Authors: Jason Daly
Use your Loaf:
How to bake bread at
home and get perfect results
Text copyright © 2013
All Rights Reserved
“BREAD IS THE STAFF OF LIFE”
so the saying goes. Bread is a staple part of the modern Western diet. Many of
us eat a lot of bread but only a few ever try their hand at baking their own.
Why is this? Is it because it is deemed to be too difficult? Too time
consuming? Too technical? In all honesty it is probably a combination of all
three. But I think the fact that mass produced bread is so readily available
and relatively inexpensive (or was!) is a major factor in today’s high speed
society. The thing is; mass produced bread doesn’t taste that good! I think
that anyone, once they have tried freshly baked, still-warm, handmade bread
will agree. Mass produced bread isn’t bad, it just isn’t that good!
comes in many shapes and sizes: bloomer, baguette, brioche, ciabatta, cobber,
chapatti, roti, sourdough to name a few, but in reality there are two kind of
bread – handmade and not handmade (mass produced).
1961 the Chorleywood Bread Process was developed and this revolutionised
baking. A high speed mechanical mixing process was devised and this allowed
reduced fermentation times. It also meant that they could now use British wheat
which was cheaper than American wheat but also had a lower protein content.
also started adding chemical stabilisers, “flavour enhancers” and antifungals
as well as hydrogenated fats. All this had 1 result in mind: maximum efficiency
for maximum profit.
is almost certain that this kind of bread worse for you. As well as all the
additives and fats, the short fermentation results in wheat that is actually
harder to digest and there is some belief that the whole process may be behind
the increase in gluten intolerance and allergy.
is estimated that up to 98% of bread in the UK is mass produced and most come
from a dozen or so huge plant bakeries. And do not be fooled by your supermarket
“in-store” bakery as they are just smaller versions of these plants. Even most
local bakeries are guilty of this. Put it this way, if the bread in your local
bakery looks like everyone else’s (the ubiquitous flat topped white tin loaf),
the chances are it was produced the same way.
bakeries are magical places. Here bread will be hand baked on site in small
batches. It is easy to tell hand baked bread as it won’t look like the bread
found in other stores. Some may sell their bread to other local shops which is
great. Unfortunately real bakeries are scarce so if you are lucky enough to
have access to one, then use it! The bread will be a little more expensive and
other alternative is to make your own handmade bread at home, and I hope that
by buying this guide you have taken that important decision to give it a go. If
you are still not convinced, look at the simple economics. A large home-baked
loaf can cost less than half the price of mass produced supermarket bread. To
illustrate this, it costs me 55p (ingredients, gas/electric) to produce a large
800g loaf. At the time of writing, the supermarket in-store bakery loaf cost
£1.10, the local shop cost £1.30 and the local “bakery” cost £1.60! As you can
see profit margins are high and they would be even higher with commercial
buying power driving down the cost of the ingredients.
So get your apron on, dust your hands
with flour and get baking. I assure you, you will never look back.
The good thing about baking your own bread is that you don’t
really need any specialist kit. If you already bake cakes and pastries chances
are you have everything essential that you need:
A large mixing bowl
Wire cooling rack
Baking tray (the heavier the better)
Black bin bags!
You will also need some linen cloths or all linen tea-towels.
Linen draws very little moisture so your dough should never stick to a well
floured linen cloth. Alternatively you could sit your dough on a wooden
chopping board or even a piece of plywood.
Optional extras include loaf tins, proving baskets, a baking
stone (plus peel) and a food processor with a dough hook. Proving baskets come
in various shapes and sizes and can be cheap (wicker or plastic) or quite
expensive (cane and usually linen lined).
Without a doubt, the best way to bake bread is on a baking
stone. You can use a pizza stone which is available in many kitchen shops, but
it would be better if you measure your oven and go and buy the best fitting
paving stone you can find. If you do use a stone you will need a peel which is
basically a type of shovel – a sheet of wood or metal with a handle. It is used
to slide bread onto your baking stone in the oven. Either buy one or make one.
If you don’t use a baking stone, use the heaviest baking
tray you have, and you won’t need the peel either as this can be taken out of
use a spray bottle to spray my dough with water before it goes into the oven.
the thought of kneading fills you with dread, you could opt to use a food
processor with a dough hook attachment. In fact they can be very useful when
working with very wet dough such as ciabatta.
Bread only has four basic ingredients although others can
be added. The four main ingredients are flour, yeast, salt and water.
is by far the most important ingredient so try to buy the best organic flour
you can afford. Wheat prices have soared recently, but remember, the cost of a
loaf made at home is roughly half that of shop bought bread.
Check for any
additives especially with white flour, as they may have bleaching agents added
to make them whiter – how pointless! If you can find it, organic stoneground
flour is best.
flour is the most common type of flour in the UK. A grain of wheat is actually
a seed consisting of 3 parts: bran, germ and endosperm. The bran is the tough
outer skin, the germ is the embryonic wheat plant and the endosperm is used as
a food source by the germ in early development. The bran is a rich source of
protein, the germ a good source of vitamins, and the endosperm a great source
of carbohydrates, plus some protein, minerals and oil.
may be thinking, “So what! Why is he telling me this?” Well, all these
components have an effect on the bread making process. Plus, I think it’s
important to understand what is going on during the process, and in this way
you will give the whole task more respect. Also, understanding what your kneading
is doing will almost certainly make you a better baker.
the carbohydrates are used as fuel by the yeast, the proteins bond to form the
all important gluten strands, and the minerals are used to strengthen the
gluten strands. The oil helps to maintain moisture thus keeping your bread
softer for longer.
a bit deeper into the science of bread making (sorry!), something happens when
water is added to flour and that is the formation of gluten. Gluten is formed
by the bonding of two proteins, gliadin and glutenin. Gluten is an elastic
protein that can be really stretched to form long strands. The more it is
worked, the longer and stretchier it becomes. These strands form a complex mesh
which helps to trap carbon dioxide bubbles produced by yeast, thus creating gas
bubbles inside your dough. This is the process you are encouraging when
kneading your dough, so as you can hopefully appreciate, well kneaded dough is
a prerequisite for a well formed loaf.
are five main types of wheat flour and they are generally graded by how much
high quality protein (and hence gluten) is present in the flour.
Strong flour (or bread flour)
has a high proportion
of high quality protein which will yield a high percentage of gluten (around
15%). This is the flour needed for typical bread made with yeast. Yeasted bread
is commonly known as leavened bread. Bread flour may be white, brown or
Plain or soft flour
has poorer quality proteins and
produce a lower percentage of gluten ((7-9%). As the gluten is formed from
poorer quality proteins it is less elastic and tends to snap. This means that
the strands can’t form a mesh to trap the gas bubbles resulting in a crumbly
texture. However, this property makes this flour perfect for making cakes and
is basically plain flour with
added raising agents and is primarily used for cake baking. However, it can be
used in some non yeasted breads such as soda bread.
grain flour is a type of blended flour. Malting is used on grains to encourage
the production of sugars and these are dried and roasted to capture the sweet
flavour. These grains are then blended into strong flour (normally brown) to
produce a variety of breads such as malted grain and cobber.
Durum (or 00) flour
is the final type of wheat flour.
This flour is produced from durum wheat and is the flour of choice when making
pasta but it can be used in bread making too. It works well in ciabatta and
focaccia which is not surprising as it is an Italian grade of flour.
are other grain flours available which can be used to make your bread, such as
spelt and rye flour. Spelt flour forms gluten that is more digestible than
wheat flour and has a slightly nutty taste which makes great bread. Rye flour,
on the other hand, makes a dense cakey loaf that is still delicious. It has
this texture because the proteins only form weak gluten strands in quite small
quantities. Try replacing some strong flour with rye flour to produce a lighter
gluten free bread is more widely available for those who suffer from wheat
intolerance. It tends to be a blend of rice, potato and tapioca. They also tend
to have a gluten substitute added such as xanthan gum.
is the next ingredient. Yeasts are living
micro-organisms. They belong to the genus Saccaromyces – this literally means
“sugar fungus.” They obtain energy by breaking down carbohydrates and as they
respire they produce carbon dioxide gas. When you add water to flour and yeast,
the yeast starts to convert starch into sugars. As they do so they release
carbon dioxide and alcohol. The carbon dioxide forms bubbles of gas which get
trapped by the gluten mesh and this causes the dough to expand or “rise.” The
yeasts reproduce at a prolific rate which in turn means more carbon dioxide and
more rising. All this activity also raises the temperature of the dough. This
process is known as fermentation and the longer bread is left to ferment the
are two types of yeast available to the aspiring baker. The first is fresh
yeast. If you do use fresh yeast, only buy a little at a time as it will only
keep for around two weeks. Because of this I tend to stick with the second type
of yeast, namely dried yeast. Dried yeast has a long shelf life, but don’t use
it past its use-by date as it will have become less active. Most dried yeasts
are powders and I tend to use the ones labelled as fast-action or quick yeast.
is the next ingredient. Salt in itself is not an
essential ingredient but it does help to tighten the gluten mesh, thus
increasing stability and the efficiency in how it traps bubbles of gas. This
means your dough will rise higher. One word of caution: if using fresh yeast,
keep it away from salt as it will kill the yeast cells. Add them one at a time
and mix it into the flour so the effect will be diluted as they are blended in.
As you probably know, salt is also a well-known preservative, so salted bread
will generally keep for longer. Always use finely ground salt – table salt is
fine (and cheap).
is the final ingredient. Tap water is fine but
it needs to be warm to help increase the activity of the yeast. The temperature
should be around 30-40
C. It must NOT be hot water, as anything
C will kill the yeast. Some people use milk when making
bread to make the loaf whiter, or you could add some milk powder for the same
effect – it beats bleaching agents any day! The amount of liquids used in a
recipe is always variable with baking recipes that call for flour. It has to do
with how much the flour will absorb on a given day. But, if you add too much or
too little problems may occur.
In bread recipes, water
stimulates the growth of both the yeast and the development of gluten. It
dissolves and activates the yeast, activates the protein in the wheat flour and
blends with it to create a sticky and elastic dough. You don't need any special
kind of water, so use it from the tap, unless it is highly chlorinated which
can sometimes kill the
If you have trouble getting
yeast to work, try using distilled water instead of tap.
can also use the left-over water from boiled potatoes, as the liquid in bread
recipes. It will help to produce a loaf of bread that rises higher. The cooked
potato starch in the water gives a boost to the yeast, making it rise faster
and also adds sweetness. Store your potato water tightly covered in a
refrigerator and it will keep for 3 - 4 days.
other ingredients you may consider adding are butter or oils. These will result
in a softer crumb and helps the bread keep for longer. I use unsalted butter
and vegetable or olive oil.
can also add sugar or honey which will add sweetness to your loaf. Bear in mind
that honey and sugar caramelise at high heat, so keep an eye on your bread when
in the oven as the top may brown and burn quickly. If it is getting dark, turn
down the temperature and/or cover the top of the loaf in foil.
flakes, nuts and seeds can be used as an addition to your dough or they can be
used to coat your bread. I like using sunflower, sesame and poppy seeds. My
nuts of choice are walnuts and hazelnuts. Dried fruits such as raisins, dates,
apricots and cherries may also be added. Basically, if you like a nut, seed or
fruit try it out and have fun experimenting with different combinations.
now you have all the background information you need, so let’s get on and bake
a delicious loaf of bread.