Time for a bread-baking day, today, and, approaching the end of a delicious, dense, dark rye loaf, decided it's time for an ordinary, no-frills, wholewheat loaf.
Gotta Make'a Dough
This is surely the simplest of breads. If you don't have sourdough starter, this is a good bread to use to get one going. Just use a sachet of instant yeast where I have used sourdough yeast, and add quite a bit more water.
Yesterday, quite late in the day, I took the sourdough starter out of the refrigerator, and, after giving it a half-hour or so to warm up to room temperature (not strictly necessary, but I like to), added a couple of cups of (white bread) flour and a bit of blood-temperature water -- just enough to make a stiff batter. Leave the mix in a covered bowl overnight to grow. I prefer to use white-bread flour for this step simply so that the starter doesn't accumulate too many bits of bran and junk. On the other hand we're not fanatic about it, and have used brown and whole flour in the past when we've been out of white-bread flour.
This morning, removed a couple of cups of sourdough yeast to put back into the refrigerator for next time, thus keeping the sourdough going. Our starter by now has quite a different nature to how it started out; it seems much calmer and steadier, stronger though slower, smoother and more mature.
Into the remainder of the sourdough yeastie, add 450g of whole-wheat flour, a couple of tablespoons of oil, a generous teaspoon of salt, and a handful-and-a-bit of brown sugar. Any kind of oil will do -- I used sunflower oil today, but grapeseed oil, olive oil, peanut oil (if you can afford that) are all fine. I am working on getting some sort of flour mill organised so that we can buy grains in bulk (as a prelude to growing our own) and mill our own flour. Whole-milled flour is just so much better tasting than anything you can buy, but does need a bit more work to knead.
You might notice that my measurements are *cough* very precise. It is important that you use exactly a handful-and-a-bit of sugar, for instance. Self-sufficiency demands that you develop your own judgement, trust to your own senses, especially your "common" sense, and your sense of what's going to work. Mistakes are good! How else do we learn?
The Art, Science and History of Kneading
Added a bit of lukewarm water to the dough -- perhaps a half-cup -- as it was a bit dry. Then knead. As a wee lad I was taught to knead bread by Nanna, my late grandmother. She had a wonderful, wide enamelled bowl that she used for breadmaking. I would love to find a similar bowl, but all I can find is plastic rubbish, so I knead on the kitchen counter. Nanna was fanatic about cleanliness for breadmaking; lessons that have stayed with me to this day. Before getting my hands into the dough, I scrub-up, doctor-style, using a nail-brush and not just for the fingernails, using antiseptic soap, then make very sure I rinse the soap off very thoroughly.
Initially the dough is very poorly mixed. Mush, mush, mush with the fingers until it's all gluing together, then tip out of the bowl onto the (clean!) counter-top dusted with a bit of flour.
Push the dough around with the heal of your hand until it forms a coherent ball; add a bit of flour if it seems too wet. You're aiming for a slightly-sticky-but-not-sticking-to-hands-or-counter consistency. Today's bread is going into a baking-tin for the baking, so can afford to be quite soft, as it doesn't need to hold its own shape. Initially, as you work the dough, the flour absorbs moisture, and the mixture becomes stickier as you work it. Chuck a bit more flour onto the counter if the dough starts sticking too badly. On the other hand, if the dough seems too stiff and dry, poke some holes into it, throw a little water into the holes, and work the water into the dough.
Then knead: push your knuckles into the dough, using a twisting motion, folding the dough back on itself now and then. Beat it up. This is a quite vigorous style of kneading. Kneading releases the gluten in the flour, which holds the bread together around the holes of gas that the yeast makes. After about 12 minutes the dough will start fighting back. Keep kneading! Knuckle kneading becomes more difficult, and you likely want to switch to using the heals of your hands to push the dough about as it becomes spongey and springy. You're done after 15 minutes. As you gain experience with bread you can dispense with the clock-watching and just go by feel. Actual times vary depending on the condition of the flour, humidity of the weather, and myriad other factors. But when you're just starting out, do it by the clock!
If you're wanting to make a sourdough starter, now is the time to break off a knob of the dough to use for that purpose as described here.
I moulded the dough into a sausage shape, then rolled the sausage through a scant-handful of sunflower seeds, just for a bit of entertainment. Plunk the dough in a greased loaf-tin. Cover with a cloth, and place in a warm spot -- but not too hot, or you'll kill the yeasties. It will take most of the day for the bread to rise -- much longer than when you use bought yeast, but the bread has a much stronger, more elastic consistency for it, not to mention the sourdough taste.
Around 4:30 or 5 this afternoon we'll get around to...
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C, then gently -- you don't want to knock the bread about, now that it's so beautifully risen -- place the loaf in the middle of the oven as quickly as possible. You want to disturb the temperature of the oven as little as possible -- avoid having oven elements switch on if you can.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. When its ready, the loaf will make a hollow sound when you tap the underside of the baking-pan.
Tip the loaf out of the tin as soon as it comes out of the oven. This allows excess moisture to escape, giving you a nice crispy crust. Let the loaf cool for 10 or 15 minutes before you cut it. In the early days of our breadmaking we never could wait that long, it smells so mouthwatering! But the bread really is better for being allowed to rest a little when it comes out of the oven.
Wow That's A Lot Of Work
Not! Let's do an accounting:
- Preparing the sourdough starter: 2 minutes
- Mixing the dough: 1 minute
- Kneading: 15 minutes (I lie; I only really kneaded for about 12 minutes, today)
- Cleaning up afterwards: 2 minutes.