I like making my own bread, not least because most bread varieties here in the UK are rather “under-weight”: white fluffy stuff that has nothing much to do with the dark-brown, heavy breads I know and love from Germany. I do like my occasional toast or a crispy baguette, sure, but real bread must be made with rye and sourdough:-).
Doing my own bread also means that I can throw lots of funny things into the mixture: sometimes I do onion bread, olive bread (black olives if I have them), Indian bread (that's with Tandoori and other Indian spices), horseradish, garlic, even small cubes of bacon… whatever is tasty and works itself well into the dough.
But before all that the gods of bread-making have put the starter: I only do sourdough bread and for that I need… sourdough starter. This, in turn, must be made by a not entirely appetising process.
When you actually want to make bread, take the jar with the starter out of the fridge and add about two cups of flour and a cup of warm water. Mix thoroughly until you get a smooth batter, not too fluid and not to stiff either. Then put the whole thing in a warm place. I actually use the oven, with a temperature of about 40 degrees — but not more lest the yeast population will die an unceremonious death. The warmth will spur the nice, little bacteria to do their job; the whole mixture should get frothy within the hour (it pays to use a big jar with enough room for expansion, at least two cups or so).
When the thing looks nice and frothy and has developed that yeasty smell take it out of the oven or wherever you've put it. Half of the mixture goes back to the fridge (I always wait a little, so the batter can cool off a little), to be used as starter next time. The other half is used for the actual bread.
The next step, after obtaining the starter, is to beat the dough into submission (I don't use a bread machine so I have to do this in the old-fashioned way). The following ingredients will produce a good kilogram of bread.
- 750 gr flour (I take a mixture of plain (but not self-raising!) flour, brown flour for break-baking and rye flour)
- salt to taste (I use three heaped teaspoons)
- I also use a little dry yeast, about half a pack (especially if I am in a hurry) to help the dough with the difficult process of raising
- half of the sourdough starter as outlined above
- about 400 ml of warm water
Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl (the starter and the warm water last) until you get a rough sort of dough; this is a pretty unsavoury sight but it will take only a few minutes. I always leave some of the water at the side because it's much easier to put water in that out. If the dough turns out to be too moist (if it sticks to your hands it's definitely too moist) put some more flour in.
Once you have some sort of dough the real fun begins: you have to knead the whole for at least another ten minutes. This is a rather exhausting business, especially in summer, when after a few minutes the sweat starts to run. This sort of kneading is required to get a nice, thorough mixture of all the ingredients and to enable the yeast to do its job.
When you have a really nice, heavy blob of dough, not too moist (if it sticks use some more flour) put it into a metal or ceramic form with some room for expansion (at least 50% of the volume of dough). I cover the inside of the form with a little cooking oil so that the finished bread won't stick.
Put the form in a warm place or the oven (again not more than 40C!), cover it with a moist tea towel or similar and let the dough raise. Depending on the amount of yeast you used, the potency of your starter, the temperature and many other factors, this will take at least an hour. I often give the whole thing two or even two and a half. Keep the towel slightly moist and once the dough has almost doubled in size, put on the heat.
Bake at 200C for about 45 minutes. The bread is ready when a knife you put in comes out clean, ie without traces of dough. I always spread some olive oil on the top of the bread (with a kitchen brush) during baking, this makes for a more crunchy crust. Once the bread is done, cover it with a towel and let it cool. It should be ready to eat after four hours or so but it'll taste better if you can give it another day to “ripen”.
Depending on the mood of the day, the stuff I find in our larder and other factors, I normally put some other things into the dough, the tasty bits.
$updated from: Bread.htxt Sat 18 Jan 2014 13:14:24 thomasl (By Thomas Lauer)$