It is immensely satisfying to bake an honest loaf of bread full of flavour, with a rich, tantalising aroma. Good nourishing bread has been held in high esteem since the age of the Pharaohs, and rightly so. The bread you eat today is a slice of social history. The basic ingredients used by these ancient Egyptians, have remained unchanged – flour, salt, water and usually yeast.
If you are new to bread making, read through these points before you begin. You will find that producing a delicious loaf is not at all difficult.
- Yeast is a living organism and it needs moisture, gentle warmth, and sugar or flour to stimulate its growth. As it multiplies, it produces carbon dioxide, which makes the dough rise.
- The temperature of the liquid you use to make the dough is crucial, too hot and the yeast will be killed, too cool and its growth will be inhibited, which is actually often desirable if you want a slow rising. According to conventional wisdom, the ideal temperature for liquid in bread making is lukewarm, about 38ºC.
- The quantity of liquid in a recipe varies depending on the flour and conditions, such as the heat and humidity.
- Always use fresh yeast where possible as it gives loaves a deeper flavour.
- To further enhance the taste of your bread, giving them a deeper flavour, use sea salt crystals, rather than regular table salt. If you switch to using sea salt, you will probably find you need less.
- Kneading is vital for good, even-textured, well-shaped bread. It also ensures that the yeast is evenly distributed through the dough so the loaf rises evenly. Kneading helps to develop the gluten in the flour, which is necessary to support the carbon dioxide.
- The dough should be left to rise covered with a damp tea-towel to prevent a dry crust forming, which can result in hard lumps in the finished loaf. The loaf will be heavy if it is not left to rise for long enough, though over-rising is more of a problem than slight under-rising. If a dough is seriously distended by being left to rise too long, it collapses when baked.
- Baking in a pre-heated hot oven kills the yeast quickly and prevents over-rising. The hotter the oven, the crisper the crust will be.
Problem: Soft, pale and soggy crust.
Solution: Not baked long enough, or the oven temperature was too low. If a loaf does not sound hollow when tapped underneath, return it to the oven for 10-15 minutes longer. You can place the loaf directly on the oven shelf for this extra time.
Problem: Loaf is crumbly and dry
Reason: Baked for too long, the oven temperature was too high, or too much flour was used in the dough.