Nothing like kneading

I recently decided to change from buying store-bought bread to only having homemade bread. I’m not sure what first made me decide to do this. I think it was a combination of wanting to eat healthier, seeking to spend less money, and starting to re-watching Little House on the Prairie! The first thing I did was look at an old bread recipe book that was left in our old house by an elderly couple. It had lots useful tips and interesting information, for example:

  • Yeast is a living plant that gives off bubbles of gas, which is what causes the rising of the bread. There are different kinds of yeast used to make bread and you need to make sure to find out what kind you are using, and use it correctly.
  • Flour (especially strong bread flour) contains gluten, which stretches like an elastic network to trap the gas bubbles from the yeast. There are also different kinds of flour, with differing amounts of gluten.
  • Sugar (or honey) can be used to help activate yeast, as well as adding a nice flavour to the bread.
  • Different liquids can affect the bread in different ways. Milk makes a softer crust than water.
  • Salt adds flavour, but is also useful in helping to control the yeast’s action.
  • A ‘preliminary mix’ is useful for developing the gluten in your dough.
  • The best way to knead bread is to push it away from you, using the heel of your hands, and then fold it back over itself, turn a quarter turn, and repeat. Kneading should be done until the dough is smooth and elastic. Kneading done by hand should go on for at least 10 mins (yes, this is exhausting, but fun too!)
  • The dough needs to rise in a warm, draft-free spot. It should rise until doubled. A good test to see if it has risen long enough is to make about a 1/2 inch indent with two fingers. If it bounces back, it needs more rising; if the indent remains, it’s ready.
  • To get the dough out of the bowl easily, punch in the middle and pull the edges in, then turn out.
  • To test if it is ready to bake, gently touch the dough. It should feel light and springy.
  • To test if it is baked through, tap the loaf – it should sound hollow.
  • Cool bread on a wire rack.

After gaining this useful background knowledge on bread making, I checked out the recipes. There were many exciting varieties, but before getting adventurous I wanted to start with a basic wholemeal bread, suitable for everyday use. Unfortunately, there was no such thing! The closest recipe in the book was a part white/part wholemeal loaf, which used quite a few different ingredients – not what I was after.

Perusing my goal of a simple, easy and healthy wholemeal loaf, I called up my Granny! She has told me many times before that she can’t understand why she – and everyone else – doesn’t make bread more often, as it’s so easy. I also knew she only uses wholemeal flour. Over the phone I jotted down some quick instruction and ingredients. If you know my Gran, you know that she NEVER follows a recipe, or even measures her ingredients, so as you can imagine my directions were a little vague! Still, excited and determined I went ahead and followed them.

I loved the simplicity of the recipe from Granny – she uses just water, wholemeal flour and salt. Nice and cheap, nice and healthy. My first attempt at making a loaf was…. interesting! The dough was definitely too sticky, and I ended up throwing away about half of it which was stuck to my hands, my arms, the bowl, the board, and more! It was also too floppy to properly shape into a loaf, but I cooked it, and it tasted okay. I tried the recipe again another 3 times over the next week or so, each time with slightly different results. They all tasted okay, but none of them were easy to work with, which made the process very long (due to extended clean up time) and awkward. So I decided to turn to Google, and look for something which used Granny’s ingredients, but gave me more specific instructions!

As usual, Google had just want I was after. I found a few good-looking recipes, and have now made two loaves (well, almost – the second one is in the oven baking as I type!), with great success. The recipe I settled on and I like best is this one. Although it calls for sugar, I expect that could be left out. I haven’t experimented with it yet, as I wanted a few successful tries just following the recipe exactly so that I gain experience and know what the dough is supposed to look and feel like. I’m looking forward to trying out some variations soon, and will probably start with fruit bread and cinnamon rolls.  YUM!

Homemade Wholemeal Bread

Latest successful loaf of bread!

If you are thinking of making bread, all I can say is: DO IT! It’s fun, it’s healthy, it’s cheap (though you can buy ready-made bread at about the same price if you are buying the cheapest, but then that’s not healthy), and it’s really good exercise too! My arms are killing me today, but I look forward soon boasting bread making muscles as fine as Ma Ingalls 🙂

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