In my basic bread making class we talk about many things, but here’s something to get you thinking.
Bread, at its core, is just four things:
Each ingredient and step in the process of making bread serves a distinct purpose. Once you understand what role each ingredient performs and what is occurring in each step of the process, you’ll feel liberated to experiment and create your own recipes.
There are millions of different types of flour. Among them are those made from different grains, those made from different types of wheat, bleached and unbleached flour, enriched flour, blended flours, whole grain flours, and on and on. Don’t let this intimidate you! Realize that your standard grocery store, All-Purpose Enriched Unbleached Flour that comes in kilo bags are good enough to produce an excellent loaf of bread. Ok, you are unlikely to win the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie (The Bread Baker’s World Cup) using it, but that isn’t what most of us are aiming for. There are of course concerns about the way our flour os processed before we get it, but that is another topic. If you have any concerns on this matter try buying Organic wholemeal flour, it’s a healthier choice.
Flour forms the basis for your loaf of bread. No flour, no bread really, or at least what we think of as bread.
Water activates the yeast and dissolves all of the other ingredients. Adding more water results is a stickier, flatter loaf with less regular holes in it, like a Ciabatta. Too little water restricts the expansion of the dough and results in a tighter, dryer and harder loaf.
You have that in your tap at home. Nothing special here. You can use distilled water, some purists do, but I tend to use filtered water at home.
Basic Instant: Yeast can be found in the local grocery store that comes in those little packets. It is good enough for all but the most elite baker. You can also purchase fresh yeast from good deli’s, but you may not know how fresh it is, so for my money, if I don’t use natural yeast which we cover in the class, I would go for the dry stuff for now.
Active Dry Yeast: another kind commonly found in grocery stores, needs to be activated by pouring it in warm water prior to mixing it into the dough. So read the back of the packet before adding it straight into your mixture.
Yeast is what causes the dough to rise. Adding more yeast will cause the loaf to rise more quickly. Adding too much yeast can cause a beery, off taste in your loaf. A teaspoon or two of yeast per loaf is typically all that’s needed.
Table salt works ok. Sea salt and the like that most grocery stores carry now will taste a little better, but in the beginning, you don’t have to have it for baking your first loaf: use whatever you’ve got in the house.
Salt retards the yeast and helps control the fermentation process. It also adds the flavour that most of us expect in even the simplest of breads. When adding salt to your bread, you shouldn’t let the salt come in direct contact with your yeast first up. I explain how to go about this as we make our loaves in class.
The Four Fundamental Ingredients
These are the fundamental ingredients for making a decent loaf of bread. Additional ingredients add flavour or complexity to your bread. We discuss these at length in class.
Once you understand the way these four principal ingredients function, you can produce bread anytime you like.
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