How to bake the perfect loaf
I used to be a keen breadmaker but bringing up children and full time work meant that for years I did not have the time. Then I brought a bread-maker on ebay. Five minutes to weigh out ingredients and an a hour and a half later a perfect loaf, and for a time my family - and myself - were enthused with this gizmo. However, with a largish family, the dice shaped loaves were only half the size needed, so we had to make two loaves a day. Soon it became clear that actually we were not saving much time so I went back to the traditional way. I followed recipes to the letter, and most of the time, this resulted in a perfect crusty full-sized loaf.
However there were two problems. Firstly recipes called for two rises, the first, followed by the dough being "knocked back", then the second rise and a third rise after the dough was shaped. This took far too long. True, I didn't have to do much whilst the dough was rising but still we were waiting 2 and a half to 3 hours for a loaf.
There was a second problem as I have arthritis in my wrists. Kneading the dough for ten minutes - twice- was too painfull. I tried different ways to get around this. I noticed my breadmaker only had one period of rise so why did the recipes call for two? What was the point of knocking back after the first rise? And, most important, kneading is essential to distribute the yeast evenly and develop the gluten. Was there any alternative that did not involve me kneading by hand? Trial and error resulted in the following.
Here is my recipe for traditional bread and my method. Give it a go.
You will need
1 and a half pounds of flour (750 gm)
one and a half teaspoons of salt (do not omit this, it controls the rise of the yeast)
one tablespoon of olive oil/butter/margarine
one dessert spoon of sugar
one tablespoon of dried yeast (not the easy yeast)
two cups of warm water
Weigh out flour, add salt and oil/butter/margarine and mix. Keep in a warm place. Add yeast and sugar to warm water and whisk very thoroughly. Leave in a warm place until a froth develops. Then add yeast mixture to the flour. Mix thoroughly a form into a ball. It will be probably be a little sticky. Turn out on a well floured large board and keep working at it and sprinking it with flour until a smooth unsticky ball develops. Take a well-floured rolling pin and roll the dough to the size of the board. Then fold it and roll again and keep doing this. The dough will become smooth and springy as the dough develops the gluten. You will see bubbles as you roll, from the action of the yeast. Take care not to tear the dough. When it will form a smooth ball shape it into the loaf you want.
When you have the shape you can glaze it with egg or milk or oil or margarine. I use margarine thickly and sprinkle the loaf with cornmeal for a crunchy crust and cook the loaf in a rectangular loaf tin.
Now put the loaf in a warm place to rise. This may take 30 mins or an hour depending on temperature. It will rise better if the loaf is covered with a damp cloth. Then bake your loaf in a medium hot oven until the bottom sounds hollow when you knock it. Remove from tin and cool on a wire tray otherwise the crust will go soggy.
This method cuts the time in half from the traditional recipe and the breadmaker. Moreover, freeform loaf shapes can be made:- cottage loaves, plaits, sheaves of wheat - whatever your imagination can come up with!