There is something magical and special about bread that I can’t really explain.
Using your hands to mix ingredients together and make the dough. You then wait patiently knowing that, even if the dough is resting, there’s life inside it. Something is happening. There is nothing better than the smell of freshly baked loaf, the crunchiness of its crust: I was fascinated by the whole process since I made my first steps working in a bakery.
Have you ever managed to walk back home with a freshly baked baguette, sticking out of your food shopping bag, without eating at least a little piece.. I can’t resist it!
In Italy we usually have a basket of bread on the table during our meals. Bread goes together with many hot dishes, like soups or sauces, but also very often sliced and presented with cold meat and cheeses or fresh tomato, basil and garlic for the traditional Bruschetta. Everyone has his/her favourite kind of bread, mine is Toscano, unique in its simplicity, just flour, yeast and water.
Bread ingredients: flour
The best flour for bread-making is the white strong flour, derived from wheat, which contains high percentage of proteins: when mixed with water they generate gluten, which gives right elasticity to the dough.
Wholemeal flour is made using the whole wheat grain, bran and germ can be grind together or separated and added in the end of the process. Other type of flour used for bread making are: malt flour, Graham flour, dark flour, rye flour, buckwheat flour, barley flour (very popular in England).
Bread ingredients: yeast
Yeast is the substance which allow the dough to start the fermentation and grow. The transformation start with the production of carbon dioxide, which generate little pockets of air inside the dough. Fresh meat is usually mixed with warm water and sugar (or honey) before being added to flour. Conventional dry yeast is usually left in warm water to rest until it becomes foamy. Ready to use dry yeast can be added straight into flour. Natural yeast is what we call “Mother Dough”, it’s a base made of flour and water, left for fermentation for at least two days (but also one week) and added to the dough when stable. I will explain this interesting process in the future.
Yeast need warmth, if mixed to water the right temperature is 38 degrees. If you have no thermometer you can always mix 300 ml of boiling water with 600 ml of cold water and you’ll have the right temperature. While mixing yeast with water you can also add sugar or honey, this will give the necessary food to the yeast in order to start working. The right temperature for the dough in order to rest properly and grow is between 24 and 27 degrees.
Other bread ingredients
Water or milk (if you want it softer), salt (mixed with flour, makes the yeast action slower, controlled and uniform), sugar, butter or eggs (for a richer type of bread), fruit, fat, spices, herbs.
Making the bread: the process with fresh yeast
Mix 15 gr. of yeast in a little container with 450 ml of warm water. Sift 820 gr. of strong flour with 5 gr. of salt. If you are using fat you can add it to the flour. Add the mix yeast and start mixing with a spoon and after one minute start using your hands on a flat surface. When the dough is smooth and elastic it’s time to let it rest until it will double in size (usually one hour and a half).
Work the dough again for another 8-10 minutes pushing out all the air. using your hands you can shape the loaf and leave it to rest for another 45 minutes. Before it goes in the oven do two or three little cuts on loaf’s surface in order to improve the baking. Oven needs to be already hot (200-220 degrees). Baking time is usually 35-45 minutes. How do you know the right moment for the bread to come out? This is the hardest thing: knock it on the bottom, if it doesn’t sound “empty” it’s not ready, crust should be golden brown and crunchy. Remember to be patient and give some time to the bread in order to rest when it comes out of the oven!