Monday's are always a little boring really, a hard day at work followed by a tedious drive home and then trying not to pick up the laptop and continue working. But yesterday was very different indeed.
As with all great ideas last nights foray into bread making was conceived in the pub on Sunday. Richard Hutley (@LazyBakery) and I were discussing the bread making process and he kindly invited me to pop round last night and start my journey of discovery and learning in the world of bread making.
The first thing I would like to say about the process is that it is an art form mixed with some clever science and is as close to pure alchemy as I think anyone can get to in their own kitchen, I have a real respect for Richard's craft and skills and can only hope that one day I will get close to his level.
So the process, and I am not going to give any secrets away here but it was so interesting to learn I wanted to share it with you.
Weights & Measures
It's obvious really when you think about it that when baking you need to combine different ingredients at different weights & measures to result in any form of baked goods. But what really surprised me was the precision of not only the weights of each constituent part but the planning and care involved before any flour touches a bowl.
Also, and whilst last nights bake was just one type of bread, the difference in different bread types and their ingredients and methods of baking was a real eye opener.
Something as basic as the flour that is used is actually vitally important and has some key variables which make the choice of flour a real art, these variables consist of many different elements but a couple that I learnt last night were Protein levels, the weight of the flour grind and also where it has been produced all combine to make the process of selection relative to the bread you aim to produce.
And then there is the yeast, last night we used a dried yeast but apparently there are different types of yeast that can be used in the process. Again for the type of bread that you as a baker want to produce this can be an important decision.
Ingredients for My Granary Loaf
So after all of the preparation had been done and the decisions had been made we used the following ingredients for the loaf.
- White Bread Flour
- Malthouse Flour
- Cracked rye
- Dried Yeast
- Sunflower seeds
These were then expertly combined by Richard and the kneading process started, a surprising thing here was how wet the initial mix seemed to be I learnt that this is because the gluten in the dough would suck in the moisture and this would ensure the bread was light and baked well.
The process of kneading itself was at first tricky, the temptation being to put a lot of strength behind the process however I learnt that its best to use a little strength but at the same time ensure that the dough doesn’t tear whilst kneading and also to keep the dough moving as you do it. We kneaded the dough for about 10 mins and what we resulted in was this.
Proofing & Knocking Back
There are three steps to this process with the first being the longest, we used a proofing box which Richard as the expert baker he is has and the kneaded dough sat in it’s bowl for just over an hour until it had doubled in size.
The size increase is due to the yeast multiplying an acting on the starches which produces carbon dioxide gas.
At this point we took the dough out of the proofing box and knocked it back, this is the same process as kneading but the idea here is to de-gas the dough (remove the air) and then put it back into the proofing box for another 30 minutes.
After this period of time the dough is again removed and the process of dividing and shaping can take place.
Richard showed me a technique last night to prepare the dough for baking which involved folding and rolling the dough into a shape which could then mean that the dough could have a final rest in a Banneton this piece of bakeware allows the dough to take a final shape and pattern.
After a further 20 minutes or so the dough is ready for final shaping and slashing.
Slashing and Baking
Slashing the dough prior to the bake is incredibly important as without this process the dough may pop and burst out during the baking process and have a undesired oven spring.
oven spring The sudden increases in the volume of a dough during the first 10–12 minutes of baking, due to increased rate of fermentation and expansion of gases.
It is surprisingly difficult to get the slash right and I must admit I needed Richard to rectify my first attempt the trick is not to cut too deep or with too much pressure, to follow a central line and then also to create slashes along the side diagonally to allow the bake to expand the dough in a controlled manner.
Then after all of the work and process we it was time to place the dough, mixed, proofed, shaped & slashed into the oven. Richard showed me a technique using semolina on the bottom of the loaf to make it easier to get the bread in and out of the oven and also to ensure that there was a well formed crust on the bottom of the loaf.
Also, surprisingly, the introduction of water when placing the dough into the oven to great steam this helps create a great crust on the bread.
Richard as you would expect has a specially designed bread oven with heavy stones in for baking which was a real treat to use and after all of the above process and care we produced this
As I have almost certainly said, I really enjoyed the process of baking last night and it was really great to share a couple of bottles of wine and learn from Richard who is passionate about his craft and the process.
I definitely have the bug now and hope to spend more time learning from Richard and honing my skills in bread making.