Bread made easy

Teena Burgess | VOLUME 21, ISSUE 3

Few smells delight the senses as much as freshly baked bread, hot out of the oven. A basic diet staple, bread is extremely versatile and comes in many forms.

Firstly, there is the hint of yeast in the air and then gradually the enticing aroma of baking bread begins to pervade the house, culminating in the moment the loaf is removed from the oven in all its fragrant and visual glory. By this time, all in the vicinity will have entered the kitchen, armed with knives, butter and jars of jam and Vegemite. In a matter of moments, all that remains of the product of hours of preparation are a few crumbs on the table and the lingering aroma of freshly baked bread. Is it worth it? The hungry hordes certainly think so and whether you wish to make your bread by hand from start to finish or a bread machine is more your style, it really is a very pleasant way to spend a cold winter’s day.

There are many variables involved in producing a loaf of bread. While it is difficult to give definitive instructions as to the best method, perhaps the three most important factors (given the reliability of freeze-dried yeast) are ingredients, kneading and proving.

The right flour is critical – bread, bakers or “hard” flour is needed to provide enough gluten to produce a well-risen loaf. These flours have a gluten content ranging from around 11.5 per cent up to about 16 per cent. Both Tip Top and Defiance produce flour for bread making, as do many smaller milling companies. The products with a lower gluten content tend to give finer, more cake-like texture, whereas flours with a higher gluten content are used for ciabatta-type loaves, where a more open texture is desirable. The gluten content of flours can be increased by the addition of “gluten flour,” available from such companies as Lotus Foods, Sunsol, etc.

Enhancers or improvers can also be added to the flour – these contain substances that increase the yeast activity and, again, there are various types available. No Knead produces an all-natural improver and others are available at supermarkets. My personal experience is that although these additives are not essential, they appear to have an effect that results in shorter kneading and faster proving times. I have included them in my recipes, but you may happily omit them if you choose.

Bread dough requires kneading until the gluten strands untangle and form a supple, elastic mass. Learning exactly when this point is reached requires experience and is affected by the ingredients and temperature.

Temperature is also a critical factor in the rising or proving of the bread dough. A warm, draft-free spot in the kitchen is a bonus. Failing this, a rack over a heating duct or placing your dough on top of an upended bowl protruding from a sink of hot water should produce suitable conditions to raise the dough successfully.

It is here, however, that the bread-making machine comes into its own. Although I find the appearance of loaves made in the bread-maker not as appealing, the dough cycle is wonderful for kneading and proving. Just add the ingredients in the order recommended for your machine and set the dough cycle accordingly. As you are not baking the dough, the quantity of the ingredients is not as critical, so there is no need to adjust the recipes. However, do keep an eye on the dough as it proves, just in case it overflows from the pan.

There are so many recipes for breads that it was difficult to choose which to include. I have tried to put together recipes that are easy to make and yet a little bit different from the run-of-the-mill. I hope you enjoy them and, yes, I did make a batch in which I forgot to include the yeast!

Honey Wholemeal Loaf

This is an earthy wholemeal loaf with just a hint of honey.

230ml milk

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon oil

7g dried yeast

2 teaspoons salt

200g bread flour

200g stone ground wholemeal flour

3 teaspoons gluten flour*

2 teaspoons bread improver*

Warm the milk in the microwave until it is barely warm – about 30 seconds. Stir in the honey and oil. Add the yeast and leave for half an hour. In a large bowl, mix the remaining dry ingredients and then add the milk mixture. Knead until the dough becomes smooth and elastic, cover in plastic wrap and leave in a warm spot to double in size. If using a bread machine, place the ingredients in the recommended order and set the dough cycle for a large wholemeal loaf.

Knock or punch down the dough to remove all air pockets and roll into a ball. Put this on a greased oven tray and leave in a warm place to double in size. Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Bake the loaf for about 45 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a rack. The honey will cause the loaf to brown easily so cover with foil during baking, if necessary, to prevent over-browning. Makes one average-sized loaf.

Soaked Sultana and Grain Bread

A dense, nutty, flavourful sweet bread. Any leftovers can be toasted for breakfast.

2 tablespoons honey

1 cup mixed grain (use oats, linseeds, cracked wheat, soy grits etc)

1 cup sultanas

½ cup sherry

2 cups bread flour

1 tablespoon gluten flour*

1½ teaspoons salt

2½ teaspoons dried yeast

1½ teaspoons bread improver*

50g softened butter

1 cup water

Place the honey, mixed grain, sultanas and sherry in a bowl and leave to soak for half an hour. Mix the remaining ingredients in a large bowl, add the sultana mix and knead until smooth and elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and leave for about an hour-and-a-half in a warm spot to double in size. Alternatively, if using a bread machine, place the ingredients in the recommended order and set the dough cycle for a large fruit loaf.

Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface and flatten out gently. Divide into three equal pieces and roll each piece into a sausage shape about 3-4cm in diameter. Put these onto an oiled sheet of baking paper and plait the three strands, pinching the ends together to seal. Cover with greased plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to double in size.

Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Remove plastic wrap and bake for about half an hour or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Cover the loaf with foil if it is over-browning. Cool on a rack. Makes one average-sized loaf.

Cheese and Onion Bubble Bread

This is the American version of our “pullaparts”, so-named because of the “bubbles” of dough tossed in extra butter, cheese and onion and piled into a ring tin for an attractive presentation.

3½ cups bread flour

3 teaspoons gluten flour*

3 teaspoons bread improver*

2 × 7g sachets dried yeast

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon mustard

1 teaspoon tumeric

1⅓ cups water

2 cups grated cheese 6 spring onions, finely sliced

75g melted butter, cooled

Place the flour, gluten flour, improver, yeast, salt, sugar, mustard, tumeric, water and half the cheese and half the spring onions in a bowl and mix to dough. Knead until the dough becomes smooth and elastic, cover in plastic wrap and leave in a warm spot to double in size.

If using a bread machine, place the ingredients in the recommended order and set the dough cycle for a large loaf.

Put the dough onto a floured work surface and roll into a ball. Cut the ball into quarters, cut each of the quarters into four equal parts and then cut each part in half. Roll each piece into a ball and place them into a large bowl, along with the remaining cheese, spring onion and melted butter. Toss to coat and place into a 26cm ring tin lined with non-stick paper. Allow to double in size in a warm place.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the base sounds hollow when tapped. Protect from over-browning with foil, if necessary. Cool on a rack. Makes one large loaf.

Pizza dough

If you are going to the trouble of making pizza at home, then you really should make your own dough as well. Pizza dough is very easy to make as it requires no second rising and can be kept in the fridge for several hours before baking. This recipe makes two large pizzas. And if you don’t plan to cook them both, you can freeze one for another occasion.

3 cups bread flour

3 teaspoons bread improver*

2 teaspoons dried yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the milk and oil and mix to a dough. Knead until smooth and elastic, cover with plastic wrap and leave for about an hour in a warm spot to double in size. If using a bread machine, place the ingredients in the recommended order and set the dough cycle for a large white loaf.

Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface and flatten out. Divide the dough into two equal portions. Roll each piece into a ball and flatten out into a circle to fit a pizza tray. (If you are not cooking them immediately, they can be refrigerated or frozen).

Preheat the oven to 220ºC. Add topping of choice and bake for 20 minutes or until golden and bubbling.

Festive Couronne

This is a lovely sweet loaf spectacular enough for any festive occasion. You can alter the filling to suit yourself. Substituting dark chocolate and walnuts makes a more European type of bread. Although the method of twisting the strands sounds complicated, it is relatively simple to do.

350ml warm milk

3 tablespoons golden syrup

1 tablespoon yeast

50g melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

2 cups bread flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons bread improver*

2 tablespoons brown sugar

200g milk chocolate

100g chopped roasted macadamia nuts

1 tablespoon caster sugar

2 tablespoons boiling water

In a jug, combine the milk, golden syrup, yeast, butter and vanilla essence. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and improver. Mix well and add the milk mixture to form a dough. Knead until smooth and elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and leave for about an hour-and-a-half in a warm place to double in size. If using a bread machine, place the ingredients in the recommended order and set to the dough cycle for a large, sweet loaf.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to a 40cm by 20cm rectangle. Sprinkle with brown sugar, chocolate and nuts. Roll up into a sausage shape and then gently roll this out until it is about 60cm long.

With a sharp knife, cut the right half of the sausage in half lengthwise. Roll the two cut lengths outwards so that the cut sides are uppermost. Gently twist the two lengths over each other to form a twisted rope, keeping the cut faces uppermost. Repeat this with the left-hand side then gently bring the two ends together to form a circle. Pinch the ends together to join. Carefully transfer onto a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper. Allow to double in size in a warm place.

Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Bake for about 30 minutes or until sounding hollow when tapped. Watch carefully as the sugar content will cause the bread to brown quickly. Cover with foil if necessary.

To glaze: mix caster sugar with boiling water. Stir to dissolve. Brush over the loaf while still warm. Makes one large loaf.

* Denotes optional ingredients

White Country Loaf

This is a loaf with plenty of rise and texture. It has a hint of sourdough flavour, without the week of preparation that a sourdough starter requires.

Sponge Starter: 1 cup flour

½ teaspoon dry yeast

⅔ cup water

Dough: 1 cup water

1 tablespoon dry yeast

3 cups bread flour

2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon gluten flour*

1 tablespoon bread improver*

Mix all the sponge ingredients in a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave for 2-3 hours. Place all the dough ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Add the sponge mixture and water. Knead to smooth pliable dough, cover with greased plastic wrap and leave in a warm place until doubled in size (about an hour). If using a bread machine, place the sponge and doughing redients in there commended order and set the dough cycle for a large white loaf.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and gently punch down to remove all air pockets. Shape into a rectangle and place into a large greased loaf pan. Cover with greased plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for about an hour or until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Remove the plastic wrap and bake for 30 minutes or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a rack. Makes one large loaf.

Basic steps to baking bread

The basic steps to bread making are as follows: firstly, the ingredients are mixed to form a sticky dough. This is then kneaded until the dough becomes smooth and pliable. The dough is then left in a warm place to “prove” until it has doubled in size. Next, the dough is ”knocked down”. At this point it is shaped and placed onto a baking tray to prove or rise a second time. When the dough has increased to the required size, it is then baked. To test if the bread is cooked, turn the loaf out and tap the bottom. If it is cooked through it will have a distinct hollow sound compared to a dull sound if uncooked.

TERMINOLOGY

Yeast

Yeast are single-celled organisms, which feed on sugars – both those converted from the flour by the enzymes alpha amylases and any added to the dough – and produce carbon dioxide, which causes the dough to expand. Yeast are inactive or slow if the temperature is below 15ºC and die if heated to temperatures above 50ºC. Optimum temperatures for yeast growth are about 25ºC. Salt can also inhibit yeast activity and is therefore dispersed in the flour, rather than being added directly to the yeast.

Kneading

Kneading takes time – the longer the better. At least 10-15 minutes if you have the stamina! Place ball of dough on the floured bench, pull the top part of the dough toward you and then push it away with the heel of your hand. Turn the dough and repeat, adding more flour if necessary to prevent the dough from sticking. Continue kneading and turning until the dough has become smooth and pliable; knowing exactly when this is takes practice and is part of the fun that is bread making. Don’t be daunted or put off – keep practising and you will be rewarded.

Proving

In this step the yeast ferments, producing carbon dioxide, which expands the dough so that it doubles in size. The best temperature is around 25ºC and the process should take around an hour. Colder temperatures will mean longer proving times, but can result in a better flavour.

Knocking down

This process causes the large pockets of gas that have built up in the dough to be broken into smaller ones, which improves the texture of the bread. It also distributes fresh nutrients to the yeast, which helps with the final proof or rise.


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