All you knead to know about bread
Bread baking needn't just be for the upper crust. Keeley Bolger discovers that there's no better time to work your dough
The French fought for theirs. The Egyptians paid pyramid workers in it. And us Irish still love a good slice of soda bread. Yes, bread is big business.
So much so that Great British Bake Off star Paul Hollywood has devoted a whole series to it. Then there's the Tiptree World Bread Awards in September.
Yet despite our apparent love of a loaf, breadmaking has acquired a reputation as a fiddly feat. But help is on hand in the form of Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. As the author of How To Make Bread, a judge at the Tiptree World Bread Awards and a tutor at the School of Artisan Bread, Hadjiandreou certainly knows his dough and is keen to pass on his enthusiasm.
"Bread making requires no fancy ingredients and no expensive equipment," says Hadjiandreou. "You just need time."
And if you have some time set aside, all you need to remember is to leave your inner nit-picker at the door. "The most important thing about breadmaking is to take that perfectionist out of the equation," says Hadjiandreou.
"To become a perfectionist at baking bread you have to be consistent and the only way to do that is to practice," says Hadjiandreou, who lives in Hastings with his wife Lisa and son Noah.
"This is why I love teaching children because they listen - most of the time - they follow the recipe and trust what you tell them. Whereas adults question it and want to do it their own way."
There is one particular adult whose style of baking bread is at odds with Hadjiandreou's. "Paul Hollywood is a great thing but he's not really a home baker," he says.
"On his programme Bread, Paul says that warm water is a load of rubbish, yeast is a load of rubbish, but Paul Hollywood is used to making bread in the machine. If you put cold water inside the machine, it's going to create a bit of friction and that's going to heat the dough.
"But if you're a home baker, you don't have the machinery so you need warm water. What I've always tried to do in my book and my classes is to aim at the home bakers and understand their limitations."
Hadjiandreou is currently working on the follow-up to his award-winning first book which will also be aimed at home bakers.
Even when he is not working with dough, bread is something that occupies many of Hadjiandreou's happy moments. Not least the near-birth of his son in his bakery.
"Saturday is the busiest day in the bakery, so she decided not to tell me [about the contractions]. When I came home on Sunday morning she said, 'Look it's happening'. We got to the hospital in time but we did wonder whether Noah would be born in the bakery!"
Hadjiandreou's son was soon in the bakery with them. He explains: "I used to bake while he was on my back in the baby carrier."
Although bread is such a big part of their lives, when it comes to their own kitchen, loaves are surprisingly off the menu. "We don't eat a lot of bread at home. What we have is mainly for Noah's lunch," laughs Hadjiandreou.
Here are three great starter recipes from How To Make Bread to kick off your new baking hobby.
Best for beginners
PLAIN SODA BREAD
(Makes 1 small loaf)
250g white strong/bread flour or wholemeal flour
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
260ml whole milk or buttermilk
1 pie dish, greased with vegetable oil, or 1 baking sheet lined with parchment paper
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F), gas mark 6.
In a mixing bowl, mix the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda together and set aside. This is the dry mixture.
Pour the milk or buttermilk into the dry mixture. Mix until it just comes together. Do not overmix.
Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour. Transfer the dough to the floured work surface. Shape the dough into a ball and flatten slightly. Roll generously in white or wholemeal flour.
Slash a deep cross over the bread using a sharp, serrated knife.
Place into a prepared pie dish or on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, or until baked through. To check if baked through, tip one upside down and tap the bottom - it should sound hollow.
If not ready, return to the oven for a few minutes. Otherwise, set on a wire rack to cool.
Best for keen cooks
SIMPLE WHITE BREAD
(Makes 1 small loaf)
300g white strong bread flour
3g fresh yeast or 2g dried yeast
200ml warm water
500g loaf pan, greased with vegetable oil
In one (smaller) mixing bowl, mix the flour and salt together and set aside. This is the dry mixture. In another (larger) mixing bowl, weigh out the yeast. Add the water to the yeast. Stir until the yeast has dissolved. This is the wet mixture.
Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture.
Mix the two mixtures together with a wooden spoon and then your hands until they come together to form a dough.
Use a plastic scraper to scrape the side of the bowl clean and make sure all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed.
Cover with the bowl that had the dry mixture in it. Let stand for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, the dough is ready to be kneaded. Leaving it in the bowl, pull a portion of the dough up from the side and press it into the middle. Turn the bowl slightly and repeat this process with another portion of dough. Repeat another 8 times. The whole process should only take about 10 seconds and the dough should start to resist.
Cover the bowl again and let stand for 10 minutes.
Now repeat the kneading process twice, making sure you let the dough stand for 10 minutes in between. After the second kneading, the dough should resist strongly when you pull it.
After the third kneading, the dough should be beautifully smooth. Knead and rest for 10 minutes.
After the fourth kneading, you should have a smooth ball of dough when you turn it over in the bowl.
Now cover the bowl again and let rise for 1 hour. When the dough has doubled in volume, punch it down gently with your fist to release the air.
Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour.
Remove the ball of dough from the bowl and place it on the floured work surface. Gently flatten the dough into an oval.
Fold the right end of the oval over into the middle. Now fold the left end of the oval over to the middle.
Press down slightly to seal the dough together. You will now have a roughly rectangular shape.
Now you can start to shape the dough into a loaf: pull and fold the top of the rectangle one third of the way toward the middle, pressing it into the dough.
Swivel the dough 180° and then press down slightly on the dough to seal it. Repeat until you have a neat, reasonably flat loaf shape roughly the size of your loaf pan.
Place the dough inside the prepared loaf pan, seam-side down. Cover the loaf pan with the large bowl or a clean plastic bag (blown up) and let rise until slightly less than double the size - about 30-45 minutes.
About 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 240°C (475°F, gas mark 9) on the fan setting if possible or as high as your oven will go. Place a roasting pan at the bottom of the oven to preheat. Fill a cup with water and set aside.
When the dough has finished rising, remove the bowl or covering.
Place the loaf in the preheated oven, pour the reserved cupful of water onto the hot roasting pan to form steam and lower the oven temperature to 200°C (400°F) gas mark 6.
Bake for about 35 minutes, or until golden brown.
To check if it is baked through, tip it out of the pan and tap the bottom - it should sound hollow. If it is not ready, return to the oven for a few minutes. If it is ready, set it on a wire rack to cool.
Emmanuel Hadjiandreou is a judge at the Tiptree World Bread Awards taking place this September
How to Make Bread by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou is published by Ryland Peters & Small.