These days you don’t need to worry too much about how long it takes to bake a loaf of bread.
There’s an almost endless list of bread-makers out there.
They will all bake a loaf while you’re either sleeping or doing something else. When the loaf is done they switch themselves off and wait for you to collect your loaf.
Any bread-maker will bake a decent loaf that’s sure to beat most of the shop-bought stuff.
Some people like to hand bake
I don’t use a bread-maker because I’m in the habit of doing things the old-fashioned way but including some new technology.
The method that I use is simple but I will be going into the details to help you get it right at your first attempt.
I’ve been doing this for decades and I want to share it with you here.
Take a close look at the flour
Don’t use supermarket/superstore flour. If you look at the ingredients on the bags from these places you will see ‘Calcium carbonate’.
Flour suppliers are obliged by law to add a measure of calcium to flour to ensure that the population at large receive enough calcium in our general diet.
However it could be argued that some national flour suppliers use this as an opportunity to dilute the wheat-flour with calcium which is usually sourced from ground chalk.
Soya flour is another ingredient that large bakeries add to reduce the amount of wheat flour. Most shop–bought bread will have this in it.
It amuses me how the wider bread baking industry call soya flour ‘improver’.
Go for quality
Regardless of which method you choose to bake bread, you must source a good quality flour to make good quality bread.
You have to pay a bit more for it but look for 100% wheat flour. I use Strong White and Wholemeal wheat flour.
Now it’s time to bake bread
I’m going to explain how to make the 5 loaves shown above. Why 5? Making 5 loaves happens to be a convenient number, it’s not for any biblical reasons.
We will assume that none of the viewers, here, have made bread before. If the quantities here are too much for beginners, take a close look at the list of ingredients and divide it down to a more manageable level.
I tend to use, mainly, imperial measurements.
2 ½ lbs 100% wholemeal Wheat flour
4lbs 100% Strong White Wheat flour
8 table-spoons granulated white sugar
7 tea-spoons salt
2 ½ table-spoons Dried Active Yeast
1.8Litres of water
First we get the yeast culture going. Measure out 900ml of the 1.8 litres of cold water into a bowl and add 2 of the 8 table-spoons of sugar, mix until dissolved. Microwave this for 2 minutes on power 8.(My current microwave is 900w) Dip your finger in to check the temperature, it must be warm not hot. Next add 2½ tablespoons of yeast granules. Ensure that you are using dried active yeast and not other types of which there are many.
For automatic bread-makers you will use ‘fast acting’ yeast which is supplied in measured, easy to use, sachets.
Sprinkle on the surface and leave alone for 2-3 minutes.
Give it a good mixing and allow the culture to work for about 15 minutes.
While this is working, weigh out the dry ingredients. Put the flour, the remaining 6 table-spoons of sugar and 7 tea-spoons of salt into a large pan. Give it all a good mixing. Don’t forget the salt, bread has no flavour without it.
I use an old enamel pan but you could use a large plastic bowl.
When you see a good frothy head on the yeast, measure out the remaining 900ml of cold water and microwave for 2 minutes at power 8.
Whisk the yeast again to stop it from bubbling over.
Now the work begins
Next add the yeast and water to the flour mix.
Now you can start mixing with a metal spoon until the mixture becomes too hard for the spoon.
Then start using your hands. Use more flour to stop it from sticking to you and the pan.
At this stage it all looks a mess but stay with it, there’s no turning back now.
Keep kneading the dough, the aim here is to bring it all together into one consistent lump. Cover it with a cloth and place somewhere safe and warm for about 1 hour.
Before I go any further I have to offer a warning. You’ve hidden your rising dough somewhere safe with every intention of coming back to it later.
Here’s the problem; the phone rings, an unexpected visitor arrives or some conspiracy of events designed to turn up the very day that you need to be looking and thinking about the bread and the next thing you know it’s 2.00am and you’ve just remembered that you have bread on the go.
After an hour it should look like this.
Give it a good kneading again and it should look like this.
Give it another hour and it will rise again. Now is when we get the scales out because it’s ready to cut-up into portions to be prepared for the final rising. Give it a really good kneading to get as much of the gas out as you can, it’s CO2 (but not enough to cause alarm) you will hear squeaks and pops as you work it out. If you don’t do this you will see cavities in your finished bread.
Now we can shape the dough into loaves
For the amount of dough involved here, for 5 loaves it usually works out to be 2¼lbs of dough for each loaf.
Shaping a loaf is easy. Spread some flour on the surface where you want to work. Take the weighed lump of dough and press down on it. Pull the outer edges to the middle and press down. Do this about 10 times then turn it over and you should have something that looks like this.
When you have finished shaping, turn it over and, with a knife, make a cut along the length of it. This will help the loaf to rise to it’s full height.
Now for a word about the loaf ‘tins’, these are made of plastic for the microwave.
Because of the type of things I do, I’m able to make this sort of thing for my own use. The best I can suggest is that you look around for suitably sized and shaped plastic containers. Be aware that they must fit on the turntable and be microwaveable. As a guide the containers I use measure 5 inches deep x 5 inches wide x 8 inches long.
Now for the final rise. Place them in your warm and safe area and leave to rise for 3 to 4 hours. Set your timer and check on them regularly. Eventually the dough will be risen enough to reach the point where you get to bake bread.
Now it’s time to microwave cook the dough
With this method you don’t exactly bake bread because we use a microwave at this stage. After 4 hours in a warm place you should have a well risen loaf which needs to be handled with care. It will now be ready to cook in the microwave but be gentle when loading it in because if you bump it at this stage it may collapse and the shape will be lost.
For this size loaf set the time at 15 minutes and the power to 8 (this for a 900w microwave)
As a rough guide allow approximately 1½minutes per ¼lb of dough but keep the power at 8. I never cook anything above power 8 because of fear of scorching.
After cooking it will look much the same as before, it may shrink a little but it will be hot so leave it standing for a minute or two before sliding a knife around to clear it from the container. Then turn it upside down and shake it out. When out roll it over to be the right way up so as to keep it’s shape.
I manage things so as to have a queue of loaves before switching on the conventional oven. I set the oven to full, which, for me, is just 225 deg C. If you are outside of the European Union, you may have a cooker that will go higher. This will mean that your baking times for this can be shorter where as in the EU (for the time being at least) to get a good crust I suggest 15 minutes.
Take the grill shelf from the grill pan and place it in the oven for the loaf to sit on, rather than using a baking tray, this will ensure crusting on the bottom of the loaf.
So there we have it.
To bake bread is an art well worth mastering.This method may look like a complicated procedure but when you’ve done it a few times you will find that it’s a very simple routine and really worth while doing.
If, however, it looks like too much to do then I recommend taking a closer look at the bread-makers out there. Any of the bread-makers on show will work for you if you want to bake bread.
One final word of caution, be very careful when cutting crusty bread. You need a sharp bread-knife and you have to watch your fingers, always cut on a bread board. I always place these loaves on their side as that’s the easiest and safest way to slice them.
Now, one way or another, you can go and bake your own bread. Don’t be put off if the first attempt isn’t quite to your pleasing. Learn, move on and enjoy your bread.