Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Nome Makes Bread

Breadmaking is another of those self-sufficientish kinda things I've always meant to try but only recently got round to. Of course, one day I'd like to have a bash at growing my own little patch of wheat, and grinding my own fresh flours, but for now it'd be nice just to eat real bread that isn't stuffed with preservatives, stabilisers and other unnecessaries.

So for the past few weeks I've been experimenting with Jim Lahey's 'no-knead' breadmaking method (inspired by Monica over at SmarterFitter). It's just my kind of recipe; perfect for busy modern folk, or just lazy ones... What you do need to do, however, is plan ahead; instead of kneading, the dough is left to sit and do its yeasty thing for up to 26 hours (minimum about 13), so you generally need to start the day before. The other thing you need is a heavy ovenproof pan with a lid - this makes a great crust by holding the heat and steaming the bread in its own moisture.

I really can't stress enough how easy this is. It uses only the most basic of ingredients: flour, fast-action yeast, salt and water - and it takes just three or four minutes to mix the ingredients together, then five or six minutes to fold the dough and put it in a pan later. Then it's just a case of switching the oven on and off when required.

You can find Monica's recipes here - she's been doing this a lot longer than me - but I've been keeping it perhaps even simpler. Also of interest is this article on Jim Lahey's technique. If you fancy trying the recipe below, also bear in mind you may have to alter cooking times and temperatures depending on your oven - it took a bit of experimentation before I found what worked best for me (and I tweaked things to get a slightly softer crust).


No-Knead Bread
(makes a 750g loaf, approx.)

  • In a large bowl, mix together 470g bread flour (including seeds if required), 10g (1 tbsp) sea salt, 1/4 tsp quick yeast, and 350ml water. Wholemeal flours absorb more water so you might need a bit extra. You can't really make it too wet so don't worry.
  • Cover (I use a plate or baking tray, to save on the plastic wrap) and leave for 12-24 hours. After that time it should have roughly doubled in size, and will be full of big air bubbles. A bit like this:

  • Tip the dough out onto a well-floured surface, with well-floured hands! Stretch the ends out and fold them one over the other, like folding a business letter into thirds. Then turn the dough 90 degrees and do the same again.
  • Pop the dough, seam side up, in an oiled pan (remember to use a heavy pan with a lid) and let rest for another one to two hours.
  • Then place it in a cold oven and turn up to 240C. After 25 minutes turn down to 200C. After another 35 minutes, take the lid off the pan to let the top crisp up. Then after another 5 minutes, remove from the oven. (Wholemeal flours need up to 10 minutes longer in the oven.)
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Mmmm, can you smell it? This bread has great flavour due to the long fermentation time. The texture is slightly different to what I expected - more springy than fluffy like some artisan breads - but it's lovely. And it's easy to slice - bonus!

I started out using my 24cm cast iron casserole dish, but of course I got a very wide flat loaf - not ideal for sandwiches or the toaster.

So I tried making the bread in a 19cm cake tin inside the casserole dish, and it worked a treat!

And of course, one of the great things about making your own bread is trying out different types or mixes of flour. I've made white, I've made wholemeal, I've made my own mixes using different types of seeds, but the very best I've made was with this Allinson speciality flour: a white seeded mix. It's delish!

Now, other than being delicious, satisfying and easy to make, there are two more things I need from my home-baked bread. I need it to be cheap, and I need it to be healthy.

My shop-bought bread of choice costs £1.25 a loaf and lasts around four days. A 1.5kg bag of Sainsbury's-own bread flour costing £1.05 makes three loaves, each lasting two days. The cost of the yeast is less than 1p per loaf and the cost of the salt is around 5p per loaf. So my loaves using this flour come in at about 41p each, or 82p for the four days a store-bought loaf would last - not bad! (I should probably factor in the cost of the electricity used by the oven too, but I just don't have that much time on my hands...) However, speciality flours and seeds cost quite a bit more; the flour pictured above costs £1.10 for 1kg, making two loaves. That's £1.22 for the four days - still cheaper but only just.

Results are pleasing on the health front too (and of course, we know it has no funny chemicals in it). My bread (even with 100% white flour, the least healthy choice), has a few calories less than the shop-bought loaf per 100g (207 vs 235), and slightly less fat (1g vs 2.5g). It has more sodium though (500mg vs 390mg), so I think the next thing to experiment with is bringing that down slightly. However, my bread is denser so two slices actually weighs around 50% more than the shop-bought stuff. Hmmm. And there's always the danger I'll eat more of it, because it's so tasty! I'll have to be sure to cut my slices thin and not get carried away!

Edit: This calorie information is wrong - I totally miscalculated the weight of the water content. My bread is actually much lower in calories! I'll work on figuring out how many...

On the whole, it's a triumph all round. If you don't already make your own bread, give it a try!


Martin and Amy said...

Wow! Delicious!!

Paul and Melanie said...

Mmmmmmm looks lovely! I've not made bread for a while now, think it's time to re-start.

If you're looking for a good book on bread making you could get far worse than the River Cottage handbook on bread by Daniel Stevens. That's pretty much my bready bible. :)

Monica said...

Well, I am both humbled and thrilled to receive such a mention on your blog - I'm so glad you've enjoyed making your own bread. It really is the best thing ever! I love experimenting with flours and I've found a surprising fondness for Waitrose Organic Malted Grain. The recipe on the bag (hold the walnuts - a weird addition if you ask me) is excellent, though does require a tad bit of kneading. But on the upside, you get bread in 4 hours instead of 24. :-) I look forward to reading about your bread baking progress. Who knows, you might be making sourdough before you know it (yet another one of my experiments... the thing is, no knead bread is so good, i go back to it time and time again as my fail-safe recipe - everything else is a bit of a risk!).

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