Baking Bread by hand - mini Masterclass
As with any basic bread recipe, the ingredients are strong plain flour (the stronger the better), salt, sugar, yeast and water. The flours and yeast leavens can be selected to affect the flavour and texture. Not all yeast comes in packets. Some can be naturally made, but these only suitable when making bread by hand. (For anyone interested in making bread without dried yeast, a 'sourdough starter' is given with the recipes below).
The kneaded dough must be allowed to rise, and the number of risings depends upon the flour use. Bread dough made using wholemeal flour are usually shaped into loaves or the dough put into tin and then left to rise just the once before baking. This is because the bits of husk left in the flour inhibit the rising and no improvement to the texture comes from letting it rise again.
Dough made from finer, strong white flour will benefit in flavour and texture from a second rising - and even a third - so should not be shaped until after the dough has been risen at least once, for if baked after the first rising, the bread would have a loose texture and full of large holes.
To make a loaf that holds its shape well when baked on a sheet rather than in a tin, it helps if it is kneaded again after the first rising, and for at least 10 minutes. The more kneading and stretching of the dough, especially in different directions, will help to develop the gluten into a tight-knit network which maintains the bread's well-defined form, and gives a firm textured crumb.
Making bread by hand may seem time consuming, but the process can be arranged to suit a personal schedule. Left at room temperature of 65 - 70F(18 - 20C) dough usually doubles in bulk in one and a half to two hours. If in a hurry, it can be left in a warmer place - up to 85F(29C) - although the results will not be as good as the dough risen at the lower temperature. It is worth knowing that when leaving the dough in a cool place for several hours, or chilling in the fridge overnight will give bread a finer texture and flavour.
Whether the dough is baked in a tin or other container, or formed into cottage loaves, 'bloomers', sticks, plaited or small rolls, the choice is ours and once shaped and risen the dough is then cooked and although normally baked, bread dough can be steamed, and a looser dough can be cooked on a griddle or frying pan to make crumpets.
When a loaf is placed in a pre-heated oven, the dough will expand even more during the first 20 minutes or so until the yeast has been killed and a crust forms. To delay the crust - and therefore allow for more expansion - make the oven as humid as possible during this period. Place a large dish of hot water on the floor of the oven as it pre-heats, and when the loaf goes into the oven, spray in fresh water.
Other than a risen loaf, bread dough can also be used to make 'flat-breads', these made by rolling out the dough fairly thinly to the size required. Because of their thinness, all flatbreads cook quickly, and by varying the baking time can be as soft and chewy or as dry and crisp as you wish.
Middle-Eastern pitta breads are based on an oil-enriched dough and baked in a very hot oven, so that the high temperature causes the flattened dough to puff up, forming the hollow interior that is so useful when eaten in many ways. For soft pittas only 10 minutes cooking time is needed, for crispier ones allow twice as long. Easy to make and extremely versatile they can be made entirely by hand or the dough made in a machine then finished by hand.
pitta breads: makes 6 - 10
7 fl oz (210ml) water
1 tbslp olive oil
12 oz (350g) white bread flour
1 rounded tsp salt
1 tsp gran. sugar
1 tsp easy-blend dried yeast
When making by hand, put the dry ingredients into a bowl, then add the oil and water and mix together. Knead thoroughly. (if using a bread maker put the water and oil into the pan, followed by the flour, salt and sugar and then the water, or reverse water/yeast according to the machine used. Set the machine to dough cycle, or used basic bread or pizza dough setting).
When the dough has been made by hand, place in an oiled bowl and cover, leaving it to stand in a warm place for half an hour, then knock it back slightly, (if made in a machine also knock it back slightly), then divide the dough into six or ten equal sized pieces (depending upon the size of the pitta bread you want) and shape each into a ball.
Cover the balls with oiled clingfilm and leave them to rest for about 10 minutes, then place 3 baking sheets in the oven to heat up (230C/450F, gas 8).
Meanwhile, Flatten each ball of dough slightly, then roll into an oval or round, approx quarter inch (5mm) thick. Lightly sprinkle each pitta with flour, cover again with oiled film and leave to rest for 10 minutes, the place on the pre-heated baking sheets and bake for 5 - 6 minutes or until puffed up and lightly browned. Cool on a cake airer.
breadsticks are made from long strips of dough rolled out so thinly that after baking, there is more crust than crumb, and as the crust is what we are seeking, the preparation differs from normal bread. Mix and knead a basic bread dough and leave to rise in the normal way, and then knead it into a round. On a lightly flour surface roll the dough into an oblong about 9" wide, and half an inch (1cm) thick. Using a long, sharp knife, cut the dough across its width into half inch wide strips.
Sprinkle the work surface with rock or sea salt and lay over a strip. Placing a hand at each end, at the same time, slide one hand forward and one hand back to twist the strip and coat it in the salt. For thinner bread sticks roll the dough between the fingers to lengthen it before using the salt and twist procedure. Bake the sticks on a baking tray for 10 - 15 minutes or until golden (a lesser time if thinner) at 230C, 450F, gas 8, then place on a wire rack (cake airer) to cool. These sticks can be eaten hot or cold.
variation: roll in sesame seeds or black pepper (or even grated Parmesan) to make assorted flavours.
This next recipe is for Bagels, the 'rings' of dough that are first poached in water before being baked off in the oven. Normally made with an enriched dough that enhances the flavour and gives a softer crust. To produce the dense crumb needed, the dough's first rising is limited to one hour, and - after shaping - the dough is only given a brief rising before cooking. Shaping the bagels is simplicity itself. Shape each pieces of dough into a ball, then poke a floured forefinger into the centre, working it round to widen the hole until it is about a third of the roll's diameter.
After poaching, and before baking, the bagels can be brushed with egg to glaze and - as an additional 'extra' - poppy seeds, sesame seeds, caraway seeds, coarse salt or even finely chopped onion can be sprinkled on the top of the glaze before baking.
Traditionally split and spread with cream cheese and smoked salmon, they can also be split and buttered, or split, toasted and buttered.
bagels: makes 12
16 oz (500g) strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 sachet easy-blend dried yeast
1 tblsp caster sugar
1 tbslp melted butter (or sunflower oil_
8 fl. oz (quarter litre) milk, approx
1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tsp water
salt, seeds etc for topping (see above)
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, then stir in the yeast and caster sugar. Make a well in the centre and pour in the melted butter or oil and enough milk to make a soft dough. Turn onto a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic. then shape into a ball, place into a lightly oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to rise until increased in bulk by half (some recipes say 'until doubled in bulk' so do not worry if risen that far.
On a lightly floured surface, knock back the dough, then divide into 12 equal portions. Shape each into a ball, then using a floured finger (or floured handle of a wooden spoon) make a hole in the centre of each ball (see above). The holes need to be large or they will close up again as the bagels rise again and cook.
Place the dough rings on baking sheets, cover and leave to rise again in a warm place for about 15 minutes. Then heat a large pan of water until just simmering, and carefully drop three or four bagels into the water and poach for about 30 seconds turning once until they have puffed up (some books say poach for 3 minutes, but over poaching can cause the bagels to break up and lose their shape so this can be more a matter of trial and error).
Using a slotted spoon, remove the bagels from the water, draining well then put onto buttered baking sheets, glazing with the egg and sprinkling with seeds etc. Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 15 - 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Serve cut in half, warm or cold.
Final recipes today are for two 'leavens' made using natural yeast in our atmosphere. Traditionally used by the pioneers as they crossed the wide expanse of America, coast to coastm as usually it was possible to use some of the starter, replenish with more flour, and the leaven continues to keep making itself.
In the first recipe, the large amount of sugar is necessary to feed the yeast and encourage its growth. Any type of strong plain flour made from: wheat, rye, barley, cornmeal, rice and oats...can be used, or a mixture of several. The recipe below is based on strong plain wheat flour and makes enough starter to make 5 lb (2.5kg) dough.
Once made, the starter can be stored in the fridge for up to one week. When making bread using the 'sourdough', use four parts of flour to one part of the starter.
traditional sourdough starter:
1 lb (500g) strong plain flour
1 medium sized potato
approx one and a half pints (90cl) water
8 oz (250g) sugar
Put the unpeeled potato in a pan and cover with water. Boil until tender then remove but reserve the cooking liquid. Peel the potato and mash it thoroughly.
Place the potato into a large bowl. Add enough tepid water to the reserved potato water to make it up to one and a half pints, then stir this into the mashed potato, also stirring in the flour and sugar to form a thick batter. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and fold a blanket or large towel around it, then stand in a warm place (an airing cupboard is ideal) for three days.
The mixture is ready when it is bubbly and gives off a sour smell. Any liquid that forms on the top should be stirred back in.
If the mixture has no bubbles, or has turned reddish or orange in colour DO NOT USE. Throw it away and start a new batch.
If not used immediately, or some has been used and needs replenishing, add a handful of flour and a little tepid water to make a thick batter when beaten together. As above, cover the bowl, wrap up warm and leave in a warm place for 24 hours.
salt-rising leaven: enough for four 8" x 4" loaves
2 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tblsp cornmeal
pinch of bicarbonate of soda
2 tblsp sugar
16 fl oz (half litre) boiling water
At noon on the day before making bread, prepare the leaven by first putting the potatoes intoa 2 pint jar, then adding the cornmeal, sugar, and the bicarb. Pour in the boiling water and place over a lid, BUT DO NOT SCREW IT DOWN. Wrap the jar in a blanket and set in a warm place until the morning, when there should be about an inche of foam on the top, and it will give off an odd smell. If no foam, discard the mixture. The success of salt-rising bread depends upon the quality of the leaven.
salt-rising bread: makes 4 loaves
5 lb (2 kg) strong plain flour
pinch bicarbonate of soda
1 3/4pints (1ltr) milk
a bare ounce (40g) sugar
butter or lard, softened
Scald, but do not boil the milk, then add half the sugar, the bicarb., and 8 fl.oz (quarter litre) of liquid drained from the jar containing the leaven.
Add enough flour (approx 8 oz) to make a batter, cover and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk. Then add the salt, the fat and remaining sugar and flour and knead for about 20 minutes. Pour dough into 4 buttered 2lb (1ltr) loaf tins and leave to rise for about 3 hours, or until the loaves have risen about 3/4" above the top of the tins.
Bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 45 minutes or until the bread is well risen and golden brown.