatta loaf)
  • good fresh ingredients make a big difference
  • brown or whole wheat needs  a wetter mix than white
So here’s how I make a good loaf out of stone-ground brown bread flour.
  • 500g flour
  • 5g dry yeast (half a sachet)
  • 400ml water


Mix the yeast into the flour thoroughly, add the water and stir vigorously until the ingredients form a smooth dough.

Leave the dough in a cool place until the dough has at least doubled in bulk. On a coolish summer day, I leave it most of the day (about 8 hours). Stir vigorously again, knocking out all the gas. Now grease a bread pan (I use butter; a fraction of a gram per slice will not kill you and it works well), and add in the dough. Leave it in a cool place to rise until it’s about doubled in bulk (3-4 hours, but the time will vary depending on the temperature). Bread made this way is not going to rise much in the oven, so don’t bake until it’s close to its final size.

Bake at 180°C for 30 minutes. Test the bread by tapping on it: if it sounds hollow, it’s done. You can also do a skewer test: the skewer can be a little sticky but not very sticky when you pull it out. When done, wrap the bread in a slightly damp towel if you don’t like a hard crust, otherwise let it cool on a wire rack.

Here’s the end result. Did I hear someone say a gas oven is no good?
You may have noticed I cook without salt. Salt is over-used in cooking and most people are de-sensitised to excessive salt. Get used to less salt and your sense of taste develops a new range. And you are less likely to develop high blood pressure.

If you choose to add salt, add it well separated from the yeast before mixing the dry ingredients. Salt kills yeast.

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