Is there anything better than a slice of warm, freshly baked bread with real butter? Other than the smell of that bread baking away, we’re having a hard time thinking of anything.
Bread is a staple of kitchens across the UK and can be transformed into so many great meals with very little effort – cheese on toast anyone? However, most of us usually pick our bread up in the supermarket, opting for the convenience of a ready-sliced loaf or grabbing a freshly baked option that needs no work put into it.
It seems that a lot of people think that making bread from scratch is difficult to do. While baking anything is never going to be as easy as popping the finished thing in your trolley, the process isn’t actually all that hard, especially if you have a few helpful tips up your sleeve.
In fact, we’re certain that once you’ve made your first delicious fresh loaf of bread, you’ll be left wondering why you never tried it before. To help you out, here are some of our top tips to ensure your loaf always rises:
The first place your bread can fall down is when you’re weighing out your ingredients. Perfect bread is all about getting the right flour to water ratio, so messing this up will probably have you swearing off bread making in future.
Rather than looking at your ingredients and assuming the amounts are good enough, make sure you’re weighing and measuring everything, following your recipe as precisely as possible. While everyone deals with kneading dough differently, you can’t get away with weighing your own way.
When it comes to getting a good rise, it’s all about the yeast. You need your yeast to be alive and kicking in order to end up with a light and fluffy loaf of the good stuff. If you’ve just bought your yeast, it is going to be ready to go, just so long as you follow your recipe.
However, if your yeast has been hanging around in your cupboard for a while, there is a chance that it could be dead, which means your bread won’t rise and you’ll basically just waste ingredients. In this instance, you need to make sure your yeast is still doing what it is meant to.
To do this, warm up some of the water you’ll be using in the recipe and pop it in a bowl. Add a small amount of sugar or honey along with your yeast and give everything a good stir. The yeast should start eating the sugar and producing carbon dioxide, which means the mixture should end up foamy. If after 15 minutes nothing is happening, it’s time to head to the shop to stock up on new yeast.
Having the right ratio of flour and water is vital when it comes to bread making, so you need to avoid adding any extra flour to the mix. A good rule of thumb to work by is that the weight of the water you use should be half of the weight of the flour.
This might mean that you sometimes end up with a dough that seems a little bit too sticky, but adding extra flour can actually do more harm than good. If you’ve got your ratio right, your bread should turn out perfectly. However, adding more flour in can make it dense and unappetising.
Repeat after us – always trust the ratio!
Continuing on from the above tip – see, we told you it was important – if your recipe is telling you to knead your bread on a floured board, you should ignore that step. Adding more flour even when kneading is always a bad thing, so instead, add a small amount of oil to your board to stop it sticking.
This, combined with a bench scraper to capture all those escaping scraps of dough, will help you work on the dough without it sticking and without risking it becoming too heavy.
When it comes to the actual kneading process, there are loads of different ways to do it, so you need to find what works for you. We’re big fans of pretending the dough is someone we aren’t too happy with as it is a brilliant way to work out your frustrations!
As well as being a great form of stress release, kneading your bread dough is all about building up the gluten content. Without gluten, bread just wouldn’t be bread – okay, so gluten-free bread is still very much bread but it’s also different to standard varieties.
You want your dough to end up nice and stretchy so it will rise really nicely and not feel dense when you’re eating it. You can check this with the age old windowpane test, which is when you break off a small piece of dough and carefully stretch it so it gets thin enough to see through before breaking.
You won’t be able to get exactly the same result if you’re making wholegrain bread, as these don’t have as many gluten strands as white, but getting close is your best option.
Once you’ve gone through all the effort of weighing and measuring your ingredients, not to mention kneading your dough, you’ll probably just want to get on with baking your bread so you can eat it. While you can speed things up a bit by proving your dough in a warm environment, going for the slow and cool proving method actually delivers a superior loaf.
Usually, you need to prove your dough twice, knocking it back and shaping it in between. Rather than rushing your second prove, the best option is to pop it in your fridge overnight to ensure it completes the process nice and slowly. Simply take it out of the fridge in the morning, let it reach room temperature and finish rising and then put it in the oven.
This may seem like a lot more hassle – especially as you spend more hours without fresh bread – but it is definitely the way forward if you want the best taste.
Now all you need to do is ready, set, bake!