November 17th is National Homemade Bread Making day so I thought to share some tips, tricks and insights into bread making as I’ve learned over the years. Don’t get me wrong- I am by no means saying the I am the fountain of all things bread based- in the beginning I baked some loaves that were frankly crimes against humanity! But one of the lesser known ingredients in a good loaf is…perseverance. Mistakes will be made- try to see them not a signs of failure but rather as chances to learn. Making even a simple loaf of bread can be immensely rewarding, not to mention therapeutic in these hectic times. Its a skill that’s easily learned and long lasting. If you;ve never made a loaf of bread before, congratulations- you have a delicious new word to explore in front of you.
Here are my top tips when it comes to bread making (those that require more information I’ll expand on later in the post)-
- Check your yeast expiry date. It may sound obvious but it a mistake often made. Yeast is a living thing and as such can die over time. Using an expired yeast in your bread making is a non-starter from which there is no return.
- The water that you use should be warm, just above body temperature. If you use water that is too hot, you’ll probably kill your yeast (remember- it’s a living thing); if you use water that’s too cold you won’t activate the yeast and it’ll remain sleepy.
- Try using Autolyse method. More on that later.
- When adding yeast to your dough, add it to one side of the bowl. To the other side add your salt and sugar. Adding salt and sugar directly on top of the yeast can cause a reaction and have them kill your yeast.
- In your dry ingredients try using a dough enhancer (dough conditioner). This is a dry ingredient which can help boost the properties of your dough mixture. Again more on that later.
- Don’t let your dough proof too long. Optimum time is between 60-90 minutes. If you leave it any longer you run the risk of the dough collapsing back on itself. However if you’re proofing it in the refrigerator, you can increase this so it can be done overnight with no ill effects.
- When baking your loaf, try adding a baking pan with a couple of inches of water to the bottom of your oven. This creates a steam environment which gives your finished loaf a wonderful, toothsome crust.
- Try adding in a pinch of Vitamin C powder, or a splash of leom/ orange juice. This creates a more acidic environment which aids the gluten bonds giving a better structure to your loaf. You don’t need to do this is you’re already using a dough enhancer/ conditioner.
- Let your baked loaf cool completely before slicing. The structure of a warm loaf hasn’t set, or fixed, yet and as such if you were to slice it you will squash and unduly tear the slices.
- While bread is ideal for freezing for enjoyment at a later date, please don’t keep your bread in the fridge. This does anything BUT keep it fresh for longer. It will in fact dry it out quicker resulting in a less tasty slice at a quicker rate.
The Autolyse Method
This is simply adding your water to your flour, mixing it and letting it rest before adding any remaining ingredients. Once completely mixed, ensuring that there are no pockets of dry flour, the flour/ water mixture is set aside for between 20 to 60 minutes. During this time a number of reactions take place that benefit your bread making.
- The flour gets properly soaked and hydrated which aids the development of gluten strands. This gluten strand development helps cut down the kneading time required later on
- Fermentation takes place at a slower pace allowing for a more enhanced flavor and better keeping time to yout baked loaf
- The carotenoids present remain intact and this helps the final desired color, flavour and aroma of the baked loaf
- The dough’s elasticity is massively improved allowing better workability, a better rise and a more pleasing, open crumb to your loaf when sliced
*When using the Autolyse method you add instant yeast after the autolyse is complete, dissolve them in a small amount of warm water (1 ounce) reserved from the autolyse
About Dough Enhancer (Dough Conditioner)
This is a dry ingredient added to your dough mix, made up of a number of ingredients which boost your doughs basic properties. Think of it as a “food supplement” to your dough. Typically a dough enchancer/ conditioner will be made up of
- Gluten- Additional gluten to that already present in your bread flour helps gives your dough some extra muscle. It will amke your dough more elastic and easy to work
- Acidic Element- Typically Viamain C or Asorbic Acid this acts to strengthen the gluten bonds that from around the bubbles caused from the yeast reaction in the mix. It also acts to boost the effectiveness of your yeast, as well as improving the longevity of the finished loaf.
- Lecithin- This helps gives your finished load a lighter, softer texture akin to a store bought loaf but within the mass production nasties. Better rising is also a side-effect of this addition. It also helps increase the keeping quality of your bread, giving you some extra time to enjoy.