This is how I make hand made bread. It is rustic bread made with wholesome and simple ingredients; flour, water, yeast and salt; no improvers, milk, butter, oil, organic water, or the moon in certain phases. Nor does it need million dollar ovens, wood ovens or the like. You don’t even need to be French, Italian or Vietnamese. So here goes… and by the way measurements don’t have to be that precise if you are not inclined that way. The feel of the dough will tell you when the mixture is right.
THE RECIPE… enough to make two loaves…
- Six cups of flour - I use Lauke’s Wallaby flour… basically because I like high quality ingredients and nothing can beat the high protein wheat grown in the hot and dry South Australian climate. However, it doesn’t have to be all white flour so you can replace one or more cups with wholemeal or rye or whatever. Sometimes I’ll replace some of the plain flour with Lauke's Bread Mix if I’ve got some in the cupboard but it is far from necessary to do so.
- Two and half cups of cold water - that’s cold water, not hot or warm or tepid - cold
- One and a half tablespoons of Dry Yeast - I use Lowan's from Western Victoria.
- One teaspoon of salt.
Lauke Flour Mills have been making high quality flours since 1899 using the best of South Australia's grains. Wallaby flour is my favourite for home made bread.
Pile the flour In a large bowl… mine is an wide open stainless steel bowl. On one side of the flour spread the yeast and on the other the salt. Salt and yeast are like the Campbell’s and the MacDonald’s… they don’t mix well and will bludgeon each other to death with their bagpipes if put together…
The dried yeast on one side of the flour and the yeast on the other... salt kills yeast so it's best to keep them apart until the water is added and the dough making is commenced. My mixing spoon at the ready...
Next… add all the cold water in one go. Now I mostly mix the water into the flour with a wooden spoon which is probably easier and less messy until it is roughly together before I start kneading it by hand. Using a wooden spoon is also useful for scraping the wet flour that sticks off the side of the bowl into the mixture. If I’m not using a wooden spoon I simply spread out the fingers of one hand to resemble the legs of a Huntsman Spider and mix the water and flour together that way. It’s more fun but my hand gets covered in a sticky flour mixture. So dust your hands with flour before you do the hands-on stuff.
Here the flour, yeast, water and salt have been roughly mixed with a wooden spoon and the mixture is now ready for hand kneading which can be completed in the bowl or tip it out onto a flat surface.
One of the many extraordinary things about flour and water is that as it gathers together into a single lump it becomes smoother and nicer to handle but it also gathers up any loose flour stuck to the bowl, the bench top, your hands, face, the cat or the dog; and incorporates it into the dough. So although you start off with loose flour all over the place the dough eventually drags into itself any bits of flour that it comes into contact with.
I generally do all my kneading in my bowl but once it’s roughly together you can tip the lot onto a bench surface to do the final kneading there if you wish. I knead for about 10 minutes and there is a few little tricks to do this. Kneading is a very hands-on, tactile and strenuous activity… no need to go to the gym anymore… initially the mixture is unevenly wet, lumpy and separated (see above photo). As you knead it gradually combines into one lump and begins to smooth out. So it is a mind absorbing and soothing process of… pushing the dough down so it is flattened out somewhat, grab the lump at it’s 3-o’clock edge, rotate it 90° anti-clockwise… that’s counter clockwise… into the twelve o’clock position and then pull what is now the front edge up over its self and fold back into the rest of the lump. It all becomes a rhythm of; push down, grab, rotate a quarter turn, pull up and fold down. The pulling up and folding over stretches the gluten and is essential to provide the texture and rise of the bread.
The amount of water required to make the dough feel right changes depending on the type of flour, the humidity of the day, the temperature, the moon and maybe the colour of your socks… and last but not least the time you take in kneading. It's just one of the variables that is sometimes hard to predict. As you get the feel of the dough you will probably need to put more flour in as you go. If the lump get quite sticky on the hands then add a little more to your hands and to the bowl or bench top. Each time you add more flour you have to knead it in.
The dough is now fully kneaded and I have shaped it into a round ball. At this stage the dough is silky smooth to the touch but has a slightly textured surface. If you push two fingers into it the dough should rebound quickly.
It’s ready to commence the first rise when the dough feels right; smooth texture and consistency; not too dry or wet… you will get the feel of it. This shape is formed by holding the dough in both hands and stretching the surface downwards and under itself, continuing until it is roughly in the shape of a ball… it looks to me like a human brain when it’s in the right shape.
Back into the stainless steel bowl, cover in cling film, and mow the lawns, go far a walk with the dog, meditate in a state of mindfulness... or whatever until the dough doubles or so....
I have a slightly smaller stainless steel bowl as it is fractionally wider than the cling film. I first put in a little olive oil and spread around the surface and sides… it allows the dough to be removed easily when it’s finished its first rise. Put the ball of dough in the middle, cover it in cling wrap leaving a tiny air gap. If the dough gets too much air it will form a dry crust. Leave in a cold place… yes a cold place (warm if you are really in a hurry but bread making is not about being in a hurry)… allow the dough to prove slowly… the slower the better… When it’s doubled or got bigger; an hour or two or more depending on the temperature it’s time to shape into the final loaves.
Tip the dough ball onto a floured bench and knead it flat, fold and knead etc., for a minute or so. Cut it into two lumps with a sharp knife. Roughly shape the dough into a elongated ball shape by stretching the sides downwards under the dough much as you did for the first rise. Place on a baking tray covered with baking paper and leave for about one hour to complete the second rise.
Warm the oven beforehand to 230°C (fan-forced). Before you put the tray in the oven make two diagonal slashes across the tops of each loaf with a very sharp knife. This allows the bread to rise further, gives it a nice appearance and provides a better crust. After about 18 - 20 minutes turn the temperature down to about 150°C and cook for another 20 minutes or so.
The aroma of freshly baked bread will excite everyone's appetite...so the finished product doesn't last long. These loaves have a thick crunchy crust, pleasantly textured inside and is sensational with just butter...
Remove from the oven and place on a tray to cool. You are now hooked. It’s important to take the time to admire and be appreciative of what you have made; it’s shape, colour, texture and aroma. As I write this I have just removed a couple of loaves from the oven. Each time they are always original and I never fail to appreciate the amazing fact that from a few basic everyday ingredients combined with the natural processes of yeast results in a nutritious, delicious and wholesome food that has sustained people over many thousands of years.
For this time I placed half of the dough in a baking tin. Spread a little olive oil before putting in the dough and it will come out easily.
Like all creative journeys bread making is an enlightening and satisfying endeavour; learning, changing, talking, experimenting, and observation and is great to share with family and friends. But most of all take the time to be involved, use the time for Mindfulness and you will not only satisfy your physical needs but your emotional and spiritual ones as well.