Waking up to freshly baked bread in the morning is one of life’s little pleasures. Imagine having a warm slice with a sinful slab of unsalted butter – I don’t know about you; but that can make me wake up early so that I can take a slow morning and savour the bread before my day starts full swing.
While eating freshly-made bread is bliss, making your own bread is therapy. Take your pent-up frustration on the dough! It’s definitely a constructive way of releasing those negative emotions – no more hangovers and regrets; instead, you will reap the rewards of fresh loaves in a few hours.
What I love most about baking bread is – I will never fail to be in awe of the magic of transforming a few simple ingredients into something as comforting to the soul as bread. A basic loaf only requires four ingredients – flour, salt, water, yeast.
I also do recall the days where bread-making eluded me, the pre-Le Cordon Bleu days. I can always remember my parsley bread that turned out more like parsley rocks! Those parsley rocks remain a standing joke in my family. Well, at least, in recent days, the loaves out of my oven are rocks no more!
French White Loaves
Makes 2 loaves
500g bread flour
300ml lukewarm water, approximately
4g instant dry yeast
1. Put in all your dry ingredients in your mixer bowl and using a dough hook start to mix as you pour in the water. Add half of the water and mix on slow speed. Add in the rest of the water or as much as you need until the dough comes together (and away from the bowl). You may not use all the water as this is dependent on many factors including the environment. Mix it for about 5 minutes before increasing the speed to medium-fast.
2. Mix the dough at medium-fast speed for about 5-8 more minutes until you get a smooth and elastic dough. To check if the dough is ready, do a ‘window test’. A window test is done by picking a small piece of dough, and stretching it out as much as you can to create ‘a window’. If the dough tears almost immediately, it is under-mixed and you will need to put it back into the mixer. Essentially, what you are looking for is to be able to stretch the dough out (without tearing it) to near transparency (you can see the back of your hand through the ‘window’). Another way to gauge the readiness of the dough is the dough temperature. When the dough is ready, it should be at about 26-27 degrees celcius.
3. Pick the dough out of the mixer bowl and round it until its top is smooth. Place the rounded dough into your lightly floured mixer and cling wrap the bowl. Place it in a warm and dark corner of your kitchen (I like to use my oven for this purpose). Let the dough ferment for about 1 hr or until about double in size.
4. Take the dough out of the bowl and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knock back the air bubbles (by folding the dough over one-third back onto itself)
5. Divide the dough into two equal portions (about 450g each). Working with one portion of the dough at a time, shape the loaves into round loaves. Place the loaves on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Cover the loaves with a clean tea towel and allow it to prove in a warm, dark area in your kitchen. This would take about 1 to 1.5hrs – until each loaf had grown in size by another two-thirds.
6. To test the readiness of the loaves, you can push your index finger lightly into them, and if the loaf springs back after a second, they are ready.
7. Brush the loaves with water and then score the loaves using a small serrated knife; you can score them anyway you like at different angles. Then sift some plain flour/cornmeal over the loaves.
8. Bake them in a preheated oven at 225 degrees celcius. Before placing the baking tray in the oven, spray the oven with water to create steam. This will ensure that your loaves are crusty. Bake for about 15- 20 minutes or until golden brown. To check if the loaves are ready, tap the base of the loaf with your finger – if it sounds hollow, the bread is ready.
9. Allow the bread to cool before cutting into it.