I will often hear my wife say, “Don’t get him talking about bread, or he will be on about it all night.” She’s probably right. Anyone who has made the leap into making their own loaves, cobs or baps (whether it’s one or two per week or the hundreds and hundreds that we bake at Sweetharts) will know where I am coming from, don’t you?? I don’t care as I love baking and I love talking about it to anyone who will listen or anyone who is too polite to ignore me.
There is something so satisfying and quite earthy about being able to throw no more than 3 or 4 ingredients together to make bread that your mam, gran and great-gran would have made in much the same way as we do today. It’s messy at the beginning with fleeting thoughts of, “this can’t be right,” until it starts to come together and your hands go from claggy to clean as the dough reclaims all of its parts and allows you to start kneading. This is where the hard work starts, this is where you can either produce a loaf that is akin to a house brick or a loaf that is fluffy, bouncy and more-ish. I would allow at least 12 – 15 minutes of kneading or until you get a dough that is as silky as the finest French underwear.
Patience is a virtue they say, and allowing your dough time to prove is certainly going to put that to the test. As we know, staring at a kettle only means that it takes twice as long to boil and the same is true with proving dough. Just cover it and leave it on a bench or even in the fridge until it has doubled in size, as the longer the proving time, the better the flavour.
Forming and marking your loaf is like signing a letter: it’s quite personal to you. In all the best French bakeries the regular customers know which baker has been on shift just by the style of the marks they leave on their bread. Once you have formed your dough, let it double in size again and then put in it an oven a little hotter than you think is needed. I like to bake my bread so it has a crust that cracks and is dark enough to cause disagreement.
However, a top tip is to probe the centre of your bread and when it reads 200c/210c you can confidently take it out. Finally, pace back and forth holding your bread knife in anticipation for 15-20 minutes until the structure inside the loaf has had time to set before you cut into it. Then, as my Mam would say, “Put enough butter on it so you can see your teeth in it,” and enjoy.
If this article hasn’t stirred you into action, then forget it and come down to Sweetharts in Blackhill where we bake our bread daily, and pick up your fresh loaf from us.