Bread. Simply good, freshly baked bread.
WHY WE CHOSE THIS RECIPE:
What is not to love about the chewy fluffiness of freshly baked bread? Then there is that smell, unmistakable, undeniable, a smell which just makes me want to start ripping loaves apart. Every time that freshly-baked bread smell wafts up at me, no matter where I am just transported to my happy place (even if it is just walking past a subway store after a fresh bake!).
I think baking bread is what really got me interested in jumping a bit further out of my comfort zone in the kitchen quite some years ago. I’d always had a love for bread, and I’d always struggled every time I tried baking it. I would constantly get bread which would be better suited to being fired out of a canon than something that I’d want to eat.
The only time I seemed to have any luck with bread was using Mum’s old bread maker, which didn’t quite give me that satisfaction I wanted. It felt a little bit too much like cheating. I always had this perfect picture of a rustic cob loaf or perfect french stick in my head of what i wanted to achieve from my home-made bread, not some generic rectangle shape with no crust, no personality – that was all one kind of bland colour. Sure it was home-made, but it just wasn’t home-made!
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing at all wrong with a bread maker, it taught me allot about the science and necessary steps involved with making bread. Really learning to bake my own bread (somewhat) properly on a regular basis though, using my hands is something I’ll always enjoy and be grateful that I persevered with and learnt to do.
My turning point came one rainy day whilst I was waiting for some friends in town. I decided to pass some time in a bookstore to stay dry (which I guess shows how long ago it was, physical book stores used to actually be quite common-place 10 years ago!) Passing the shelves, not really paying much attention, but looking at the nice pictures one book just seemed to jump out at me and really caught my eye once I got to the cooking section.
There was just one bold word on the cover ‘Dough’ (by Richard Bertinet) which is accompanied by some great pictures of stunning-looking bread. It was the bread I’d always imagined I’d be pulling out of my oven, the bread I always wanted to make and the bread I could never resist eating. I just had to buy the book and I’ve used it as my go-to for bread baking ever-since. Sure it’s looking a bit rough now, boasting a nice patina of flour and crusted dough perfectly living up to the book’s title. It also comes with a fantastic DVD with one of best instructional videos on bread-baking and working with dough that I’ve seen. (you can see the video here on YouTube).
I have gone back to using a machine to help along the way, but a stand-mixer with a dough hook. It just makes bringing the ingredients together much easier, it helps form a perfect, beautiful soft dough that I’ve never been able to replicate as perfectly by hand, no matter how closely I read my book or how many times I watch the accompanying DVD.
This recipe for wholemeal dough is one I use allot, one that generally always yields perfect results and makes a great-tasting bread. There is nothing better than eating your own bread, baked fresh, using only the best ingredients that you put in. No fillers, no preservatives and no hidden chemicals this bread is perfect for sandwiches, rolls… or anything really.
I’d still highly recommend the book if you can get a copy, as it really explains the process perfectly and properly much better than I’d be able to. My favourite from the whole book is the Cardamon and Prune loaf.
Although the method for this recipe is quite long we have tried to break it down into simple to follow steps. It sounds harder than it is and don’t get discouraged if you can’t get a perfect loaf first time. Baking bread is something you’ll get much better at with practice. Again if in doubt watch the video I linked to above for pointers on how to knead and shape the dough. Richard has a great knack of making it look very simple and explains the process perfectly. If you can, grab a copy of Richard Bertinet’s ‘Dough’ book do it as it will come in so handy if you really want to get into baking your own bread.
- 300g Wholemeal Flour
- 200g White Bakers Flour
- 350g Water
- 10g Yeast
- 10g Salt
To make the Dough:
- Rub the yeast and salt into the flour as described in the video above. The aim of doing this is to disperse the yeast and salt into the flour mixture – be sure to always rub the flour and yeast into opposite sides of your mixing bowl. You don’t want the yeast to come into contact with the salt until the dough is all mixed as the salt will kill the yeast and your bread will not rise!
- If using a stand mixer you will need to add the flour mixture to the water to ensure the dough gets mixed correctly, however if mixing by hand the water is added to a well in the centre of the flour mixture. Measure the water by weight if possible rather than using a measuring jug as you will get the most accurate measurement that way. Use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture until well combined, then use your hands to bring the dough together in the bowl.
- For a stand mixer use your dough hook as per the instructions for your mixer. Generally you’ll be mixing on around half of the maximum speed until the ingredients come together, then turning it down to low for around 10-minutes or until the dough has formed a smooth, elastic-like ball of dough. If mixing by hand combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl until a rough dough is formed using either your hands or a plastic scraper.
- For either way of mixing, the rest of the method is similar: Turn out your dough onto your work surface – do NOT add any additional flour to the work surface. Further kneading will bring the dough together and eventually stop it from sticking to the surface – and your hands. By not adding additional flour to the surface you are making sure your bread will be more airy and less like a brick.
- Knead the dough until it is smooth and springy. The aim of kneading the dough is to get as much air into it as possible, so stretching and folding the dough works best, you don’t need to be too violent but you will need to persevere and be firm with the dough. I can’t recommend the video by Richard Bertinet highly enough to show a fantastic technique for kneading dough. Eventually after 10-15 mins (by hand) or 2–5 minutes (after initially using a stand mixer) your dough will be more elastic and smooth, which is what you want to achieve.
- Next you will need to prepare you dough for it’s first ‘prove’. To do this you will need to form the dough into a ball. It is at this stage you can very lightly flour the work surface. I don’t generally feel the need as this dough is generally quite elastic and extra flour isn’t needed, but if it has come a little on the ‘sticky’ side then use a little bit of flour. To make a dough-ball flatten your dough to around 3cms thick and then begin to fold the edges into the middle. Press the folded section down into the centre of the dough firmly with the heal of your hand. Turn the dough and repeat until you have a tight dough ball. You will know when your dough ball is tight as you won’t be able to ‘flatten’ and stretch the edges out very far from the centre. Again, if you’ve never made bread before YouTube is your friend for showing great technique on how to create a nice firm ball of dough.
Resting the Dough
Resting the dough is best done in a warm location, but not too hot. I’ve heard of people heating their oven slightly and the turning it off and resting dough there, I’ve never felt the need to do this. Generally in Australia it doesn’t get so cold that we need the artificial heat of an oven. Placing the dough near a window with the sun streaming through is normally enough to get a good rise even in mid-winter (here in Adelaide anyway!).
- Place your dough ball into a very lightly floured bowl. Cover with a clean tea towel, alternatively I use a large mixing bowl that we have which has its own plastic lid. The dough needs to double in size for this step – this can take anywhere from 35-40 mins to an hour, depending on the temperature. Check your dough after 35 mins and make the call yourself as to whether you think the size has doubled, if it has move onto the next step. If not leave a little longer until it has.
- We will now form the rested dough into its final shape. I’ve found that using a dedicated proving basket gives me great results for a cob loaf, however if you prefer a different shape then by all means create what you feel will work best. You can get a similar result using any kind of lightly floured bowl (around 20cms in diameter) but I really do love the texture you get from the traditional wicker baskets. I got mine from eBay for much cheaper than I’ve seen in shops (although I did have to wait around 6 weeks for it to finally arrive!)
- Using the rounded edge of a dough scraper (a small plastic scraper available for around $5.00 in kitchenware shops) turn the risen dough onto a lightly floured surface. If using a bowl, or if you want a round loaf simply repeat the process of making your dough ball from above, other wise shape as you wish (the recipe from here on in will focus on using a bowl or proving basket). If you are using a bowl or proving basket ensure the ‘seam’ or the bottom side of your dough ball is facing upwards and into the open air, not the bottom of the bowl as you will be turning the bread out, essentially up-side down and you want the seam to be the bottom of the loaf.
- Cover with a clean tea towel once more and again leave the dough to rest. You want the dough to once more double in size, the dough should be firm and spring back when very lightly pressed with your finger.
- Preheat your oven to 220°C fan-forced as it needs to be at temperature when you do put the dough into it. Ideally you will be placing the dough onto a pizza stone in the middle of the oven to help distribute heat through the bottom of the dough. If you don’t have a pizza stone you can use a thick baking tray, turned upside down so your dough sits onto of it, without it being inside the tray.
Turning out the dough and baking
- After your dough has risen a second time it is time to turn it out onto a small floured chopping board or ‘peel’ that you will use to slide the dough onto a hot baking tray in the oven, or preferably a hot pizza stone.
- Flip the dough out of your bowl or proving basket so that the seam sits on your floured peel. Next you will need a very sharp (non-serrated) knife to ‘score’ the dough. This helps the dough stretch and adds great texture to the crust of your loaf. Its not necessary but it will help the bread expand and hold its shape a bit better when baking. You can see in the pictures I have scored a rough square on my dough, but you can do a cross or parallel lines, its really up to you. I mix it up and try something different each time. To score the dough you’ll need to ‘slice’ the dough to around 5mm deep in a very smooth and fast motion. You don’t want to ‘pull’ the dough or ‘cut’ into it with a serrated knife but just slice into it. If you don’t get it perfect it is not the end of the world, you’ll still get fantastic bread! Practice will see you improve if you don’t nail it first go.
- Adding the dough to the oven is the final step. Open your oven and slide out the rack with the pizza stone or up-turned baking tray as far as possible as it makes this easier. In one quick motion ‘slide’ the peel or small chopping board from under the dough so that the dough slides onto the hot surface being careful not to burn your hands! Think of the old cartoon trick of the cartoon character pulling a table cloth off a table, leaving the cutlery and place settings as they are, all-be-it without the table cloth. That is the kind of quick motion you want to achieve.
- Quickly close the door of the oven to keep the heat in. Generally before closing the oven I will use a small spray bottle to spray a fine mist of water into the oven to help create a humid cooking environment for the dough. A more humid cooking environment will generally give a thicker, chewier crust to a loaf, which I love.
- Turn the heat down to 200°C once the bread is safely in the oven and bake for around 20 mins. Sit back and savour the delicious smells whilst your bread bakes.
- At 20 mins. check the bread, you may need to turn the loaf for a more even bake. You want the bread to have a nice ‘golden’ colour, and when tapped on the bottom it should sound hollow. If in doubt leave it in the oven for up to 10-15 mins longer. Its better, in my opinion to slightly over-cook the loaf and get a darker crust than to undercook it and have it doughy inside.
- Place the loaf onto a cooling rack out of the oven to cool. It should take anywhere from 15–40 mins to completely cool, depending again on the ambient temperature. It’s always going to be tempting to now cut into the loaf and enjoy it warm, however bread is technically still ‘baking’ as it cools and breaking into it now can sometimes have negative effects on the texture of the loaf. Its best to wait for the bread to cool completely then heat it up again if you want that warm, fresh bread experience.