Bread is a wonderful thing loaded with symbolism, metaphor and history. I think it’s intimidating for a lot of people, though. It’s seen as a strange and unstable alchemical thing or a mythic beast waiting to attack. It doesn’t have to be though. Bread isn’t a monster. It’s cuddly and warm and just wants to be your friend. One thing they do say is that you should never freestyle bread. Thankfully, as with most things they say, this isn’t at all the case.
The first stage is the recipe. Bakers like to make a big deal about how all the ingredients must be measured out just so. I know I do it. And yes, when you’re after that specific taste and texture precision is key. But what if you just want a loaf to make simple sandwiches or toast. You don’t necessarily need to spend three days making a sponge and letting the dough rise overnight. I mean you can, but what if you want bread today? Easily done. You don’t need to fuss and fiddle over ingredients either, you just need to remember a few simple points.
Starting, as we always do, with the flour I want some whole wheat today. I figure I want about a 60/40 split. So, 300g Bread Flour and 200g Whole Wheat Flour. Don’t have a scale? No problem. That’s, I dunno, call it about four cups of flour. I could go measure that flour, but the point I’m making is that it really doesn’t matter all that much. What if you want a white bread? Use all Bread Flour. Or All Purpose. Whatever strikes your fancy. Want to use all Whole Wheat? Go for it, man. Take a walk on the wild side.
Next we’ll add the Salt and Yeast. The theory with Salt is that you always want about 2% of your flour weight. So 10g of Salt. Let’s do the same 10g of Yeast as well. I like to use instant bread machine yeast. It, in my opinion, has the best balance of rise over time. Again. use whatever you prefer. That’s about 2 Teaspoons of Salt and a Tablespoon of Yeast. What happens if you’re not exact? Nothing special. Maybe the taste is slightly off, or it rises a little slower. No biggie.
The only other thing we need is water. We can play with this, too. If we use 60% of the four weight, that will be a stiff dough. If we bump that up to 70% then it’s pretty soft. We can go higher if we want, but too much lower and the flour wont all incorporate properly. I’m going to go ahead and use 350g of water. If your dough is sticky, add another small scoop of flour. Too dry with flour left in the bowl? A small splash of water will fix that. Knead in your water until the dough is smooth and elastic and let rise until doubled. Once it has, divide in to two portions, shape and let rise again. Here’s another fun trick, just after shaping I sprayed my loaves with water and rolled them in oats as a topping.
Once the loaves have once again doubled in bulk, it’s time to bake. Put a pan of water in the oven and preheat it to 450° or so. Bake it at 450° for ten minutes, rotate the loaves and bake at 350° for another fifteen.
Hopefully this demystifies bread at least a little and makes the prospect of making bread at home a little less daunting. Just be patient, and expect to make mistakes. Mastery of bread takes a lifetime, but it wont be any time at all before you can turn out some very acceptable loaves. Homemade bread is rewarding as anything and dirt cheap at a cost of mere pennies a loaf. Plus, since you’re making it yourself, you know exactly what’s going in to it and you can avoid the chemical preservatives that often go into commercial bread. For those reasons and more, I highly recommend making your own bread at home. You’ll be glad you did.