Baking your own bread can seem like a long process that you don’t have time for. Recipes that call for a two hour wait here, or an hour there, and that’s before you bake and cool your finished bread. Finding the time to fit in bread baking around a busy life is a common reason for not getting started at all. So let me share three secrets with you for baking delicious bread at home that won’t mean you have to spend all your time in the kitchen. Watch the video to find out more:
It’s fair to say that this post was inspired by the Epsom Derby horse race! Held the weekend after I made this video, the Derby is a world-famous race that attracts thousands of people to Epsom to enjoy the racing festival. There’s a great buzz around the town, with all eyes on which horse will be first past the post in the all important race. Which got me thinking – when you bake bread, it’s the exact opposite – you want to back a slow bread. To get delicious bread, your dough needs to be given lots of time.
Why back a slow dough?
When you mix together flour, water, salt and yeast, you kickstart a process during which the yeast break down the starch in the flour to produce sugars on which the yeast feed. As they feed, the yeast release gas which rises your bread dough. Enough gas is produced relatively quickly to rise your dough but, if you can leave your dough longer, the yeast will continue to break down the starches to produce complex sugars that add flavour to your dough. Your dough starts out as a raw lump of flour, water and a little salt – not giving the yeast time to break down the starches in the flour is a little like trying to eat an egg without first cracking it open and then cooking it (don’t try that at home!).
So the first secret to baking delicious bread at home is to give your dough plenty of time to rise before you bake it. A plain dough made with just flour, water, salt and yeast will need at least one hour at a warm room temperature (20C) to rise after being mixed and kneaded. The dough should then rise again once shaped.
Save your time: use the fridge
You’re probably now thinking – Rhiannon, how is it saving me time if your first advice is to give my dough lots of time to rise and develop flavour? I don’t have time to wait around for that!
If you watch the video, you’ll see that I’m using a dough made four days prior to making the video. How have the yeast not run out of available food (the flour starch) and the dough collapsed?
The answer is to slow down the action of the yeast by chilling the dough in the fridge. And whilst I don’t suggest you leave your dough for four days, your dough will certainly benefit from a long, slow prove for up to 24 hours. The extended rising time gives more time for flavour to develop as the yeast break down more of the starch into complex sugar compounds.
So if you’ve mixed a dough first thing in the morning or late at night, you can delay the next step of the process by popping the bowl in the fridge, well covered, and letting the yeast slowly digest the flour. All while you get on with whatever else you need to do.
Give your dough a head start
A third secret to creating delicious bread without taking up more of your time is to make your dough in stages. By giving the yeast some extra time to digest the flour, you again give time for flavour to develop. This process is known as an autolyse stage, or pre-ferment, in making bread.
Don’t be put off by technical terms though – all it means is to mix up part of the flour, water and yeast from your bread recipe ahead of making your final dough. Your mixture could stand on the side for anything from an hour to 12 hours, before you then add in the remaining ingredients and continue making your bread as usual. By giving the yeast a head start, you give more time for your dough to develop flavour. If you’d like to try this method, I suggest making a fairly liquid mixture, with a similar amout of water and flour, and a small part of the yeast from your recipe. You can then cover and leave it out on the side for up to 12 hours, or longer in the fridge.
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