Saturday, 26 April 2008

Wholemeal bread

I like baking bread but hardly ever get time to do it. Kneading bread is very therapeutic and the smell of it baking is amazing. The best bit though is slathering a freshly baked slice with butter and jam....mmm....

I was inspired to bake some bread by an article I read in the Guardian about the lack of quality in today's shop bought bread by Andrew Whitely. The article is called crust of living and is a good read. And it reminded that a while back I bought Whitely's book, bread matters, but hadn't read it or used any of the recipes from it. So, I decided I would have a read and also see if there was a recipe for some wholemeal and sturdy bread I could use for a chorizo stew I intended to make for the Sunday dinner.

The book contains a good history of bread making and explains about how the bread we buy from the supermarket shelf is so full of chemicals to make it taste good and last longer but in a way that is quick to turnaround and get it into shops that it has stripped the bread of the ntrional value and fantastic taste you get from a bog standard home baked loaf. In fact, the industrial bread making process probably contributes to the rise in things like ceoliac disease and stomach problems.

The recipe I used is the first one in the book and is a basic wholemeal loaf recipe. I cadged some fresh yeast from the Tesco bakery staff - the shop itself doesn't stock it and they don't sell it from the bakery - they gave it to me for free. You don't need fresh yeast (dried is fine) but I wanted to bake with it to see what it was like.


600g stoneground strong wholemeal flour
5g sea salt
8g fresh yeast
400g water

Put the flour and salt in a bowl. take a quarter of the water in a small bowl/jug and dissolve the yeast using your fingers. Add the yeasty water to the flour and salt. Hold the bowl with one hand and with the other mix the ingredients - I imagined my hand was a like a big spatula. It will take a few minutes but the dough will start to form. When it does, lift it out of the bowl and knead for ten minutes. Whitely says you don't really need to flour your work surface, which is true, but if you have a surface that scratches easily I would suggest you either use a large chopping board or stop every so often to take the sticky residue that forms off the surface. Otherwise its a fair old elbow grease job at the end that could scratch your work surface. If you have solid marble worktops then good on you and feel my jealousy!

The pop the dough back in the bowl and cover with a plastic bag. The dough should rise in two hours - if it gets very high, just knock it back by folding it over itself a few times. You need to make sure though that the plastic bag cover 'stands up' from the tin a bit as you don't want the rising dough to stick to it - so make it pointy as though its a wizard hat sitting over the tin.

Grease your loaf tin and then start on making the dough into a loaf. Whitely uses a particular techniquie of making a long sausage out of the dough and folding it over three times, repeating with a shorter sausge and folding over twice. I don't know what magic property this might give your loaf. I did it and it worked out fine but no different to my usual kneading-it-about-a-bit and making it into a shape that will fit the loaf tin.

Whitely also suggests the dough should reach about halfway up the tin. To be honest, my loaf came out a bit small so either I didn't knead enough, my tin is a bit bigger than I thought or - which is what I will do next time - I need to make a bigger dough. I think I will add an extra 200g of flour and ratio the other ingredients up as the bread itself was fine to taste.

Cover the loaf tin with the plastic bag and leave to 'prove' - I usually wait until the dough is rising above the tin. Pop it into a preheated oven at about 230C and turn down to 200C after ten minutes. 30-40 minutes cooking time should be enough.

The bread is great for mopping up gravy and cooking juices and I served it with chorizo stew. I liked the recipe and the book gives you lots of hints and tips and certainly makes you wonder about shop bought bread. In a way it doesn't really take that long to make your own bread but even then I am not sure how you would manage to bake bread yourself all the time. But I think I will try to do so a bit more often.

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