A month of breadmaking – June 2012

Currently a stay-at-home Mum, I am always trying to fill the days with different activities to keep my son, Harry, entertained – especially during this very British summer (today, I was caught in a hailstorm).  One activity I introduced as soon as Harry showed an interest was baking and once a week we would get covered in flour with batter-clogged mouths from making an assortment of biscuits and cakes.  Now, my husband quickly got frustrated by the quantity of sugar-laden snacks we were producing (although, arguably, with less sugar than shop-bought cakes and biscuits), so I had to adapt my recipe selection to include such things as scones, cheese straws and other savoury snacks.

Then, one day I decided that Harry and I would try our hand at breadmaking.  I’ve always loved the idea of making my own bread and it always feels like such a treat when we stay at my parents because my Dad has a breadmaker.  Looking into it more, I thought it would be an ideal thing to make with Harry because it is split into a couple of short stages, so would keep his attention for long enough, and it also involves getting your hands very mucky! So far, we have made a loaf of bread each weekend for four weeks running, and they have been getting better each time.

Since Harry and I started making bread, I have had a couple of people ask me how you make bread without a breadmaker (how did people ever survive without technology?!).  It is really very simple: mix all the dry ingredients together (rub in the butter, if recipe contains butter), add water until you’ve formed a dough, knead it for ten minutes then leave in an oiled bowl for 1-2 hours until it has doubled in size, then shape (either onto a tray or into a loaf tin) and leave for a further half an hour, then bake in the oven for around half an hour, leave for at least ten minutes to cool, then enjoy! If you are after any recipes, a lot of bread flour packets have them on (my current preference is Dove’s Farm).  The bread I have tried so far is from Good Housekeeping’s ‘The Family Cookbook’, pages 152-153.

Week 1 – White Farmhouse Loaf

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575g strong plain white flour

125g strong plain wholemeal flour

1tbsp salt

1tsp golden caster sugar

1.5tsp fast-action dried yeast

25g butter

450ml warm water

I left the bread to rise slightly too long on the second stage of rising as Harry was having his nap, so it collapsed a little.  Nevertheless, we all thoroughly enjoyed this first attempt!

Week 2 – Wholemeal Loaf

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225g strong plain white flour

450g strong plain wholemeal flour

2 tsp salt

1tsp golden caster sugar

2tsp fast-action dried yeast

450ml warm water

Again, I left this loaf too long to rise on the second stage as you can tell from the funny shape.  I find a proper loaf like this is much nicer with soups and stews than a farmhouse one.

Week 3 – Wholemeal Loaf

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The same recipe again, except I did not have enough wholemeal flour so made up the difference with white (roughly half-and-half).  I left it to rise the required time and this loaf was much improved.  I also preferred this combination of flour.  On the first day we served it with Rachel de Thample’s ‘Quick Catalan chorizo stew’ and both were delicious.  The next day, we piled it with balsamic mushrooms and a fried egg drizzled with chilli oil (another Rachel de Thample recipe).

Week 4 – Farmhouse Loaf

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Farmhouse loaf again, and my best to date! We served it the first evening as an accompaniment to Rachel de Thample’s ‘Fishmonger’s soup’  (no pictures of this as it looked a bit boring – the next day I discovered the tarragon in my fridge and realised I had forgotten to garnish it).  Also, as ‘Broad bean and feta bruschetta’ (from my Abel and Cole calendar) and, my favourite, ‘Spanish tomato bread’ (again, Rachel de Thample).  Simply, brush the bread with olive oil, pile on diced tomatoes (I have some beautiful plum ones at the moment) and put in the oven for ten minutes.  Perfect at any time of the day!

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