1. Why bake bread?
I worked as a chef for many years, but the first time I took a loaf of bread out of the oven I knew baking was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The bread and the crackling of the crust just sang to me. I hung up my chef’s apron, put on a baker's one and never looked back.
Knocking up a loaf can be much easier than you think. No matter what recipe you use, keep these simple tricks and tips in mind and you'll bake great bread every time.
2. Baking by numbers
Using these 'baker's percentages' means that you can make bread with the amount of flour, yeast and salt that you have to hand. Wholemeal flour is more absorbent than white, so add a little more water if you're using this. These baker's percentages make a great loaf of bread, but they're just a starting point. You can add butter, eggs, spices and herbs, too!
3. Can I cut corners but not quality?
There are plenty of cracking tricks that you can use to save time and effort.
After measuring all of your ingredients accurately, you can mix them together, apart from salt (which hinders the yeast and water absorption but is required for flavour later), in your mixing bowl at the same time. There is no need to activate yeast separately.
Mix your dough together until just combined and set aside in a warm place, covered, for 20 minutes before you knead. This allows time for the flour to absorb some of the water, shortening the time you have to spend kneading the dough. After 20 minutes, knead in the salt with a small splash of water.
4. The need to knead
After your dough is mixed it must be kneaded into a smooth dough. But what happens when we knead bread? Take a look at the 30-second video below to find out.
Kneading by hand should take around 10 minutes. To speed things up, you can use a dough hook attachment on a stand mixer, or even the knead setting on a bread machine. For a really lazy loaf, try the 'no-knead' recipe link below.
5. Rise to the occasion
Bakers agree that the ideal temperature for your dough to rise, or 'prove', in is 27C. Increasing the temperature slightly will shorten your dough's rising time, and cooling it will lengthen it.
To make an environment perfect for your loaf, you can place it in a closed, switched off oven with a bowl of very hot water. Allowing your dough to rise in a tied up bin bag can create similar conditions, too.
For a loaf with more flavour, try proving your shaped, tinned dough in the fridge overnight. Make sure it's covered so it doesn't dry out, and when it's ready in the morning, allow 10 minutes for it to come to room temperature before you bake it as your recipe suggests.
For full details of how to prove and bake your loaf, follow the recipe links in step seven below.
6. What's the most useful kit?
Click to find ways of using household staples to up your bread game.
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