We all love a perfect slice of freshly baked bread, hot from the oven, and slathered in lashings of creamy butter, but it seems like such an effort to do the baking yourself that we often settle for baking delivery. Hey, nobody’s judging! We live in the age of convenience and there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking advantage of fresh bakery food from your favourite supplier. If, however, you feel like trying your own hand at baking some fresh bread for your family, we do have a few tricks up our sleeve that will allow you to produce the perfect loaf every time.
1. Choose Your Flour Like A Pro
If you are baking with white flour there is no need to go for the most expensive brand – it is all roller- milled and of roughly the same quality. However, if you are baking with rye, barley, spelt or other whole-wheat flours, you should look for brands that don’t strip out the bran and oily wheat germ during processing. This will normally be your smaller, traditional millers.
2. Read The Manual
If you have the luxury of using a bread machine, do yourself a favour and read the manual. The machine has been calibrated to work with certain recipes, which will be supplied by the manufacturer. Stick to those and you will enjoy great success; don’t veer off course too much by adding seeds and other bits and bobs that could potentially impact on the integrity of the gluten structure.
3. Give It Time
If you are baking by hand you will need a bit of patience. No matter what recipe you end up using, trust us on this one: mix the dough and let it stand for at least ten minutes before you start kneading. Knead and then let the dough stand until it has risen by another half. Shape the bread and let it stand to rise by two-thirds. Now you can bake it. These visual cues are much more accurate than other timing methods.
4. Extra Add-ons Require A Bit of Prep
It’s lovely to liven up your loaf with some extra surprises, but don’t just toss it in there with the rest of your ingredients. Here are a few tips we’ve come up with over the years:
- Grains like oats and cornmeal soak up a lot of moisture, so soak it in some boiling water and leave it to stand for ten minutes before adding it to your mixture.
- When using seeds, bake it lightly on an oven tray before you add it to the dough mixture – this makes for a delicious nutty taste.
- Adding beer/wine to the mix for some flavour or colour is a great idea, just make sure that you don’t substitute more than half of the water that is called for in the recipe, as this will impact negatively on your yeast action.
That said, baking is all about fun, so feel free to go wild! Go seasonal and toss in whatever is running rampant in the garden. After all, bread doesn’t have to look perfect to taste delicious.
5. Kneading – A Quick How To
Kneading in the most simple terms means pressing the heel of your hand into the dough to stretch it, then folding the dough back on itself, rotating it a quarter turn, and repeating. Rub your hands and the worktop with oil, and only knead for ten seconds every ten minutes for half an hour. If you don’t knead the dough at all it will still turn out fine, but the crumb might be a bit gummy. If you whack the dough about vigorously you will get a slightly fluffier crumb (and toned arms in time).
6. Strange But True
Here are some unusual tricks of the trade passed on to us by our mentors and mothers:
- Place a tray of boiling water on the bottom shelf of the oven while baking to give your crust a rich colour and cause it to break open for a dramatic look.
- To ensure a soft crumb after baking add a tablespoon of vinegar or soya flour to your dough mix.
- Using wholemeal flour and want to ensure that the loaves rise nicely? Add half a vitamin C tablet or the juice of one orange to your dough mix.
- Want to add more flavour to your white bread? Replace half the water called for in the recipe with natural unflavoured yoghurt.
Now that you know how to whip up bakery goods in your own home, why not pop around to Crustique to see what special treats we have on the shelves this week? You might just get some more inspiration for further experimentation in the kitchen at home! Keep an eye on the blog for further handy tips on baking trends, tips and much more.