Saturday, 7 May 2011

Kingshill Bread

See what I did there? Well, no, you wouldn't unless you know me and are from Britain: I live on a road called kingshill and there is a common brand of bread here with a very similar name. Fnarr fnarr. Aaaaanyway...

One of the most satisfying things I ever taught myself do was make my own bread. I don't really cook a lot of fancy breads, but I do make a super crusty white loaf coated in sesame seeds that has all but completely weened me off those weird squishy loaves that cost a fortune, have no substance and last a spookily long time without going off before turning green overnight.

I have been told that eating homemade (rather than commercially produced) bread minimises the bloating effect that you can get from eating wheat, I believe it's true but I've no real evidence. I can tell you that it tastes and smells amazing fresh out of the oven though.

Bread, made from the simplest ingredients
ever: flour, water, yeast, salt.
There does seem to be some belief out there that traditional sourdough (as in made with a wild yeast starter) is healthier than bread made with baker's yeast. I successfully cultivated a batter type bubbly starter and the bread I made with it was delicious... but, as I make bread at irregular intervals, I found that the starter was eating more flour than we were. I had to let it die. I did feel guilty about it though.

I am really tempted to try again, maybe this time I could just use the wild starter batter for my first batch and then keep it alive as a dough in the fridge. I've read that it would still work if I mixed the starter dough into my fresh bread dough and then, after proving it, keep some back for next time. No idea how long it would live in that form without feeding... could be worth an experiment. 

So, onto bread making the way I do it at the moment. When it's warm I usually allow about 3 hours that I want to be in the house for this, in winter it can take a bit longer as the bread takes longer to prove. It's not hours of constant work, just occasional bouts of activity.

I got the below ratios and learned how to bake bread (and a ton of other things) from The River Cottage Handbook. I would absolutely recommend this book, it's brilliant.

First I usually put a kilo of strong bread flour into a mixing bowl with 20g salt and 10g of dried yeast. Add 600ml of warm water, not hot but sort of slightly warmer than body temperature. 
This time I actually used 850g of white and 150g of wholemeal flour, just for a little extra flavour and slightly different texture.

 Mix the ingredients until they stick together as a dough and then start kneading it on the worksurface. Check the clock, you'll be doing this for 10 minutes straight before it's ready to go into a lightly oiled bowl and covered with a black bag to rise.
Clean bin bags are seriously the best thing for this, I was dubious about using them but am totally converted now.

The dough should rise in about 45 minutes in a warm room. It should look massive, bloated and feel spongy when it's ready.

Take half of the dough back out of the bowl and onto the work surface. Gently but firmly press it back down again before shaping it for the final prove. The shaping is a bit difficult to describe in words, so here are some pictures:

Reapeat for the other half of the dough. Lay the loaves out on a wooden chopping board with a teatowel over them and leave for another 30 minutes or so. With about 10-15 minutes to go, turn the oven on as hot as it will go to preheat. If you have a bread/pizza stone then put that in to heat up, if not then just use an upturned, shallow baking tray.

When the loaves have proven themselves (not in battle, rather they should be sort of spongy and spring back into shape when you press them lightly with a finger), line up some flour, a squirty water thing (plant sprayer? ironing spray?), your sesame seeds and a bread knife.
Take the hot stone / baking tray out of the oven quickly, sprinkle flour all over it and transfer the loaves onto it. Spray them with a nice coat of water and then top with lots of sesame seeds.

Slash the tops diagonally and reasonably deep - you want to make sure they have space to rise properly in the oven. Give them another squirt of water for good luck and put them straight into the oven.
Mine have come out ok without adding boiling water to a tray at the bottom of the oven, but they do seem to rise better if you can be bothered to do this.

After 10 minutes at maximum heat, turn the oven down to about 180°C and leave, without opening the door, for another 40-50 minutes. Then pop the bread on a wire rack and leave them be until they've cooled down.
Usually I'll keep one for eating right away and pre-slice the other one to put in the freezer, for later in the week. If you leave homemade bread to go stale I've found that it just dries out, rather than going mouldy as commercial loaves do.

Today I scoffed the inaugural slice with a sliver of butter and some avocado mashed up with lime juice, salt and pepper. Mmmmmm.


  1. I adore bread and would love to make my own but I just can't get past the smell of raw yeast.
    Your loaves look awesome!

  2. Oooh, try this stuff:
    You don't have to wait for it to soak in water and go bubbly, you just use it in dried form directly. I'd swear it doesn't smell, although it's possible I'm just used to it. I have that same slight distaste for yeast smells though; possibly as a result of drinking an entire jug of the stuff as a toddler, yuk!