Monday, 8 April 2013

Let's get kneady, baby

First off:  THANKS FOR THE 1000+ PAGE VIEWS Y'ALL.  No idea who is reading this, and I hope you're not all stalkers... but thank you for boosting my ego.  I mean, boosting my confidence.  I'll stop now.  Bottom line: grazie!

I know I've left you guys hanging for a bit... my bad, my bad.  I figured that this blog would be taking a turn from concentrating on raw to focusing on baking in general, so today's entry might as well start the journey!

I've been dabbling in bread making for quite some time, but I think I'm finally getting the hang of it.  I used to HATE kneading the dough (add that to my list of awkward phobias), but I've gotten much better with it, and even kind of - gasp - enjoy it now.

So, be prepared to feast your eyes on the easiest of easy breads.  I make a lot of more complicated breads, where I measure and guestimate the specific ingredients, but I also make easy breads when I'm pressed for time.  Wright's Flours, here in the UK, make lovely "pre-made" bread flours that come in a variety of flavors (look here), and they're delightful to make into a huge loaf.  So, what better to start my tutorial on bread making than with an easy, no guessing recipe for y'all?

Sundried Tomato & Chilli Bread

  • 1 sachet of Wright's or any other pre-made bread flour mix (I obviously used the above named flavor)
  • 330ml water (or whatever the package specifies)
  • 1 tsp salt (bread mixes are always notoriously under-salted)
Pour dry ingredients into large bowl.  Add water to dry ingredients; mix with fork until you have this consistency:

I often find that I have to add a bit more or a bit less water to the mixture.  Rely on the texture to tell you if it's correct.

Let that mixed dough rest for about 5 minutes.  Flour your work space generously.  Seriously.  I think I ended up with flour down my shorts... but that's another story.

Plop that bad boy onto the floured surface.

It actually was this orange color in real life.  It's not just my crazy camera.  Very cool dough!  But, back to the process...

Now comes the best part.  The dough will be pretty darn sticky, which is a good thing, as it means the bread won't come out as a solid rock.  Flour your hands, and begin to roll the dough into itself, incorporating some of the flour on the work space.  In my famous words (and I'm sorry to those underage): knead the shit out of it.

I prefer the method of 1) form into ball, 2) smoosh ball in one direction, 3) turn smooshed ball, 4) smoosh in another direction.  Repeat.  But, whatever works for you.  The idea is to keep playing/kneading the dough until it is quite elastic and smooth.  It usually takes me about 8-10 minutes.

After you're satisfied with the texture of the dough, place it back in the bowl to "proof."  That yeast needs time to grow!  I like to put a bit of olive oil on the dough at this point, to keep the moisture in.  Just rub a tablespoon onto the surface.

Cover, and place in a warm area for at least an hour.  It needs to have at least doubled in size before you think about baking it!

I let this dough rise for 3.5 hours because I was in town, and it rose nicely!  Look at those yeasty bubbles:

Punch down the dough, but be gentle as not to totally destroy all of the work that yeast has been doing!  Flour your counter again, and gently shape the dough into your desired shape.  I went for a bloomer type:

The slashes in the dough dictate how the dough will rise.  These kind of slashes are to help it rise evenly upwards and outwards, rather than in all sorts of directions.  I'm sure there's some serious science to it somewhere.  It also just looks nice...

Right.  You've preheated your oven to 230C/450F.  This is the tricky part.  The baking really depends on the oven itself.  My oven in college isn't terribly hot, so I tend to have the bread at this temperature for roughly 30 minutes (to get that delicious, thick crust), and then I turn down the heat to 180C/350F for about 15 minutes.  You will really have to play it by look, here.  Try not to open the oven door too much, but take a peak every once in awhile to assure that it's browning.  Once it's brown, take it out of the oven, turn it over, and tap on the bottom.  If the bread sounds hollow, you're good to go.

Note: it took me a few bakes to figure out what the correct "hollow" sound was.  Fear not.  When in doubt, stick it in the oven for another 5-10 minutes.  You won't hurt anything, and it beats having nasty, unbaked dough at the bottom of your loaf.

The finished product:

Happy bread making!

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