Tuesday 21 June 2011

Flour Power

We eat a lot of bread in my house. Two of us will easily go through about four loaves a week.

We'd probably eat less if I didn't make it myself, but once you've had homemade, storebought's a downgrade (burn, Wonderbread)! Who can resist the sweet, salty allure of fresh-baked bread with butter? Not me! Why try?

First off, get your head around the misconception that bread-making is so time-consuming and super-precise, you have to be an iron chef to get it right. There's more room for error than you think (I'm a big fan of the "dash" and it's worked out so far) and you only end up doing 9-11 minutes of actual work. As long as you have a window of time where you're home for three hours, trust me - you can bake bread.

The below recipe is the whole-wheat one I use regularly. It comes from Paul Hollywood's fantastic book 100 Great Breads. The pictures in this book are beautiful, the breads, rolls and sweet treats (like the sour-cherry-and-chocolate bread) are soooo tasty, and some of the measurements are by weight which (if you're a fan of Alton Brown, you already know) is the most accurate way to measure things.

This recipe makes a single loaf, but please save yourself the trouble and double up. An equal amount of work goes into it whether you're making one, two or four loaves so you might as well eat for a week on your efforts.

- Scant* 2 1/2 C whole wheat flour
- 2/3 C white flour
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 oz/30 g yeast
- 1/2 stick (this is 2 oz) of butter
- Scant* 1 1/4 C water

* I've never understood/heeded "scant." It basically overstates the measurement and just means you should measure exactly, which is what measurements are anyway so...?

Since any bread recipe, followed to the letter, is pretty straightforward, this post includes tips and tricks I've picked up/made up over the years. They've consistently worked for me. Hopefully they'll do the same for you!

For starters, I always dissolve about a tablespoon of sugar in a bowl of roughly 1/4 C warm water, then mix in the required amount of traditional bread-making yeast (not quick-rise or bread machine yeast). This is called proofing and it's usually only done if you're not sure how old your yeast is/whether it's still active, but I do it with straight-from-the-store stuff too and find that it acts like steroids for my dough.

Let the sugar/water/yeast sit for a few minutes until it's smooth (like cappucino-flavoured yogurt) and bubbly like this...

Once the yeast has started happily belching itself into activity, mix the flour, salt, yeast and butter in a bowl. A KitchenAid mixer is A-amazing for this, but if you don't have one, by-hand works too.

One other tip - melt the butter. The recipe doesn't call for this, but if your butter is hard at all, it's such a pain to mix evenly. Instead, measure it out and throw it in the microwave for 30 seconds before adding it to the dry ingredients.

After that, add the water slowly and mix until all the flour has been picked up, the bowl is basically clean and the dough is slightly sticky.

Tip it onto a floured surface and knead for five minutes.

This is one area where it can be easy to lose the loaf. Kneading expands the strands of gluten and affects the texture of the finished bread. It also creates little air pockets for the yeast to fill with gas, which is what causes the dough to rise. Try to think of this while you're kneading. Don't just roll and punch the dough - really pull and fold the edges to trap mini-air-caves for the yeast to party in.

After about five minutes, you should have a dough that's smooth and uniform-looking. It shouldn't feel dried out, but it shouldn't stick to everything it touches either.

At this point, many recipes will tell you to put the dough in a bowl and set it in the oven with the light on, but the heat off.

Ignore that and do what I learned in my 10th grade foods hospitality class.

Put a little olive oil in the bottom of the bowl and roll the dough so it's got a thin layer of oil all over. I would normally cover the dough with a clean towel and set it to rise near a heating vent or in a sunny window. However, I have a dog who loves to eat dough. If you do as well, turn your oven on to 115 degrees F, cover the dough with tinfoil and slide it in.

Spend the next hour patting yourself on the back, running errands, working, napping, etc. then come back and uncover your dough.

Unless it has uncovered itself by bursting from the bowl!

Take it out and shape it to the pans you have at your disposal. No extra kneading or punching here. Just form it to the pans. I stand like craaaaazy behind the red silicone ones you see here. They're cheap at Canadian Tire.

Cover with foil and put the pans back in the oven (or towel them and set them near your heat source) for another hour.

After that, remove the foil, crank the oven to 450 F and bake for 35 minutes.

Bam. Your days of shelling out dough (pun intended) for Dempster's are over. You'll save money, you'll feel like a pioneer, you'll enjoy toast in a whole new way, your house will smell amazing and you'll feel confident enough to advance to things like pizza...


And my fave - the oatmeal molasses bread recipe in Earth to Table.

What's your main squeeze bread recipe? Share it in the comments!


  1. These look amazing! Bread and butter may actually be my favourite food, ever. I've never made bread but I'm going to give it a go - with some cheddar cheese and sundried tomato, maybe? yum!
    - agata

  2. It is so cool that making your own bread is not some old fashioned thing and I see more and more people make it.
    I personally haven't bought bread since last August.
    We also make it at home. Me or may husband make the dough in the evening and then we bake it next morning. Easy, healthy and soooo delicious with butter !!!
    Thank you for sharing!