Why baking bread isn’t rocket science…

Do cookery writers have some vested interest in making bread baking sound like rocket science? Hang on a minute, I suppose they do! ‘Bread making is an exact science’, ‘water must be weighed rather than measured to ensure accurate quantities’…? Anyone wondering how they’ve ever managed to turn out a half decent loaf?

There are several myths surrounding how to bake bread that are very likely to deter the majority of people from going within a foot of a bag of flour and some yeast! Below, I will try to reassure you that bread-making is not as precise and difficult as we are sometimes led to believe…

Weigh your Water?

– I don’t think so! Of course, there are quantities that it is prudent to stick to; but any recipe worth its salt will advise that different brands of flour absorb water differently, and so often it is better to go by the following simple rule: whilst combining your dry ingredients with water (mixing with one hand and pouring with the other), generally you have added enough when the dough begins picking up flour from the sides of the bowl, leaving it looking clean. Also, wetter dough is considered preferable to a dough which is too dry, so that little drop extra shouldn’t mean the death knell for your loaf! Just keep kneading it past that sticky phase (if you aren’t used to making bread this requires some faith and perseverance to begin with – but it will happen eventually!) and you should end up with a light and silky dough.

Dough in the Airing Cupboard?

-Not anymore! Recipes of old would suggest rising and proving dough in a warm, draft free airing cupboard (or similar). However, whilst it is true that a draft is the enemy of your dough, keeping it in the airing cupboard is no longer required in this day and age; when homes are generally well heated and insulated all the year round. A warm kitchen is absolutely fine for rising and proving your dough.

Over-kneaded?

If you are kneading your dough by hand over-kneading is nigh on impossible! If you’re using a mixer with dough-hook, you need to be a bit more careful! Check every few minutes and if your dough begins to feel dense it may be time to stop mixing! Generally, once your dough begins to become elastic; form a kind of cohesive skin on the outside; when it wants to come together in a ball rather than sticking to the surface, it’s ready to prove. The other test for how well you’ve developed the gluten in your dough (this being the main purpose of kneading), is the ‘gluten window’ test. Using two hands, pull the edges of your dough out leaving the majority to hang down. If the dough stretches far and thinly enough so that you can see light shining through (the ‘gluten window’) then the gluten is well developed. However, if it tears before the light can be seen through it, it needs more kneading!

To me, the art of baking your own bread is actually very forgiving. Adding a little bit of this and a touch of that often pays off and even if you end up with a disastrous loaf at the end, you will invariably know the reason why and adapt your recipe for next time… And what if you don’t? Well, then there’s an army of knowledgeable bloggers on hand to answer your every baking conundrum!