Bread

The history of bread is concurrent with that of civilization. The remains of coarse-grained Stone Age bread have been

discovered. Some early breads were made from crushed acorns and beechnuts. Unleavened bread, in the form of flat cakes, was included in the diets of the early Egyptian, Hebrew and Chinese civilizations. The Egyptians were the first to

discover, no doubt by accident, fermented or leavened bread. The Romans developed public bakeries. Large-scale commercial

production of bread became possible towards the end of the nineteenth century by the development of special strains of yeasts.

Bread is one of the cheapest sources of food energy since it contains proteins, iron, calcium and B vitamins. Despite

controversy, there is no significant dif-ference between commercial brown and white bread. Although white flour has less

calcium, iron and B vitamins, these nutrients are added to white bread to enrich it.

Raised bread is overwhelmingly pre-ferred in Europe and in the United States. Unleavened or flat bread is still widely

eaten throughout Asia and Africa, in addition to raised bread.

Bread-Making

It is easy to buy a commercially made loaf of bread or even freshly baked bread from a bakery, but neither of these will

give you the sense of satisfaction you will have when your family and friends tuck into a loaf of bread you have made

yourself.

Making bread is an art, but, contrary to some opinion, it can be easily mastered. Bread recipes vary considerably and the general guidelines set out here will not fit all of them exactly, but if you understand what each ingredient is meant to

do and what the techniques are, you will be on your way to successful bread-making.

Flour

The type, or types, of flour you use for your bread is really a matter of personal taste, but the best flours for both

bread and yeast doughs are milled from hard wheat. These flours have a high gluten

content which produces a more elastic springy dough, while soft-wheat flours make a rather sticky dough.

Almost all the white flour sold com-mercially is soft household flour. Health food stores, however, usually stock

wholewheat flour, stone-ground flour, 100 percent wholemeal flour (the whole grain of the wheat with nothing removed and nothing added) and 85 percent or 90 percent wholemeal flour (the husk and the bran removed). And some stores and supermarkets sell strong plain or baker’s white flour which is particularly good for bread-making.

You can mix several different kinds of flour together. For example, you can make a good loaf of pale brown bread if you

use a mixture of 4 ounces of 100 percent wholemeal flour and 12 ounces of ordinary soft household flour. Even better bread

is produced if you use 85 percent or 90 percent wholemeal flour with strong plain or baker’s white flour in the same proportions.

When making bread, it is best if the temperature of the flour is the same as that of the room and of the liquid used in the recipe. If the flour is too cold, you can warm it in the oven.

Yeast

The most important thing to remember about yeast is that it is a living cell which must be provided with a ‘friendly’

environment if it is to do its job properly.

Yeast is a very tiny fungus which grows by sending off buds to form new plants, and by forming spores which may also

become new plants. As yeast grows it gives off carbon dioxide gas. This gas, when the yeast is mixed into the dough, causes the elastic cell walls of the gluten in the flour to expand-the phenomenon of the dough rising.

The yeast also gives off alcohol which, if growth is allowed to continue too long, develops into acetic acid and causes the dough to become sour. The heat of baking, however, drives off the alcohol.

Controversy still rages over fresh yeast versus dried yeast. Fresh bakers’ yeast or compressed yeast {not brewers’ yeast)

is sold by health food shops and by some bakers and supermarkets. Because the plants in fresh yeast are active and alive

it is highly perishable and can be kept only for four to five days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Fresh

yeast should feel cool and like putty to touch. It should be grey in colour and practically odourless. When you use it, it should break with a clean edge and crumble easily. Do not use yeast that is

dry or sour-smelling or has dark streaks.

Dried yeast in granule form (activated dried yeast) will keep for 6 months in a cool place because the plants are inert and will not become active until they are mixed with a warm liquid.

The quantity of yeast given in all our bread recipes is for fresh yeast. If you prefer to use dried yeast, the conversion

is quite simple-half the quantity. In other words, use 1 ounce of fresh yeast or ½ ounce of dried yeast. As a guide, use ½

ounce of fresh yeast for 1 to 1

½ pounds of flour and 1 ounce of fresh yeast for 3 pounds of flour.

Yeast is destroyed by extreme heat- over 110°F. If you add hot water to yeast, or try to speed up the rising process by

leaving the dough in a very hot place, the yeast will be killed. You can use cold water to dissolve the yeast and leave the dough to rise in the refrigerator overnight (this prolongs the rising process), but the yeast will develop most

satisfactorily if the room temperature, the temperature of the flour and the temperature of the liquid are all between

75°F and 85°F. Sugar

Sugar provides food for the yeast which helps it to grow and also adds flavour to the bread. Sugar also plays a part in

browning the crust. If there is not very much sugar in the dough, the yeast will use it all in making carbon dioxide and alcohol, and the baked bread will not be golden brown.

Too much sugar, however, retards the yeast’s activity and the dough will take longer to rise. Liquid

The moisture in the dough is supplied by water or milk or a mixture of the two, and may be cold when it is added. The

ideal temperature, however, is lukewarm (80°F to 85°F). Test the milk on the inside of your wrist.

Milk should be scalded (brought to just under the boiling point) and then cooled to lukewarm before it is added to the flour. This scalding destroys certain bacteria in the milk which could cause the dough to sour. It also makes the dough

easier to handle. Salt

Salt should never be mixed directly with the yeast because it slows down the fermentation process. But a sufficient amount

of salt must be added to the dough or the bread will have a very uninteresting flavour. Eggs and butter or oil Eggs and butter or oil are variables. When eggs are added to the dough, as in sweet breads or French brioches, the finished bread

is richer and more yellow. Butter or oil increase the volume of the baked bread because the gluten network of the dough is lubricated so that it expands more smoothly and easily. Butter or oil also improve the flavour and keeping qualities of the bread.

Dissolving the Yeast

Crumble the yeast into a small bowl. Using a fork cream a small amount of sugar with the yeast and add a little luke-warm

water. Mix to a paste and set aside in a warm, draught-free place to ferment. At the end of 15 to 20 minutes the yeast

will be puffed up and frothy.

An alternative method is to add the yeast paste to a quarter of the specified amount of flour and mix it to a soft dough.

Cut a cross in the top of this yeast ball with a knife and set it aside in a warm, draught-free place for 20 to 30 minutes

to ferment. At the end of this time the yeast ball will be doubled in size.

If you are using dried yeast, dissolve a small quantity of sugar in lukewarm water in a small bowl or teacup and sprinkle

on the yeast. Leave it for

minutes to allow the yeast cells to separate, swell and become active.

The yeast is now ready to begin its work as soon as it is added to the dough. Mixing the Dough

Put the dry ingredients, the flour, salt and sugar, in a large warmed bowl. Make a well in the centre and into this pour the liquid ingredients, the dissolved yeast, milk and/or water, butter melted in the milk, or oil. Then, using your

fingers or a spatula, gradually draw the dry ingredients into the liquids and continue mixing until all the flour is incorporated and the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too soft and wet, more flour may be

worked in. Kneading

Turn the dough out of the bowl on to a floured board or marble slab to knead. This will thoroughly mix the flour with the liquid. The kneaded dough will hold in the gas bubbles manufactured by the yeast.

Fold the dough over on to itself towards you and then press it down away from yourself with the heels of your hands. Turn the dough slightly and fold and press it again. Continue kneading for about 10 minutes until the dough feels smooth and elastic. Dough made with hard-wheat flours requires a little more kneading than dough made with soft flour.

If the dough feels sticky while you are kneading, you may work in a little more flour, but be careful not to add too much

or the dough will become stiff. Rising

Shape the kneaded dough into a ball and place it in a lightly greased bowl. Sprinkle the surface of the dough with a little flour and cover the bowl with a damp cloth. The flour will prevent the dough from sticking to the cloth as it rises and the cloth is dampened to increase the humidity. Do not cover the bowl tightly because to grow the yeast needs air as

well as moisture, warmth and food. Place the bowl in a warm, draught-free place until the dough has almost doubled in

bulk.

If your kitchen is cold you may want to place the bowl on top of the stove with the oven on at cool 300°F (Gas Mark 2, 150°C).

Rising times vary greatly depending on temperature, the amount of yeast in the dough and the kind of flour used, but, generally speaking, 1 to ½ hours is adequate. The longer the fermentation, the better-flavoured and better-textured the bread will be. However, the dough should not be left to rise in a warm place for too long or it will become tough. You can

tell if this is happening because a crust will form on the top of the dough.

If you want to speed up the rising process, place the covered bowl on an oven rack over a pan of boiling water. But be

sure that the bottom of the bowl is not too close to the water or the heat will kill the yeast.

To test if the dough has risen sufficiently, press two fingers deep into the dough and withdraw them quickly. If the indentation remains the dough has risen enough.

If you are preparing the dough the day before the bread is to be baked, you can prolong the rising process by putting the covered bowl in a cool place or in the refrigerator for 8 to 10 hours or overnight. When the dough is fully risen it will

be lighter and more spongy than dough which has risen in a warm place. It will require more kneading the second time as

well as a longer proving. This slow rising method will, however, produce an excellent bread which will keep well.

Second Kneading

Push your fist into the centre of the dough and fold the edges to the centre. This punching down breaks up the large gas

pockets and makes available a new supply of oxygen for the yeast plants.

Turn the dough out of the bowl on to the floured work surface. Knead it thoroughly and vigorously for 2 to 3 minutes (a

larger batch of dough requires a longer kneading). This second kneading is more important than the first because it temporarily checks the action of the yeast.

Use a sharp knife to cut the dough into the number of loaves you are baking. With your hands, shape these pieces into

balls. Proving

What you are proving is that the yeast is still active. To do this the balls of dough are put into the greased tins and pushed out slightly so that they are roughly the shape of the tins. The tins should be only about half full. Sprinkle the surfaces of the loaves with a little flour. Cover the tins with a damp cloth and return them to a warm place for 45 to 60

minutes. During this time the dough will rise to the tops of the tins.

The proving may be done on an oven rack over a pan of boiling water, but be careful not to place the bottoms of the tins

too close to the hot water.

If you want your bread to have a shiny crust, instead of sprinkling the dough with flour, just before baking brush the tops of the loaves with a mixture of beaten egg and milk.

A country-style finish can be produced by making a criss-cross gash in the top of the dough with a heated, sharp knife or kitchen scissors. Baking

The bread must always be started in a hot oven so the oven should be preheated

to the correct temperature before the dough is put in to bake. Baking stops the fermentation of the yeast and evapo-rates the alcohol.

Place the tins in the centre of the oven and bake for 15 minutes. In this initial stage the loaf rises dramatically. This

is caused by the leavening gas expanding rapidly and the gluten cells stretching to accommodate it.

Transfer the tins to a lower shelf and reduce the oven heat. The gluten cells will gradually be set by the heat, and after

25 to 30 minutes the bread should be done, having shrunk slightly in the tins.

To increase the crustiness of the loaves, brush the tops of the loaves with lightly beaten egg white or cold water 10

minutes before the end of the baking time. For a soft crust, brush the tops with melted butter 10 minutes before the baking time is completed.

Remove the tins from the oven and turn the bread out, upside-down, on to a wire rack. Rap the bottoms of the loaves with

your knuckles. If they sound hollow, like a drum, the bread is cooked. If they feel soft, return them, upside-down, to the oven with the heat reduced and bake for a further 10 to 15 minutes.

A shiny, glazed crust, characteristic of French and Vienna bread or rolls, can be obtained by placing a flat pan of boiling water in the bottom of the oven just before the bread is put in and leaving the tin in the oven throughout the baking. The steam from the water forms a coating of moisture on the surface of the dough which gives it time to expand and develop a crust. Cooling

Bread should be cooled on a wire rack so that the air can circulate around it and prevent moisture from spoiling the crisp-ness of the crust.

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