It’s Real Bread Week, so why not get baking great, homemade fresh bread? Here are my top tips for brilliant bread. Once you’ve read this, why not try out the tips with my malthouse loaf recipe.
1. Does the water need to be warm?
No! Temperature is the main way to control how fast your dough rises. So, if it’s a colder day, use tepid water – that is water that doesn’t feel hot or cold when you put your finger in – to kickstart your dough rising. Otherwise, cold water is fine, it just might take a little longer for your dough to rise. Remember, too hot, and your yeast will be killed, so no hot water and don’t prove somewhere very warm such as on a radiator or in the oven.
2. Can I overknead the dough?
Yes, but probably not by hand unless you’re superhuman! If using a mixer, use the lowest possible speed to bring the ingredients together into a ball, then turn up the speed only a notch or two (definitely not to top speed) and continue for another 3 – 4 minutes only. Check your dough regularly to see how it’s done – any longer and you may overknead, causing those stretchy gluten strands to break forever. If kneading by hand, keep going until you can stretch out a piece of dough and see light through it. Well-kneaded dough should be smooth, elastic and soft.
3. Be patient! Time = flavour
You don’t need to hang around whilst your dough rises, so give it all the time it needs and get on with something else. Given time, bread dough develops even more fantastic flavours. Try doing your first rise in a cooler place for a few hours, or even in the fridge overnight. Cover the dough well to stop it drying out. A plastic showercap, like those from a hotel is great for this, plus, if putting in the fridge, rub a little oil over the dough and cover directly with clingfilm.
4. Incorporate some flavour
Basic bread doughs are a great starting point for flavoured breads. Try mixing in some seeds (soak them in water first) for added crunch, nutrition and flavour. Or fold in some nuts or dried fruits – this is best done when you’re shaping the final loaf, as it will be hard to knead the dough with large additional chunks in it. You could even grate in a strong hard cheese – however, don’t try topping your bread with cheese as it will just brun.
5. Know when to move on
Eventually, you’ll need to move on to the next breadmaking stage and either shape your dough, or bake after the final prove. To check if your dough is ready to go in the oven after the second prove, dip your finger in flour, then push gently into your dough. If the indent springs back, the loaf still has some rising to do. If the indent stays, and the dough feels soft and full of air, the dough is ready to go into the oven.
6. Bake it well
Bread is baked at high temperatures, usually over 200C. When baked, it should have a good crust and sound hollow when tapped on its base. Steam your oven during baking to help crust development on your bread. Tip a cup of water into a pre-heated baking tray at the bottom of the oven after putting your dough in.
If you’ve enjoyed this blog, do let me know in the comments! Or why not check out the other breadmaking recipes, hints and tips on my blog.
You can also join my supportive community of home bread bakers over on Facebook. From sharing great bakes and recipes to asking and answering key breadmaking questions, there’s plenty to learn and join in with.