A Guide to Making.....Bread

So you fancy making some bread or pizza dough?!  Good, you won't regret it.

The smell of freshly baked bread is out of this world, don't you think?  The flavour being so superior to the mass produced stuff wrapped in plastic and sold in the supermarkets which will have been made using the Chorleywood Process.  That process was devised for mass production in 1961.  A loaf takes distinctly less time to make due to the additional raising agents, but at the loss of flavour and texture.

Although bread dough is straight forward to make, with very few ingredients to make a basic loaf, there are a few key pointers to bear in mind.  So this page is designed to highlight some of those points and help you achieve good results. 

The Basic Ingredients:
Bread Flour:  There are many different bread flours available from supermarkets; White, wholemeal, spelt, seeded.  White bread flour is easier to use in comparison to wholemeal or spelt for instance, due to the different gluten values.  Be aware that different flours will require a slightly different amount of liquid to achieve the desired dough; even a white flour grown from wheat in Canada will need a different volume of water to that grown in the USA or UK for instance.  Don't let this put you off, there's not too much difference and it all comes down to practice as most things in life.  Bread flour is different to the flours we use for pastry and cake sponges because it contains far more gluten.  Gluten is a protein which is developed during the kneading process.  The gluten helps to give the bread its structure.  Tip:  Use the correct type of flour; using a pastry flour to make bread just won't work as effectively.

Salt:  Salt is used to help flavour the bread.  Too little (or even no salt) results is a tasteless awful loaf (trust me, I've done it!)   Salt can impair the yeast.  Tip: When measuring the salt, keep it to the opposite side of the bowl to the yeast and only start combining when your ready.  This way, the actual contact time between the salt and yeast is minimal.

Yeast:  Not all bread require yeast, such as Soda Bread (which rises a little due to the reaction between the acid in the butter milk and the bicarbonate of soda) and Sour dough bread, which works from the natural yeast in the bread flour.  Yeast, as we know, is an active ingredient and enables the dough to double in size during the proving process.  It's a live ingredient and can be killed if the liquid is too hot when added.  Yeast always used to be supplied as fresh, and I believe this can still be obtained from some bakeries.  It needs to be stored in the fridge and doesn't keep too long.  These days we can now buy dried yeast, which lasts so much longer. Dried Active Yeast needs to be activated by adding it to a your warm measured water with a little sugar to feed it. The yeast will eventually start to froth and this is the stage when you can add it to your flour and make your dough.  Easy Bake Yeast is another dried yeast and can be added straight to your flour; this is the yeast I tend to use.  Tip: Be aware of the type of yeast your recipe recommends as fresh yeast requires different quantities compared to a dried yeast.

Water:  Water is obviously added to your flour, salt & yeast to make the dough.  It's important not to use water any warmer than lukewarm (bloodwarm) as this can kill the yeast.  You can in fact use cold water to make your bread dough; the dough will still prove, but will take longer.  This longer proving time will result in a tastier loaf.  Tip: If you're unsure about whether the temperature of your water is right, err on the side of caution and use a cooler water.   Milk is often used in enriched breads, and the same temperature rules apply to milk as they do to water.

Other Ingredients: Bread can be flavoured with so many different ingredients; fruit, nuts, seeds, herbs, bacon, coconut to list a few.  These flavours are often added during the shaping stage as the weight of some of the ingredients can drastically slow the time it takes to prove the dough.

Enriched Dough:  Enriched dough is one of  my favourite types of bread to make and eat!  The dough is enriched by using varying combinations of milk, butter, egg and sugar.  Once you're confident with making a regular loaf of bread, you must try making an enriched bread.


Making Bread Dough
Kneading: Kneading is the process of working the dough to develop the gluten.  There's no 'right' or 'wrong' way of doing it; it's just what ever works for you.  If you're hand kneading you're looking to knead the dough for about 10 minutes; in a stand mixer with a dough hook about 3 to 4 minutes.  If you want to watch some kneading for a good idea of a technique,  have a look at this video.  Try to only add extra flour if your dough really feels too wet, as this will alter the ratio between your flour, salt and yeast.  As you knead the dough, you will notice that it gradually becomes smooth and more elastic in nature .  It will also become less sticky and will 'clean' the excess dough off your hands as you continue to knead.  When the dough is ready you will be able to lift the dough in your hands without it sagging between your fingers.  This means that the gluten has developed sufficiently to hold its shape. It feels very different to an unkneaded lump of dough.
  
Window Pane Test:  The 'window pane' test helps the baker identify if the dough has been kneaded enough.  Simply break off a small amount of dough , about the size of a walnut, and using both hands, stretch it gently.  If it's ready the dough should be thin enough to be transparent!  The dough shouldn't snap and rip, if it does continue kneading for a few minutes longer and then retest.

First Prove:  The word 'prove' simply means that we are 'proving' that the yeast works.  The first prove allows the bread to develop it's flavour and structure.  The dough creates carbon dioxide bubbles which are the bread's air pockets and helps it to rise. This proving time needs to be at least an hour, but the longer you can leave it the better the flavour will be. I often do this by placing the dough in a covered bowl in the fridge over night and then finishing the bread the following morning. The dough needs to be put into a clean bowl, greased with a little oil and covered to prevent a 'skin' developing and impairing the rise.  I tend to use a purpose bought shower cap for this, rather than cling film.  The shower cap, can then be wiped and used again.  If you are proving the dough in a clear glass or plastic bowl, you will be able to see the 'honeycomb' structure as the dough rises and the air pockets expand.

Knocking Back:  At this point most bread doughs need to be 'knocked back'.  This process helps to reduce big air pockets and redistribute them.  Simply tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and fold it in on itself repeatedly. 

Shaping The Dough:  This stage, as the title suggests, is where the dough is shaped into the final form; be that a bread roll, braided or regular loaf.

Second Prove:  The second prove is quicker than the first prove. It's the final rising stage and allows the yeast to continue to produce carbon dioxide and therefore increase in size. The shaped dough is again covered but his time needs to be placed in a warm position.  The dough is ready to bake when it springs back after gently pressing it.  If the dough has been over proved if it begins to crease and slump.  If this happens, simply knock it back again and re-shape it.
  
Baking: The bread is baked in the oven.  To create a crusty loaf steam is needed within the oven. To achieve this, simply have a sided tray on the bottom shelf warming as the oven is preheated.  Then, when the bread dough is placed in the oven, quickly pour a large glass of water into the heated tray so that it is 2/3 full, and closed the oven door.  Avoid re-opening the oven door for at least 5 minutes.  The tray may need topping up with water after 10 minutes. Once the dough has baked for the specified time, check to see if the bread is ready.  To do this tap the base of the bread and if it sound hollow the bread is ready and can be removed from the oven and cooled on a cooling rack.  If not, place it back in the oven directly on the oven shelf for a further few minutes before retesting.



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