Saturday, December 13, 2008

Great Bread

I know I am under the spell of a very retro domestic drive not when the urge of baking cakes descends upon me, nor when I feel like buying tins of paint and play Michelangelo on the ceiling of the study. Oh no, it is when I give in to the urge of baking bread that I am defeated by the strongest 1950s soul chains of honey I’m home persuasions. But do you know something? Baking bread is not at all taxing nor time-consuming. I realise that it ain't easy to persuade people to make something which is a commodity that can be acquired practically everywhere at any time of day or night, but if you have one hour to spare on a rainy and very cold Saturday afternoon, get your hands into some dough and enjoy the smell of yeast pervading the house as the bread rises. This is all the persuasion you need really; don’t knock it ‘til you try it.

I do it like this:

500g of strong white flour
7g of dried yeast
warm water
1 tbsp table salt

Place the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl and give it a quick whirr with an electric hook as you start adding the warm water. I like to do this because I detest to get sticky hands so early on in the game. As you continue with the electric beater (well, not the beater, the hook as I said, but you know what I mean...) and add more water, the flour starts looking less floury and more like a sticky mess. All good. Stick your hands in, tip it all onto a working surface and knead away until you have an elastic, soft, warm mass. Form into a ball, cover with tea towels and put to rise in a warm place (mine is near the radiator in the lounge, locked away from prying dogs) for a couple of hours or longer if you can resist the urge to bake bake bake right now.

Once you uncover it, you’ll see that the dough will have at the very least doubled in size. Punch it down, tip it back from the bowl onto the working surface and knead for another five minutes as you warm the oven up to a scant 200C. Finish by giving your dough the shape you prefer (I like a very elongated, fattish one, a bit like myself really) and leave it to rise on the baking tray for another fifteen minutes or so as the oven warms up. Dust lightly with flour and bake for a good 40-45 minutes. Leave undisturbed until at least 35 minutes have elapsed. Do not be impatient and do not open the oven’s door unnecessarily (read: not unless you smell something burning and can see that the cat is not on the bed after all).

Oh and you know that you can tell great bread by its sound and not its looks yes? Knock on it when you take it out; if it sounds nice and hollow and crackly, it’s ready!
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