Dance of the Vegetable Patch

Breadmaking Lesson Two - Basic Method

This is a basic breadmaking method WITHOUT using a bread machine.  You don't have to go through this process.  But if you want to get more of a feel for the bread you're making, it can be nice to do sometimes even if you have a machine.  Regardless, it will give you better understanding of the whole process.

If you want to make delicious sour dough breads, and others that are best done without a bread machine, it is a good idea to be familiar with the basic process first and to know what each stage feels like using plain, white flour.

This method doesn't include the recipe! 

1  Sponging the yeast

The yeast should be left in warm water with a little sugar until it is bubbling.  This is called "sponging" and not only gives the yeast a head start in multiplying, but also lets you see that your yeast is alive and well before you take all your time making the bread.

 Note:  Temperature of the liquid

The Temperature of the liquid should be as warm as you would have a baby's bottle.  You can use half cold water and half hot water from the tap to get about the right heat.  If any ingredients are too hot, you may kill the yeast.

2  Mix wet and dry

Use a wooden spoon.  Have the dry ingredients in the bowl and make a well in the centre.  Put the sponged mixture in this with the other liquid ingredients, leaving out about half the water/milk.  This should be added just as you need it.  Mix the liquid, incorporating the dry ingredients slowly.

 How much liquid?

Your bread mix will absorb different amounts of water on different days, depending on several factors including type of flour, age of flour, how the flour is stored and the weather.  Because of this, liquid measurements in bread recipes can never be exact.  Add the liquid gradually, until you've got as much liquid into the dough as possible, but so that you can still knead it.  If you don't add enough liquid, the dough will be very hard work to knead and the bread may turn out like a brick!

When all the ingredients hold together, STOP MIXING AND START KNEADING.  If you overmix, your dough may be tough.

3  Kneading

Push and pull at the dough.  Push it away from you and pull/roll it toward you.  Do whatever you like as long as you're stretching, and then folding back, the dough.  Its easiest to knead on a floured bench top rather than a board (which slides around).  Try not to add too much flour.  If your dough is getting heavy and solid, stop kneading on flour and use a soaking wet surface instead - very messy.

 How to tell when to stop kneading?

The dough will stop feeling sticky and will feel smooth and springy

It will feel soft like your earlobe - feel to compare

If you're using wholemeal flour, you'll be able to see definite flecks of brown on white

When you stretch out the dough it wont break easily

4  Rising

Brush your bowl with a little oil.  Make your dough into a ball and put it smooth side down into the bowl.  Turn it over so that now the top has a think layer of oil on it and wont dry out.  Cover the wol with plastic wrap or a large plate.  Cover this with a tea towel and leave it in a warm place to rise.   A good place to leave it is on an oven rack over a sink of hot water.  Cover the whole sink with the tea towel (or tea towels) to keep the steam in. 

It needs to be left until it is about doubled in bulk, but this is very difficult to judge.  A more accurate way to tell when your dough has risen enough is to make a dent, about a centimetre deep, with your finger (flour it first).  If your dough springs back a lot it isn't done enough.  If it sinks in further it is done too much.  You want the dent to stay almost exactly as you made it.

Warning!  If you leave your dough for too long, it rises and rises and then bursts.  It is then useless.  If your finished bread tastes "fermented" and strong and has a wavey top, this has probably happened - perhaps even just a little bit.  Therefore, you are better off stopping the rising too early than too late.  If you can't attend to it at that time, push all the air outand let the dough rise again (it will be better for it actually!).  This is another reason not to add extra yeast "just incase".  You don't want too much yeast multiplying happening and then have the whole lot burst - particularly when using a bread machine and therefore not watching the timing yourself.

5  Knocking back

This is often called "punching down" or something else aggressive, but you are better thinking of it as "deflating".  Once your dough has risen you need to get the air out of it, so gently press it out of the dough.  if you punch it you may break the surface and then you wont have as nice a top on your loaf.

You can knock it back and rise it again for a better loaf.  Each rising should take about half as long as the one before.

6  Shaping

Avoiding getting air into your dough, shape it into rolls or loaves and then put it into oiled and floured tins.  There are ideas for shaping in another "lesson" on this site.

7  Proofing

The loaf now has to be left to rise again.  It should take about half as long to rise this time, but test it in the same way - by making a dent with your finger.

8  Baking

Brush your loaf with milk, egg yolk, egg white or whole egg, or spray with water.  If desired, sprinkle with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, rolled oats, soaked burghul or whatever you like.  Bake in a hot preheated oven (210 degrees C) for 10 to 15 minutes then reduce the oven to moderate (180 degrees C) and bake your bread until its done - about 25 minutes for a loaf.

 How to tell if your loaf is cooked

Colour should be golden brown

Bread should slide easily out of the pan (when it is done it should shrink away from the sides of the pan a bit)

When the bottom is tapped it should have a nice, hollow sound.  A thick sound means your loaf needs another 10 or 15 minutes in the oven.

The final test:  cut your loaf.  When you poke the inside the bread should spring back.  If your fingerprint stays, put the loaf back together and into the oven.


9  Finally

Turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack.  If you leave it in the tin the bottom may go soggy.