Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Hand-Made Bread and Breadmaker Bread: The Great Debate

My chum "Linnet" asked me a few questions about bread making which I have been pondering during my bout of bronchitis. It really got me thinking about the practical side of bread making, how to make it easier on the beginner and how to make it a viable activity for the modern homemaker. First, let me say that I bake because I enjoy it, in fact I'm one of those people who doesn't feel quite right unless I've got some project or other on the go! So I bake, knit and garden just as much for my own pleasure (if not more) than as an act of service for my family...it's just a happy synthesis that I can combine pleasure with service, but I do understand that not everybody has the inclination to faff about in the kitchen to the extent that I do!lol! So instead of waxing lyrical about the complexities of the noble art of baking I'm going to give a few handy tips to speed up the process of hand baking *or* get the best out of your breadmaker.

Breadmaker Baking
Breadmakers are wonderful because they really do take the faff and uncertainty out of producing a cheap and healthy family loaf. You pop in your ingredients and press a button and hey presto, an hour (or four) later you have a good, homemade loaf. However, you do often end up with a whacking great hole in the middle of the bread, and more importantly for me, the bread is always, always too sweet. I have experimented with getting my breadmaker bread to rise without all of that sugar and I have found that you can easily reduce the amount recommended by a third, but unfortunately the bread still tastes too sweet.

However, I do have something of a solution. Many times I have used my breadmaker to knead and rise a "normal" loaf but not bake it. That is to say, I've used the recipe for normal, hand-baked bread, set the breadmaker to it's setting for pizza dough or bread rolls, waited for the beep, removed the risen dough, punched it down, popped it in a bread tin, given it its second rise and baked it conventionally. This has worked well for me, but you must remember to put the ingredients in the breadmaker in the order that the manufacturer of the machine recommends *and* double up on the amount of yeast needed in the hand baking recipe.

Hand Made Bread
I like making my bread by hand...generally! Sometimes I love to knead it for ten minutes and sometimes I think that kneading is a complete bind. Anyway, I have developed some useful tips for successful hand baking...and here they are!
  • If you warm the flour through on the lowest setting of your oven for ten minutes before you start to make your bread, you will only have to knead the bread for three minutes rather than ten or fifteen.
  • There *is* a difference between easy blend yeast and normal dried yeast so read the instructions on the packet really carefully. One you can mix as a powder into the flour and one will have to be dissolved in warm liquid. I have found this out personally, much to my cost!
  • Always cover your dough with either a damp tea towel or some oiled cling film whilst it's rising. If you don't your dough will form a crust and not rise as well as it should.
  • For a quick rise you can place your dough in an oven which is still cooling down after use, keep the door open though as very strong heat will kill the yeast. Or place it in an airing cupboard or in a sink full of warm water...or just by a radiator. Be patient though as it will take at least an hour.
  • My friend Simmy, from Echoes of a Dream bakes her bread under a large ceramic bowl. This is a tip she got from Elizabeth David and it does in fact, make for a better rise.
What is your experience of bread making? Do you have any tips that you'd like to share?


Anonymous said...

No tips really for me. You've covered them all. I do prefer wet teatowel if I'm making from scratch to clingfilm...I've tried both and the clingfilm method is messy and IMO wasteful. I let my bread rise on our living room windowsill in the past as our garden is south facing. It speeded up the process somewhat. I haven't made from scratch with no breadmaker for so long.

But I very rarely make it from scratch...mainly because I'm lazy. But you are right it does have a big hole in the bottom which is a pest, it's rather crumbly and is cakey in texture and taste...but even so I do like breadmaker. But I must admit handmade is better.

Anonymous said...

Actually, you have given me some wonderful tips right here. :) I am a novice, having needed to cook gluten-free for many years now due to wheat allergies.

I have just started back into bread (wheat) baking for the rest of the family who does NOT have wheat issues. It is an entirely different ballgame, and definitely I needed some "insider" tips! :)

So nice to meet you!

Anonymous said...

re-reading my comment I thought I'd clarify, when I say I rarely make from scratch I mean handmade bread opposed to breadmaker bread.

'...even so I like breadmaker.' I mean even so I like breadmaker bread.

I do often buy shop bought bread, it depends how busy I am, etc.

TTFN Me deario.

Zillah said...

Well, it's really DH who is the baker, I'm just the grateful recipient, but a few things strike me. One, we have also done baking under a ceramic bowl, in fact we even commissioned a potter to make us some 'bonnets' with handles on the top. Not cheap, but functional and very beautiful.

Also, I know that DH sets great store by two books. Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters and Dan Lepard's Handmade Loaf are rarely a day resting on the shelf before they're picked up again. I think for a practical modern look at the subject they're probably more use than Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery, although it is a fantastic look at the subject and a wonderful history of baking in this country. Great pan-au-chocolat recipe too :)

Happy baking!


Dulce Domum said...

Hi Linnet
My garden and kitchen is north facing...one of the worst things about my house, so I am always on the lookout for good places to rise a loaf. I have a Morphy Richards breadmaker (10 years old) and the bread is sweet but has a good texture. Could it be the make of your breadmaker which makes the bread crumbly?

Hi Holly
Thank you for visiting! I'm glad you found the post helpful. Let me know how you get on!

Hi Zillah
Are you trying to make me covet another one of your kitchen gadgets??? Your bread dome sounds fab! I do the ED tip when I *feel* unhurried, simply because the potential for burnt fingers is pretty high, so the dome (with its handle) sounds like a great idea. I am a big fan of ED and Jane Grigson, as you probably know, but I'll try those books you mentioned...I will not go to Amazon, I will go to the library...

JACKet said...

I love making bread, the children love it to, their favourite part, is knocking it down. I prove my bread in the car, its just so toasty and warm, though sometimes very hot, but when its to hot to prove in the car, its to hot to be baking bread. Jacky

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Jacket
Thank you for visiting! I never thought of proving the bread in the car...although in this house there is a danger of DH driving off with a load of bread dough on the back seat!lol!