Bread making is an activity which firmly its place in the history books of cuisines around the world. Every country has their own versions, their own flavours and even their own methods of production. Every person has their personal preference too; white or brown; soda or wheaten; wrap or pitta. Most chefs and cooks have their own way of making it too. Considering all these variables, I don’t understand why I decided to take it upon myself to make my own bread. Over the course of the last month, I have been baking non-stop. Kneading has become my new favourite past time, replacing staying in bed and clock watching. It all stems back from watching The Fabulous Baker Brothers, shown on Channel 4.
One baker and one butcher who are brothers come together to make a great cookery show using the best ingredients and ingenious methods to create some delicious looking dishes. So much so, they makes me crave having a tonne of friends over just to show off how well I can make a fluffy white bap and pulled pork. They mostly make great gathering food. They also make the process of bread making seem dead simple. It is as simple as chuck a bit of flour in there, pinch of salt, sachet of yeast, play with it for a while then bosh it into a bowl and have a cuppa tea for an hour. Sounds simple doesn’t it. The show is also beautifully shot, and their old style kitchen just makes me weak at the knees.
I bought Patrick their first book for his Christmas because one day he was guessing what presents I did get him, and excitedly said “Baker Brothers?”. With that reaction in mind, I headed online and ordered it. Funnily enough, I’m not entirely sure if he has had a good thorough read of it yet. Rather than let it go to waste, I decided to read the book myself instead.. Seemingly, I have a terrible habit of buying him cookbooks, then I tend to read them before he gets a chance to. No Comment.
They have a simple recipe for a White Farmhouse Loaf– something I would buy in M&S quite often instead of a cheaper white loaf. It has a higher proportion of flour to yeast than most other recipes. The first time I made it, I couldn’t help but be confused as to why my ball of dough didn’t look like those on the show. In fact it looked nothing like how it should. It looked like a doughy brain in the proving bowl. Did it rise within the hour? Not at all, it looked like it was collapsing into itself. When I traced it all back, I must’ve forgot an ingredient. In the bin it went.
Desperate to avoid becoming a failure, I tried the loaf again and made sure each and every single gram was correct. Kneading and proving completed it was time for a bake. A very tense half hour had passed, with the addition of two or three burns from the oven. The feeling I had the moment it was out of the oven and onto the cooling rack must be how similar to how a mother feels when holding a new born baby for the first time- although my version is considerably more silent and smells nicer. The taste wasn’t too bad either. A good effort for a total novice.
I continued to try and perfect this for the next few days. Loaf after loaf, each one became a little bit better. But each one seemed to be dense and didn’t toast well. Over the coming days I researched the process a little bit more. Everything makes a difference to the construction of a good loaf. I toyed with variations such as using warmed milk instead of water, adding some sugar to the yeast, adding the yeast to the flour instead of to the liquid mix and many others. To be honest, making each of these changes is similar to a TV gameshow. Every time I stray away from the baking bibles, it is like waiting to see if I am going to be a millionaire or not in front of a live studio audience.
The most painful part of the experience has to be the bitter disappointment when the loaf you invested hours of work into has either not risen enough, ends up doughy or isn’t flavoursome enough. Lately I have been trying to leave the tin alone and make some freeform loaves such as a boule or a bloomer. I have stayed away from the Baker Brothers for the time being, opting to Paul Hollywood for advice instead. I feel like a total dunce for saying this, but until now I have been using flour when kneading, instead of Paul’s recommendation of oil. Using flour for this process means you are adding more to the dough than recommended. This ends up absorbed by the dough. Oil on the other hand acts as a preservative and keeps the bread fresher for longer. (I know, check me out, sounding like a pro). As well as this, I haven’t been gradually adding in water…because other cookbooks say “add in the water”. That one word would’ve helped. Either way my dough finally looks as it should.
With every success comes failure. These boules and bloomers, all seem to have the same issue: a really springy, slightly uncooked base. When I cut into it, there seems to be a slightly dense dough build-up toward the bottom of the loaf, while the rest is beautifully aerated and crumbly. This is the dreaded soggy bottom I have been hearing so much about! And no matter how many texts I scan through, including one about avoiding such a mishap, I cannot find out a reason for what I am doing wrong with these loaves!
Have you any tips tricks or advice to give me as I continue down this crazy path of bread making? All help would be appreciated. Just drop a comment below or tweet us @GastroGays on Twitter!