There are very few basic things that go into bread baking. Flour, a liquid, sweetener, salt , yeast and some form of fat. So what can really go wrong? The wrong happens when we don’t understand our ingredients.
First and most important thing to keep in mind is that whole wheat flour has very little quantity of gluten which is the ingredient responsible for the elasticity of dough. The difference in textures of bread, short bread and cake is basically due to the difference in gluten formation. Cake has the lowest amount and bread the highest. So to bring elasticity to my whole wheat bread, I add a little plain flour to the dough. This recipe for bread is 66 % whole wheat. If you are a beginner, you can start with 50-50 % of both flours.
The second thing that makes softer breads is kneading the dough with milk instead of water. In my experience, dough made with water yields a crusty loaf with a fairly dense crumb while milk gives bread a rich and tender crumb and a softer crust.
Since yeast is reluctant to dissolve in whole milk because of the fat, try skim milk instead or dissolve yeast first in 1/4 cup warm water and then add milk with other ingredients.
Honey is a great sweetener for breads, but there is a little problem. Honey has antiseptic properties, and some honeys can kill yeast. The first time you use a fresh jar of honey, make sure you test it with your yeast. If it proofs ( bubbles should form when you add yeast to warm water and honey in a few minutes) then you can use the rest of the jar without a worry.
Always check the expiry on the yeast packet. Never dilute yeast in hot water, too much heat kills the yeast. Butter and oil lubricate the gluten and increase loaf volume. Bread will have a softer crumb and crust, and a longer shelf life.
It’s better to add fat after the dough has been kneaded. If fat is added to the dough too early, it can coat the flour and keep the gluten from forming.
Allow the dough to rest for a few minutes before kneading which gives the flours time to absorb the liquid and makes the dough easier to work with.
Some flavours and seasonings help increase the activity of yeast while others hinder it. Cardamom, ginger and thyme increase the yeast activity.
Finally, the big question. Why bake your own bread? The answer is real simple. The real advantage of baking your own bread is that it’s up to you to decide what goes into it. The commercially churned out breads use high speed mixing, high levels of yeast and sometimes enzymes are employed to force the dough to rise quickly, rather than allowing the bread to ferment and ripen in its own good time. In some cases it is sprayed with chemicals to prevent the growth of mould. In case of whole wheat bread even food colouring can be added to give it a look of whole wheat when it’s not.
Baking bread at home makes your home smell wonderfully cosy. The taste and nutritional value of home made bread is far better. You can be creative with flavours and seasonings, and above all bread making is very relaxing…almost therapeutic! So it’s a winner all the way. And remember that happiness is homemade.
1 cup plain flour
1+1/4 cup warm milk
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
Butter or milk for brushing the tops
This Is What You Do:
Mix both flours and salt in a big bowl. Make a well in the centre. Pour warm milk and yeast mix in the centre. Mix the flours with the liquid. It will be wet and sticky in the beginning. Leave the flours to rest and absorb the liquid for 20 minutes before you start kneading.
Knead for 5-6 minutes by hand. Then gradually add olive oil while kneading the dough till it’s elastic and pulls away without tearing. You can do this by hand or in your food processor with kneading hook or in the standing mixer.
Cover and leave to rise in a warm place for 1hour. When the dough doubles up in volume, punch it down, knead it again briefly. Divide the dough into two equal portions. Flour a work top and make two 8×4 inch smooth loaves.
Grease two loaf pans and place the rolls in the pans. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside again for another hour to rise in the pans.
Most breads need to be slashed so the loaf can expand as much as it needs to during baking. Make a few marks on your bread with a knife. Brush the tops with butter or milk.
Preheat oven at 180 degrees C. Bake the loaves for 30 minutes or till the bread loaves are nicely golden in colour. If you want soft crust, cover the breads with a damp cloth as soon as they come out of the oven.
Let cool before slicing. Keep it wrapped so that it stays moist for a longer time.