If you are trying to reduce your plastic consumption, then you will have noticed that bread these days is virtually always packaged in plastic with a plastic bread bag tag. Not only that but it is nothing like homemade bread. Whenever I can I like to make my own bread. I don’t own a bread maker, I make it by hand, the old fashioned way, or I use the food processor to start the dough and then finish it by hand. My Mum used to make bread the old fashioned way through much of my childhood and I vividly recall the smell of fresh bread wafting through the house. There is something about the smell of freshly baked bread that is irresistible and wholesome. It’s a skill we seem to have lost and I think it is time more of us rediscovered it.
Every time you rush down to the shop to get some bread you use petrol (which we all know is unsustainable) and then you have to dispose of the plastic bags and tags. The supermarket bread we are familiar with is a relatively new product (the machinery necessary to make it was introduced in 1961). This new bread-making process uses less flour, and is made possible by the addition of various additives that are not used in home baking. Some people suggest that the process is partially responsible for the increase of gluten and wheat intolerance. There are less vitamins and minerals in supermarket bread and in general it is widely known that cheap $1 loaves are actually incredibly poor nutritionally. In today’s day and age, people have less and less time to do things despite technology constantly coming up with labour saving devices. In reality with a bit of forward planning, and by that I mean don’t start making bread half an hour before you have to take the kids to their swimming lesson, you can actually make your own bread.
I don’t really understand why more people don’t make their own bread. You don’t need a bread maker to make it easy, because it is simple to make without one. Many people have said to me that they wish they had time to make bread themselves, as if it is a time consuming, complicated and arduous activity. My response is always “give it a go, your will be surprised how easy it is”.
So here are my tips and recipe for simple homemade bread. I plan for it to take roughly an hour and a half from start to finish.
You will need:
- A loaf tin (if you are making a loaf of bread) or a baking tray if you are going to make bread rolls. Actually if you don’t have a loaf tin you can just shape it into a loaf shape and bake it on a tray.
- Baking paper if you are making rolls so they don’t stick to the tray. Alternatively you can grease the tray with butter and then lightly dust it with flour.
- Something to mix up the liquid in. I use a 500ml pyrex jug because it has measurements on the side, but you can use a bowl.
- A food processor with a dough blade or dough hook, or a large sized mixing bowl.
- A clear space on your bench for kneading the bread dough.
- 3 and 3/4 cups of flour. I usually use mostly white flour but often substitute a cup of plain flour for a cup of wholemeal.
- half a table spoon of sugar (white or raw)
- half a tablespoon of salt
- one rounded tablespoon of Surebake yeast
- a good sized knob of butter or a tablespoon of oil (olive or sesame oil works well)
- 100 mls boiling water
- 200 mls cold water
Preheat your oven to 50°C
Mix together the 200mls of cold water and 100mls boiling water to make warm (blood temperature) water. Add the 1 tablespoon of surebake yeast, stir together. Put the knob of butter or table spoon of oil in the water and set aside.
Method One – for using a food processor:
Put the flour, salt, and sugar into the food processor (fitted with dough blade or dough hook) and pulse briefly to mix a little.
Turn on the food processor and add the yeast mixture giving it a quick stir with a fork first to make sure the yeast is mixed properly and not stuck to the bottom. After a short time the mixture should form a dough ball. If the mixture seems dry and after a while is still not really forming a dough ball, add a teaspoon or two of warm water and shift the mixture around a bit with a fork before replacing the lid and turning on again.
Method two – mixing by hand:
Put the flour, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl, mix briefly with a wooden spoon. Make a well in the center of the flour.
Pour the yeast mixture (making sure to give it a stir first) into the well in the flour and mix with a wooden spoon or fork until it gets sticky and the dough starts to form. When it gets hard to mix with the wooden spoon, turn out onto a floured surface (bench, table top) and form the dough up by hand until it is a firm ball.
Once you have got your dough ball your are ready to knead the bread. I don’t know what the technique for kneading is supposed to be but I push it around, fold it back onto itself, stretch it out a bit and fold it back down using the heals of my hands. You need to put some weight behind it, really use your upper body. I am sure there are youtube videos that will be able to demonstrate techniques if you are uncertain. My recipe books say that you should knead for 7 minutes, but I never knead for that long. I usually knead vigorously for roughly 4-5 minutes until the dough is silky and springs back when pressed lightly. Kneading like this is strangely calming and I actually enjoy it.
Once you have finished kneading, the dough needs a short rest period. Oil a bowl and put the dough in it making sure that the oil covers the surface of the dough to avoid it drying out too much during the rest period. Then put the bowl in the preheated oven (50°C) and leave it for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes remove the dough from the oven, and turn out onto the bench (it doesn’t need to be floured this time) shape it roughly into a roll that will fit your loaf tin. Put it into the tin and push down into the corners. Return the loaf tin and bread dough to the oven (still at 50°C) and leave it for 20-25 minutes or until the dough is starting to rise up above the level of the tin. At that point raise the temperature of the oven to 180°C and put the timer on for 25 minutes. After twenty minutes check if it is looking cooked. It should be a warm deep golden brown when it is done. When it is cooked it will pull away from the corners and edges of the tin a little bit and it should sound hollow if tapped on the top.
If it isn’t cooked properly put it in for another few minutes. When it is cooked turn out onto a wire rack. If the bottom looks a little pale and underdone, put it back in the tin and pop it back in the oven for a few more minutes.
Once you are satisfied it is cooked, leave it to cool on the wire rack and when it is cooled a little get a sharp knife and cut a slice! Perfect with butter melting over it. Or you could try the ‘stretched butter’ recipe.
If you want to make bread rolls, then following the rest period you will need to divide the dough up into 16 equal sized pieces and shape them into rolls. Place them on your prepared oven tray so they are spaced out evenly and put into the warm oven to rise at 50°C until doubled in size, I usually wait around 20 mins. Then raise the oven temperature to 180°C and cook for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
So there you have it, easy homemade bread with no plastic bags!
This recipe is very forgiving, and it works brilliantly with variations. Here are some ideas; add a couple of tablespoons of kibbled grains, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds. Try replacing the butter with a tablespoon of sesame oil and adding sesame seeds. You can add rolled oats (1/4 cup), and you can substitute a cup of wholemeal flour if you prefer. Try adding a couple of teaspoons of mixed herbs for a more savory bread. You can brush the top of the bread with milk and sprinkle cheese, sesame seeds or some rock salt on top.
If you want to make your own pizza bases use the plain white flour and add a teaspoon or two of mixed herbs. Knead as usual, but omit the rest of the steps. Instead divide into 3 or 4 equal sized pieces. Roll out on a floured surface until it is 3mm thick and then put onto a floured baking tray, add your toppings and cook each pizza at 250°C or 8 mins or until perfectly cooked.
It’s so easy and rewarding to make your own bread. I really recommend it. Best of luck with your bread baking.