Guest Blog: Emma Hill ‘Proper Bread and Recipe’

So another great guest blog here from my good friend Emmal Hill. She is a Pastry Chef and today she writes about her passion for hand made proper bread and includes a great recipe to get you started!

Hello Katy’s followers! I’ve not done any guest blog posts before so it’s a real pleasure to be writing here and especially about one of my passions…

I’m Emma, and I’ve been working with Katy in Switzerland over the past few months. Before leaving for the sometimes snowy, sometimes sunny, sometimes rainy mountains of Switzerland, I worked in a bakery. And before that, I trained as a pastry chef. I do plenty of baking in my spare time at home and I particularly enjoy exploring bread recipes. Sourdoughs, enriched doughs, simple doughs with a little embellishment… but all proper breads. Because there’s a difference between the bread you find in the supermarket and the bread you bake at home or find at an artisan bakery. As people interested in smallholding, you’ll appreciate that the processes that our industrially-produced foods are subject to tend towards the unnatural. Bread is no exception. For those who’ve never tried making a loaf at home, there are 4 basic ingredients; flour, water, yeast and salt. If you’re on a health kick, you can leave the salt out. And if you’re being really traditional, you can use a sourdough starter, a mix of flour and water nurtured to develop bacteria that can leaven bread, instead of cultivated yeast. Proper bread needs plenty of time to develop and rise (prove), normally at least 3 hours, but sourdough breads and others that use small amounts of yeast can take around 18 hours or even longer before being ready to bake.

4 ingredients and plenty of time; and that’s it!

In comparison, the processed loaves that you find in the supermarket are some sort of mutant relation to the humble 4-ingredient loaf. Look at the ingredients label (if there is one; loaves baked on site don’t always carry them) and I’m betting you’ll see more than 4 ingredients. The additives included in these breads are there to make the mixing and proving processes faster, to make the loaf seem fresher for longer and to give a lighter, fluffier loaf than is really natural. E numbers abound in the forms of preservatives, emulsifiers, stabilisers, thickeners, antioxidants, improvers, bleaching agents and colourings. And although the loaf stays usable for days on end, the texture and flavour aren’t a patch on that of a proper loaf. Once you start making your own bread at home or buying from a proper bakery using artisan methods, you’ll begin to notice the difference. Bread that has been allowed to develop and ferment for a long period, rather than being forced to rise quickly, has a much less cotton-wool-like texture and an enhanced flavour. And it’s better for you. Not only does it not contain all the peculiar-sounding additives, but its firmer texture and crust, with a little more chewing, mean that the bread gets broken down more in your mouth than in your stomach, which makes it easier to digest. I could waffle on for a long time about proper bread to try to convert you, but the real test is to try some for yourself. Seek out a local artisan baker (it may take a little detective work in some areas but they’re on the rise again… no pun intended) or try the recipe below for a basic white loaf. This is a simple recipe but, I have to admit, my instructions are a bit meaty. Please don’t be intimidated by this; the instructions are long because I’ve tried to include as many useful tips as possible. My attempts at bread making before I went to catering college were pretty poor because I didn’t know all the little technical bits behind a great loaf that I do now and I’m a full believer that, if you know the reasons behind why you’re doing things, you’ll understand the entire baking process better. Hopefully, passing on my knowledge to you will ensure you make a great loaf every time.”

Basic white bread recipe

Ingredients (Makes 1 large loaf)

500g strong white bread flour

10g salt

10g fresh yeast or 1 sachet fast action yeast

350g tepid water

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 220°C (425°F or gas mark 7). Place a baking tray in the oven to preheat and place a tray with a lip in the very bottom of the oven (you’re preheating a baking tray because, when the bread hits it on entering the oven, this extra heat will help it rise. This is called oven spring. The tray in the bottom of the oven is for water or ice, put in right at the start of baking, which helps stop the crust developing too fast, giving a lighter loaf and a better crust)
  2. Cover a baking tray (with no lip, or a tray turned upside-down) with greaseproof paper; you need to be able to slide the paper off the tray easily (your bread will prove on this tray before being slid onto the hot tray in the oven)
  3. Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and make sure the salt is well mixed into the flour (large concentrations of salt can inhibit yeast activity so you don’t want to dump your yeast straight onto a great clump of salt)
  4. If you’re using fresh yeast, rub it into the dry mix using your fingertips. If using fast action yeast, add it to the tepid water, whisk it in and leave in a warm place for 10 minutes to turn foamy
  5. Add the liquid to the dry mix and stir everything to bring the dough together, then turn out onto an unfloured worktop (flouring it will only add more flour to the dough and make the end loaf more dense) and knead until smooth and elastic. This can take 10 to 15 minutes, maybe even longer, but it’s important to get the dough to the elastic stage if you want a soft loaf. To know when it’s ready, you should be able to stretch a small piece of dough into a “window pane” (a thin, translucent sheet) without it breaking. Also, once you’re dough stops sticking to your hands and your unfloured worktop, this is a good indication that it’s ready
  6. Once the dough is smooth and elastic, place in a lightly-floured bowl, cover lightly with oiled cling film or a damp cloth and leave in a warm place to double in size (around 1 hour but sometimes longer). Double in size is the important bit, not the time
  7. Lightly flour your worktop and turn the dough out. Use your knuckles to push the air out, then form the dough into a ball by pulling the outer bits of the dough into the centre, then placing it seam-side down on the worktop and rolling to tighten up the ball
  8. Once you have a smooth ball on one side and a seam on the other, place it onto the tray covered with greaseproof paper. Cover it lightly again with greased cling film or a damp cloth and leave in a warm place to double in size again
  9. Get a glass of cold water or some ice cubes ready to hand
  10. Use a sharp knife to slash the top of your loaf in a creative fashion (slashing the loaf ensures that it tears where you want it to rather than ending up with an ugly tear somewhere random). Moving as quickly as you can to keep as much heat in your oven as possible, slide the loaf and greaseproof paper onto the preheated baking tray and throw the water or ice into the tray on the bottom of the oven, then shut the door!
  11. Bake for around 25 to 30 minutes. Your loaf should be golden brown all over and give out a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom
  12. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely before slicing and enjoying!

For more information on proper bread and recipe ideas, there are lots of great books, but here are some of my personal favourites:

Dough, Richard Bertinet, Kyle Books, 2005 (5 basic doughs transformed into many different breads. This is a great book for beginners at breadmaking)

Crust, Richard Bertinet, Kyle Books, 2012 (the recipes in this book are a bit more advanced and for more confident bread makers)

The Handmade Loaf, Dan Lepard, Mitchell Beazley, 2004 (this has a mix of basic and advanced recipes, but it’s as much a good source of ideas as anything else)

http://www.sustainweb.org/realbread/ (this is a campaign based in Britain to try and get more proper bread into our breadbins. Have a gander if you’d like to know more of what goes into your average shop-bought loaf)

Emmas Pastry and Bread blog is http://adventuresofapastryapprentice.blogspot.ch/

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