Nine Things You Really Knead to Know
Making real bread is easy. Real easy.
“Really?” you might realistically be muttering back at me.
But I know what you mean… What was I thinking? Dough!
Nothing more than a loose union of four ingredients - flour, water, yeast, salt - there seems to be inordinate scope for disaster and the subsequent disappointment when we set out to make our own bread.
The fact that we intuitively know that pulling a perfect pain de campagne or a wonderfully risen white farmhouse from our own oven will be one of the greatest days of our life - akin to bearing a child, fellas (so this is your big chance to finally validate your existence in the great scheme of things) - is perhaps the only reason we persist.
So let me lay it out for you - a few fundamental principles on breadmaking.
- Relax. Don’t overthink this. Plastic bowl? Ceramic bowl? Metal bowl… Whatever you have to hand. A few basic pieces of equipment will improve your experience no end - like going for a hike in really good quality, well-fitting boots, but, really, start where you are. Click here to set yourself up simply as the artisan in your own home.
- Four ingredients Flour, water, salt, yeast. How difficult can this be, really? The only fundamental variation between the myriad recipes out there is the ratio of liquid (usually water but sometimes milk or beer) that is added to the flour. What this means in practical terms is that doughs range from a drier, firmer, seemingly workable and more reassuring consistency to the wetter, slacker, “what the hell has gone wrong here?!” end of the scale. And everything in between. So keep going and…
- Follow your recipe You can go off-piste when you’ve mastered the basics. Until then…
- Measure Accurately Use electronic scales to measure everything out accurately in grams, especially the water. If you have a recipe that calls for millilitres (ml) of liquid, it’s a direct conversion to grams: 1ml = 1gr. Measuring jugs can be difficult to read and, in my experience, can be inaccurate too, allowing scope for mistakes to be made, with confusion and then disillusionment following close behind. Be as accurate as you can, then you know you have been, because…
- Dough is always sticky when we first bring it together. This is completely normal and yet is often (maybe invariably?) disconcerting for the absolute beginner, who then feels a need to add further flour to the dough in an attempt to alleviate the stickiness… that the dough will then transform into something we can confidently later turn into bread. Like in our naivety and inexperience we know better than the esteemed author of an acclaimed breadmaking manual…Lol. For a deeper exploration on why we shouldn’t add further flour to the dough at this stage, click here.
- It’s all happening now! And as soon as the dough is made, two fundamental processes begin within the dough: 1) the proteins in the flour start to absorb the liquid and transform into gluten, that ultimately elastic, stretchy quality in the dough, and 2) we’ve created the ideal conditions for the yeast to begin the process of fermentation, or rising our dough.
- How long do I leave it for now? Recipes will often call for you to leave the dough until it has doubled in size. And that’s exactly what we do now, and marks the point where we can move onto the next part of the recipe. If your kitchen is on the cooler side, this phase can take a while, and vice versa.
- Practice makes perfect (as it always does). The hand skills of any craft are the most difficult part to master, so get into a beginner’s mind and jump onto any of the myriad Youtube videos that will guide you towards mastering the shaping of your dough. And be kind to yourself: i.e., don’t expect yourself not to fall off a few times at your first rodeo. Have fun!
- The Bake Off. The humble domestic oven. This is where you become The Alchemist, transmuting your beautiful dough into wonderfully tasty, nourishing bread. Loads more on how to get the best out of your domestic oven loading here soon.
What aspects of breadmaking at home do you struggle with? Do you find yourself falling at the same hurdle time and agin? Or have you nailed it? Please leave a comment below, and jump on my Instagram to receive regular and frequent inspiration, insight and breadmaking knowhow, where you can also DM me