There’s nothing so welcoming as the smell of freshly baking bread. The following are guidelines for the traditional ways for making and baking bread.
This is a general bread making guide using the traditional methods instead of a machine. There are, of course, quicker methods and not all recipes call for all the steps to be followed. For most recipes yeast is the raising agent but baking powder, sour milk or bicarbonate of soda are also used.
Yeast is a mass of living cells, which must have food, warmth and moisture to grow or multiply. The “food” for the yeast cells is provided by the flour and sugar used for bread and other yeast mixtures. It is essential that all ingredients and utensils are properly warmed to enable the yeast cells to develop.
Blood heat (98.4ºF/37ºC) is the correct temperature – too high a temperature will kill the yeast cells and too low a temperature will slow down the action. Always set the dough to rise in a warm place and cover it with a clean cloth to protect it from draughts and prevent a hard skin from forming over it..
Usually a smaller proportion of yeast is needed for large quantities of flour. The correct proportions to use are as follows:
- For up to 1½ lb (700 g) flour – Use ½ oz (14g) yeast.
- For over 1½ lb (700 g) up to 3½ lb (1.5 k) flour – Use 1 oz (28g) yeast.
- For over 3½ lb (1.5 k) up to 7 lb (3.2 k) flour – Use 1½ oz (42g) yeast.
- For over 7 lb (3.2 k) to 14 lb flour (6.4 k) – Use 2 oz (56g) yeast.
Fresh yeast has a moist pliable texture and a pleasant smell. Hard crumbly yeast which has a strong smell, is stale, and should not be used.
Fresh yeast can be rather difficult to find but dried yeast makes good doughs and the quantities needed are usually about half those stipulated for fresh yeast. Directions for use and quantities are given with each packet.
Both fresh and dried yeast need to be creamed in warm liquid before being added to the flour. Fresh yeast will cream easily in 2 or 3 teaspoons of liquid, dried yeast needs a bit of whisking and more liquid. There are some dried yeasts available that are fast acting and do not require any creaming at all – they are simply mixed in with the flour before the liquid is added.
Flour for Bread Making
Always use a good quality strong plain flour for bread and yeast mixtures. Self-raising flour is not suitable and will give disappointing results.
Sieve the flour into a warm bowl and leave in a warm place until warmed through. If salt is used to give flavour, it is sieved with the flour. The usual proportions are 1 teaspoon salt to 1 lb flour. Too high a concentration of salt will kill the yeast.
Stoneground flour is the healthiest type of flour – see Industrial Bread Process
Most breads use water, which must be heated to blood heat before it is added to the creamed yeast. For rich mixtures, warmed milk, with or without the addition of a beaten egg, is used. Do not have the heated fluid over 110ºF/43ºC or it will kill off the yeast.
Butter will give the best flavour for richer yeast mixtures, but margarine may be substituted with good results. Lard may be used for some bread roils where the characteristic flavour is required.
Setting the “Sponge”
A well is made in the centre of the warmed flour and the warmed yeast mixture containing about half the prescribed quantity of milk or water is poured in. The liquid is sprinkled with flour, and left to stand for about 20 minutes. This process is known as “setting the sponge” and improves the bread, although it is not always necessary for some yeast mixtures. The remainder of the liquid is added when the dough is being mixed to its correct consistency.
Sift the flour and salt together in a mixing bowl. Rub in the fat is used and pour in the yeast mixture and liquid. Mix with a wood spoon to begin with and then with the hands until it comes away cleanly from the sides of the bowl.
Kneading the Dough
The dough must be thoroughly kneaded to develop the elasticity of the gluten. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead by lifting and folding one end of the dough towards you into the centre, then pushing it down and away from you with the heel of your hand or fist. Turn the dough around a bit and repeat the process. Carry on with this stretching, folding and pushing for about 10 minutes until the dough is firm and elastic and no longer sticks to your hands. Proper kneading is essential to produce the correct texture of baked bread and other yeast mixtures.
If you have an electric mixer, the dough hooks used at a low speed will make short work of kneading the dough.
After the dough has been thoroughly kneaded, shape into a ball and put into a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a slightly damp kitchen towel or with lightly greased polythene to keep it warm and prevent a hard skin from forming over it. Leave in a warm place for 1 – 1 ½ hours to rise, or until it has doubled in bulk.
When the dough has risen, knock out the air bubbles from the dough with the side of your hand or fist and then knead it again for two to three minutes. It should return to its original size and be smooth and firmly elastic again.
You can bake the dough in a suitable loaf tin that fits easily into the oven. Tins should be warmed, well greased and lightly floured before the dough is added to them. Flat baking trays or round earthenware pots are also used and again need to be warmed and greased before adding the dough.
Proving the Dough
The dough is divided into suitable portions, shaped and put into baking tins or trays. It is then covered with a clean cloth and put into a warm place for 30 to 40 minutes for its final rising until it has again doubled in size. Bread and yeast mixtures should be put into a hot oven immediately after the dough has proved.
Shaping the Loaf
Divide the dough into the number of pieces you require, cover with a dampened cloth or greased polythene and leave to relax for 5 minutes. This makes it easier to shape. If the loaf is to be baked in a tin or pot, mould it to an appropriate shape, fit into the warmed and greased container and cover it for the final rising or proving.
There are a lot of different traditional shapes that you can make with your home made dough – the big advantage over most bread-making machines. See Shaping Loaves for more information
Position in the Oven
Bread needs to be baked in a pre-heated hot oven so that the heat will kill off the yeast.
As a general rule, two tiers of bread may be baked in oven that has six or more runner positions. Arrange the upper shelf about half way down the oven, and the lower shelf on the lowest runner position. When cooking two tiers of bread, heat the oven at Gas Mark 9 (475ºF/240 ºC) for 15 minutes and reduce the oven to Gas Mark 7 (425 ºF/220 ºC) when the bread is added to the oven. Interchange loaves on the upper shelf with those on the lower shelf half way through the baking time.
For ovens that have fewer than six runner positions, bake one tier of bread with the shelf on the runner near the centre of the oven.
Small buns or rolls may be baked just above the centre of the oven if one tray is being cooked. If two trays are being baked, arrange on shelf about one-third down the oven and the other shelf about two-thirds down the oven. Bake for the time specified in the recipe, remove top tray from the oven and move the lower tray to the higher position and continue baking until properly cooked and nicely browned.
Tests for Cooked Bread
A properly cooked loaf will be well browned all over, have a crisp crust and will sound hollow when tapped on the base. If the base is not quite as crusty as you like, invert the loaf in its tin for a final 5 minutes baking.
As soon as bread or yeast mixtures are cooked and removed from the oven, turn out of the tins and leave the loaves on their sides to cool on a wire tray.
If a soft crust is required, brush the top of the loaf with melted butter. Rolls can be wrapped in a clean cloth and left on a wire tray to cool.
Small buns may be brushed with melted butter, or with sugar syrup, made by dissolving sugar in a little water immediately after they are removed from the oven. Buns are then removed from the baking tray and left on a wire tray to cool. If preferred buns can be cooled and then finished with glace icing and chopped nuts or fruits.