N: Making bread by hand is easy if you know the basics but it will always be time consuming. No wonder today more than 95% of bread is made by machines but the end results are just not comparable. In The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood makes Reenie say that only lazy people eat bread made by machines. I am a big fan of technology but I think there are certain things which ought not be done with machines and bread making is one of them.
Not all of us will be fortunate enough to bake our own breads using our own hands. So do check if you are fortunate enough to have a local baker. If you do then seek her out and cherish her. If you do not, it may be a business you can encourage in your community. If you are interested in building your own community bakery you can check out this example.
This is a simple bread made from a few ingredients, has a easy kneading technique and does not require a great deal of proving. If you want to have it for Sunday Breakfast you can either make it the day before or if you are a very early riser, and your family is not, then you can make it in the morning.
Start with 200 gms of malt flour, 100 gms of strong white flour and 100 gms of strong wholemeal flour. Or you can use 200 gms of strong white and 200 gms of white if that is what you have. Malt adds a bit of flavour.
Then get 260 ml of water, 7 gms of quick yeast, 7 gms of salt and 1 tbsp of honey. The honey is optional.
Put all the dry ingredients in a big bowl along with the honey. Make sure the bowl is high enough to hold the dough even when it has increased in size.
Wash both your hands with soap.
Add the water slowly and bring the dough together in the bowl. Do not add all the water at once as you may not need all of it. The exact amount of water depends on the texture of the flour. If the flour is finely milled it will absorb less water. This process should take about 5 minutes.
Clean up the table top and add about a tbsp of oil to it. I use olive oil but I would imagine any vegetable oil should do.
You are about to spend the next 15-20 minutes on working the dough. Professional chefs say that 8-10 minutes is enough but for us novices it takes at least 15-20 mins.
The kneading technique (the second technique in the video) is to stretch out the dough away from you with both hands, fold it in, rotate by 90 degrees and repeat.
Add some more flour or oil if you think it makes the dough more manageable but do not make it too dry.
The dough will slowly become elastic. When you press a dimple on it if the dimple bounces back you know the dough is done.
Put the dough back into the bowl and cover the bowl with cling film or a moist muslin.
You now have about an hour to catch some more sleep or read a book or do some yoga. :-). The yeasts however will get to work and in the bakery lingo this is called proving.
After about 1 hour the dough will have doubled in size. If you have time it is alright to let it prove more than that.
Wash you hands, clean the kitchen top and dust it with flour.
Punch back the dough with your knuckles, fold it into itself towards you, stretch it sideways, fold it back sideways, and start punching again. Repeat this cycle until you have punched out all the gases that the yeasts had produced. After a few repeats the dough will become manageable and you can shape it into a rectangle.
The world is not a fair place and it is OK to feel angry about it. If you are fortunate enough this is a good way to take the aggression off your system.
Put the shaped dough on a baking tray covered with baking parchment. Cover the dough with cling film to make a tent like structure so that the dough can rise but does not lose moisture.
Allow the bread to rise for another hour. This timing is critical. If you prove for too long you run the risk of losing the shape of the bread.
Preheat the oven to 220°C. A high temperature is important for good baking so make sure the right temperature is reached before using the oven.
While you are preheating, spray some water on the bread using a fine sprayer, dust it with some white flour and scour it. There are various scouring techniques but for this bread just cut a few lines across the breadth of the bread. Make sure to use a sharp knife and scour swiftly.
Open the oven and put some water in a heat resistant tray at the bottom of the tray. The steam from this water will keep the bread moist.
Again make sure the oven is at 220°C, put the bread in the middle rack and set the timer for 22 minutes.
After 22 minutes switch off the oven, open the oven door and carefully tap the top of the bread to check for a hollow sound. The bread is ready.
Do not take out the bread immediately. Keep the door of the oven slightly ajar and keep the bread inside for about 10 -15 minutes. This in my experience gives a good crust.
Take out the bread and put it on a airing rack and cover with a tea towel. Allow it to cool down for about 30 minutes before you try your fresh bake. Yes you have heard about “fresh out-of-the-oven” but a bread always has to cool down before it can be enjoyed.
Cut it into thick slices and enjoy!