I’ve just come home and the aroma and scent of freshly made bread wafts through the house, welcoming me with its unique scent and tantalising effect. The aroma of fresh bread is meant to entice people to buy houses, or so I’ve been told by those in real estate. But to me, the warming scent makes me feel like I’m home, and I guess that’s the angle the real estate agents are taking too.
I made a loaf of wholegrain bread before I left home today, and I left the loaf on the bench to cool while I was away. I’ve just indulged myself in a slice or two for lunch (just with a slice or two of cheese) and now I’m sitting back, with a cuppa of course, and reflecting on what it is that might be the secret to good, no great, bread.
Here’s my take on it.
I think the secret to great bread begins with your expectations of what you want the end product to be. For instance, you will have a different experience of ‘great bread’ if you expect it to be cheap, if you want it to be white, if you want volume, if you want it crispy and crunchy, if you want it soft, if you want it flavoured and if you want it gluten free or full of wholegrains.
You may also have expectations on taste, shape, time it takes to make, the size and style of the bread you want to make or eat, as well as the country of origin, the ingredients and the different methods available to make what is essentially the accompaniment to everything the world over (can you think of a country or continent that doesn’t have a bread product of some type, size or shape?).
For me, great bread has these definitions;
- It’s cheap to make.
- It’s simple to make.
- I can use the ingredients I have on hand, or can buy easily.
- I am able to freeze the end product.
- It has to be more than plain white (a change from the old me, can I just say).
Another secret, I believe, to making great bread is how much water or liquid you add to the mix. From my experiences in making bread I will always add too much water (or milk) and then gradually add back in some flour during the kneading stage. I do this because dry dough means a dry dense loaf at the end, and vice versa, a wetter loaf means a lighter loaf at the end. Although, having said that, it really depends on what you want to make, because a denser dough for a pizza base works better because it has more strength and you can use heavier toppings.
I don’t use what they call ‘bread flour’. You can buy it from the supermarkets but the point of making bread for me is that I am saving money on each loaf I make (as well as leaving artificial ingredients and preservatives out of my life, but that’s another post). If I buy the fancy flour I’m not really saving any cash in the end. But if I buy regular flour, which at Aldi is 79 cents a kilo, it saves me plenty of cash that I can then spend on other treats or days out with my husband. You can also get a product called bread improver but I haven’t used this as yet and I don’t know anything about it.
To make the dough have some flavour, for example if you want to eat it by itself, then you need to add some salt and some oil. In my experimentation I have found that you need 1 teaspoon of salt to make the yeast activate, but 2 teaspoons of salt (per 2 cups of flour) makes the bread taste nicer. 3 teaspoons made the bread salty and it was kind of weird to eat it that way. I add the oil by greasing the bowl when proving and mixing it through in the kneading (so it’s not much at all, maybe 1-2 tablespoons at most) and depending on the type of bread I’m making or the tin I’m using, I will grease the tin to get extra flavour as well. A great tip is to use the oil that comes in the jar of sun-dried tomatoes as this gives a really great taste and a great colour to the finished loaf.
And don’t think that you have to use a different recipe for different types of bread. For instance, I have made white loaves, mixed (half white, half wholemeal), wholemeal and mixed grains loaves all using the same recipe. But I didn’t stop there. I have made different shaped loaves and have made bread rolls all from that same basic recipe. I’ve even made flavoured loaves (cheese, sun-dried tomato and olive is the favourite in my household) as well as foccacias, pizza bases and grissini too. It only differs on when I add the yeast to the flour; before or after activation.
See what I mean, it’s got to be simple!
The biggest secret, which really isn’t a secret, to making great bread is to find a recipe that works for you and to practice it as often as you like so that you can do it with your eyes closed. At first I wasn’t sure if I was making the bread too wet. But I learnt to recognise when it was perfect. I didn’t know whether I was kneading it for long enough, but less kneading tended to work better. I wasn’t sure when the loaf was cooked but I’ve realised that it depends on the shape and size and you really just have to take a guess. You’ll begin to feel when it’s right and to know what to look for.
And my last secret, which is more of a tip than a secret when making great bread: wait until your freshly baked bread is cooled down before you slice it. The sooner you slice it, the more mess you make of each slice and you start wondering if the bread is really cooked because the knife is making it clump together. This is especially essential when it’s a flavoured loaf. Alternatively, if you just want to dig in while it’s hot, just rip it apart and dig in!
There’s nothing better than warm bread, especially when it’s made at home!
Do you make your own bread?