There’s nothing like the smell of baking bread wafting softly out of the oven. As it spreads out and fills the nooks and crannies of your home, it tantalises and teases your senses. I’ve kneaded dough for rotis just once or twice in my life, and don’t really ever fancy doing it. But I am more than happy to spend time bashing away at a lump of dough for my daily bread. I’d always wanted to do it, and was really inspired by a few cooking shows here in the UK . And once bitten by the bread bug, there was no looking back. We’ve made all variety of loaves, rolls and even attempted the iconic Mumbai pav (which turned out right after many tweaks and failed attempts). Here are a few notes and tips on the various ingredients and techniques.
My recipes are usually for 500gm of flour. I usually work with this as a combined weight for all the different flours that I am using. You can play around with the ratios as you like. Note down the measurements and the results each time, and soon you’ll figure out what works for you. I tend to keep it to 100-150 gms of flours such as spelt or rye, 200-250 gms of seeded or multi-grain and the rest as the base plain white or wholemeal flour.
Different flours have differing gluten content and thus affect the texture of the bread. Flour with a high gluten content, like strong bread flour (which is a white wheat flour), will allow for a spongier, more open crumb, with more and bigger bubbles. A flour like rye or even wholewheat will give a denser bread, with smaller bubbles.
With so many different varieties out there, it is usually best to read the instructions on the packet to figure out how best to use that particular type of yeast. I usually use an instant yeast that does not need to be activated. It can be used directly in the dry flour. Other types of yeast may need to be activated first, in a mixture of water and a little sugar. If you do this, be sure to measure the volume of water you’re using, as this gets added to the bread mix and counts in the total liquid used.
If you’re making a pre-ferment you may use a lesser quantity of yeast in a liquidy flour mixture, and allow the yeast to grow and start fermentation first before adding to the rest of the dough. Thus reducing the amount of yeast used but increasing the time to prove and thus increasing the flavour.
Basic breads are made with water as the main liquid binding the flour together. Enriched doughs start using milk and eggs for the creamier, sweeter textures associated with brioches and the like. But you could use other liquids as well. For example, you get a great beer bread by using Guinness or some other ale instead of the water.
Sprinkle your worksurface with a little oil and spread it with your hands. Tip out the dough from the mixing bowl onto the work surface and start kneading. If the dough is very wet, dont worry, keep kneading and it will come together. If in doubt, you can always add a little more plain white flour as you’re kneading. But do this very carefully, the dough can become too tight very quickly. Here are some videos that show you how to knead bread dough (http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/techniques/kneading_bread_with_oil) and (http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/techniques/kneading). When you’ve worked on the dough for about 10-15 mins, you’ll find it has become very soft and pliable. It will spring back when you press it with a finger, and it will allow you to stretch it out between your fingers. As you knead, you can actually see the gluten strands stretching and breaking. I’ve never been able to do the ‘windowpane’ test successfully, but as long as you can get some stretchiness out of it, it should be fine.
The length of time required for proving depends on a variety of factors, mainly how much yeast you have put in and how warm the place is where you’ve kept the dough. The less yeast you put, the more time it will take, but the flavours in the bread are so much better. Similarly, in a cold place, the yeast takes longer to work on the dough, leading to a slower rise. I usually use around 6-7 gm of instant dried yeast for 500gm of flour, and put the dough in a warm airing/boiler cupboard. This then takes anywhere from an hour to an hour and half to get to over double the size.
This is the process of taking a dough that has proved (risen) once until double its size, then putting it back on your lightly oiled or floured worksurface and working on it again, knocking back all the air bubbles that have formed. Dont be too rough on the dough, but you dont have to treat it with too much delicacy either. This is the time when you can shape your dough or divide it into portions before letting it prove again in the final container/tin/tray where you’re going to bake it. Here’s another video that shows you how to knock back your risen dough (http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/techniques/knocking_back)