For the bones of three weeks I found myself at home chained to the kitchen sink as a chain of illness took hold in our house. First the small fella had a chest infection, so off to the doctor with him, closely followed by the big fella. Then after a weekend of partying at the Riverfest I was totally knocked out with a chest, sinus and throat infection. Fun and games. During my cabin fever, when the lads were not so well but I was fine, I made bread with them. This was the first time I ever made bread by hand, other than soda bread, so I was chuffed with then results. The kids got to beat something up and then we got to eat our wares.
Our local Milk Market has stalls that do a roaring trade in so-called Artisan breads, while yummy, some of these breads cost as much as €6.00 per loaf. Has bread become a luxury item? I myself often buy these specialist breads and they are great but they are a treat, costing more than the average sliced pan. One particularly yummy loaf was a cheese and onion number, a small loaf that cost €4.00. Of course the baker deserves the bread, I mean the money for putting in the effort, but at €4.00 a pop I couldn’t spend this much on bread every day.
Having owned a bread machine for years, I know how much bread you can make, for very little money, from a bag of Strong White Flour. This flour has extra gluten so stands up better to kneading and makes better bread than standard white flour we use for cakes. One large bag of this costs €2.80 from a supermarket and makes 3-4 large loaves of bread. If you factor in yeast and other little things like salt and sugar, that brings the price of making your own loaf to €0.90. Bear in mind that your own bread has no additives or preservatives and you get the satisfaction of making it yourself. Bread machine bread is fine, it’s great that you can set the machine to make bread while you sleep so you get to wake up to a fresh hot loaf first thing in the morning. However, bread machine bread is always the same shape and has quite a robust crust on it, it gets a bit samey.
I’d never made bread by hand before and found this recipe in Jamie Oliver’s Return of the Naked Chef. It’s an easy recipe. I made the bread with my two boys who enjoyed mixing up the dough, beating it to a pulp, watching it rise, and beating it to a pulp again. I used a standard sized loaf tin and made one regular white loaf from half the dough. It was perfect for sandwiches and we were all chuffed with ourselves for making the bread together.Basic Bread Recipe
30g/1oz fresh yeast or 3 x 7g sachets dried yeast
30g/1oz honey or sugar
625ml/just over 1 pint tepid water
1kg/just over 2lb strong bread flour
some extra flour for dusting
1 Dissolve the yeast and honey or sugar in half the tepid water.
2 On a clean surface or in a large bowl, make a pile of the flour and salt. On a clean surface or in a large bowl, make a pile of flour and salt. Make a well in the centre, and pour in the dissolved yeast mixture. With four fingers of one hand, make circular movements from the centre moving outwards, slowly bringing in more and more of the flour, until all the yeast mix is soaked up. Pour the other half of the tepid water into the centre, and gradually incorporate all the flour to make a moist dough. (Certain flours may need a little more water, so adjust the quantitites.)
3 Roll, push and fold the dough over and over for five minutes, to develop the gluten and structure of the dough. If any of the dough sticks to your hands, just rub them together with a little flour.
4 Flour both your hands well, and lightly flour the top of the dough. Make it into a roundish shape, and place on a baking tray. Deeply score the dough with a knife, allowing it to relax and prove with ease. Leave it to prove until it's doubled in size. Ideally you want a warm, moist, draught-free place for the quickest prove, for example near a warm cooker, in the airing cupboard or just in a warmish room, and you can even cover it with clingfilm, if you want to speed things up. This proving process improves the flavour and texture of the dough, and should take around 40 minutes, depending on the conditions.
5 When the dough has doubled in size, you need to knock the air out of it by bashing it around for a minute. Shape it into whatever shape you want - round, flat, filled, or tinned - and leave it to prove for a second time until it doubles in size again. Make some deep cuts across the dough to allow it to expand. Don't feel a need to rush through this, because the second proving time will give it a lovely, delicate soft texture.
6 Preheat the oven to 200ºC Now you want to keep all the air inside the loaf, so don't knock it. Gently place it in the preheat oven and don't slam the door. Bake the bread for about 40mins, depending on the shape of your loaf. You can tell if your bread is cooked by tapping its bottom (take it out of the tin first!) If it sounds hollow, it's cooked. If not, put it back in the oven for a little longer. Place on a rack to cool.
Cheese and onion bread
1.Take half or a quarter of the dough at stage 5 of the above recipe.
2. I used leftover parmesan, gorgonzola and cheddar, cut up into small pieces and mixed it into the dough with the white part of a spring onion, sliced up.
3. Shape this into a round or small loaf shape and bake for 30-40mins depending on size
Needless to say kids go mad for making and eating these
1. Take half or quarter of the dough at stage 5 of the above recipe
2. Roll it out to about ¼ inch thick, spread with nutella, right out to the edges
3. Roll it up like a swiss roll and slice about 1inch thick slices
4. Place the slices, cut side facing up, into a baking tray and bake for 20 mins