Basic Bread Dough

I thought I’d start with something very simple, but also something that is easily adjusted to suit different tastes: Bread. I rarely make just wheat bread, instead I always add bit of semolina, oats, polenta, rye, or barley to my bread dough. Or maybe even some potato and dill, or nice strong cheese, like Emmental or Cheddar. Or olives, or sun dried tomatoes or…. you name it! Anything that I happen to fancy at the time!

For the basic bread dough you’ll need:

500ml warm water

30g fresh yeast or 10g dry yeast

15g fine sea salt

10g castor sugar

800g strong flour or 650g flour and 150g semolina/polenta/rye/oats..etc.

(olives/sun dried tomatoes/herbs according to taste)

(if you want to make potato bread, use a big floury one grated fine and reduce the flour amount a small bit)

Now, there are a few things to bear in mind when making bread. First, if you use dry yeast the ideal temperature for the water will be about 40 celsius, for fresh yeast it will be 30 celsius. Second, there are different levels of ground flour and the best for baking yeast based bread is fine ground flour, that contains mostly the grains inner part, which when baking has the best viscose abilities that are essential for good end result. In Ireland the best flour available in supermarkets is strong flour. If you’re in a different country the best way to find the right flour is simply to look at the recipe suggestion on the back of the packet, if it’s for bread, then you have the correct one! Also what to bear in mind that all flour brands have different absorbing capabilities, (it can even vary with one brand from  year to year) therefore only add 90% of the flour amount stated on the recipe and the rest bit by bit, or you might even end up adding more than advised on the recipe.

I use sugar in my bread because it “feeds” the yeast, it’s a great little bit of inside information that I learned in college. You wont taste it and your bread will rise better!

So, throw your ingredients together and knead for about 8-15mins. The kneading time depends on whether you do it by hand or let your mixer do the work. If you use mixer, use the dough hook. I bought myself a Kenwood mixer and it is wonderful for speeding things up. Your dough should be moist, but not wet and it should not stick to your hands, work surface or the bowl too much. Once the dough has nice viscosity (it’s elastic, and bounces back when stretched) you’ll know it’s good to be left to rest for about 20mins under a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap (to keep in the moisture and heat).

From this recipe you can make two equal size loaves, or about 14 bread rolls (or less, if you like bigger ones)

Leave to rise for about one hour in warm place, again under a cloth or cling film. Flour the surface of the bread so it wont stick when rising, or sprinkle with semolina, polenta, oats, etc. This way you’ll get really lovely rustic looking bread once baked. The ideal temperature for rising bread is about 37 celsius with about 60-70% humidity, if you can create those conditions, you’ll only need 45mins!

Bake in 200 degrees celsius for 20mins for bread rolls and approx. 40mins for bigger loaves. You have to use common sense when assessing whether the bread is done or not for the simple reason that some ovens are more efficient than others! What I normally do is to set the oven for 35mins and keep checking after that. Thoroughly baked bread will have lovely golden brown colour, sound hollow when knocked on the base and smell absolutely gorgeous!

© 2011 Simon Bates Photography

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