My first loaf, the Phoenix Baker way…

I have baked bread before, and I regularly make rolls for everyone’s lunch boxes, which seem to come out ok, but my attempts at bread have always been a bit disappointing. My loaves always seems to be quite dense and ‘cakey’. So, as you will know, I was HUGELY excited to go on a Bread Making Day at River Cottage recently. (I bang on and on about it here)

There are lots of reasons why ‘Real bread’ is sooooo much better for you than Supermarket bread, and I like to know what is in the food that I am giving to the Smalls (one of my main issues with shop bread is the amount of salt they put in). Real bread shuld have just four ingredients: flour (if you want to use organic flour, then making your own bread is far cheaper than buying organic loaves); yeast, water and salt. That’s it. Shop bought bread can contain up to 19 different ingredients…

And bccause the process is artificially speeded up, the resulting bread is more difficult for your body to digest, and some people think that this has contributed to the big increases in the numbers of people suffering from wheat intolerances.

So anyway, lots of good health reasons for making your own bread. And I also think it is of psychological benefit too. Maybe I’m going a bit too far here? It makes you slow down and get back to basics. A bit of simple kneading followed by freshly baked bread from your own oven has got to be good for the mind and soul, don’t you think..?!

Aidan Chapman from The Phoenix Bakery was our tutor and his advice for delicious, light bread with a long shelf life was a 2 day method.

Now this sounds quite daunting, but it’s really not. It’s just a case of trying to work the timings in with your daily routine.

I tried it, and wasn’t really anticipating great things (not sure why-I made a loaf on the Bread day, and it was yummy, but I always have my doubts as to whether I can replicate these things at home on my own!),  but it was good! Not the best loaf I’ve ever tasted, but certainly the best I’ve ever made! And with a bit more practice and experimentation, it should just get better and better.

If anyone else wants to have a go, then this is Aidan’s recipe for his ‘Soulful White’ Bread:

First you need to make a ‘sponge’ or ferment. You do this on the first day, and then leave it to rise for 12-24hrs, before incorporating it into the rest of your bread mix, and it is this that gives the bread it’s stability and flavour.

  • 200g organic white flour
  • 5g table salt
  • 10g yeast (this is the amount of fresh yeast-I use Dove’s Farm dried yeast, and I read that you should use half the amount of fresh, so I use 5g, but bakers please feel free correct me if I’m wrong!)
  • 150ml water (I always used to use warm/tepid water, but Aidan assured us that water straight from the tap is fine)
  • Place the flour in a bowl, and put the salt on one side, and the yeast on the other (if you put the salt and yeast straight on top of each other, the salt can kill the yeast), then mix it all together
  • Make a well in the middle and start mixing the water in. Once all the water is in, you will have quite a mess! Tip it out of the bowl and knead it for about 4-6minutes. Don’t worry if it si sticking to the table (wetter is better!), you can use one of those scraper things to scrape it all off (more on that later) It should be nice and stretchy after kneading.
  • Scrape out your bowl, and put your dough back in, and cover with a clean tea towel.
  • Leave at room temperature for 18hrs (anywhere between 12 and 24hrs is ok)

On the second day, uncover your sponge-it should have grown and be a bit bubbly!

For the rest of the loaf, you will need

  • your sponge/ferment
  • 400g organic white flour
  • 10g salt
  • 20g fresh yeast (or 10g dried)
  • 20g wheatgerm (I didn’t have any, so I used a mix of about 300g white bread flour,and 100g wholemeal bread flour)
  • 250ml water
  • Into the bowl containing your sponge/ferment, add the flour, yeast and salt
  • Then add all the water and use your hands to bring it all together
  • Once it’s starting to form a dough, tip it out onto a lightly floured surface and start to stretch and tear the dough (use the ‘heel’ of your hand to push it away from you and then drag it back again)
  • Do this for about 4-6mins, and it should feel velvety and elastic and should be stretchy
  • Shape it into a rough round, scrape out your bowl, and put the dough back in
  • Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for about 1hr-it should have roughly double in size, but don’t panic if it hasn’t
  • If you have a proving basket, dust it with flour. After an hour, turn your loaf out and shape it into a round shape (there are some good videos on You Tube that show you how to do this fat better than I can try to explain it-have look at this one), then put it in your basket upside down (so the seam bit is on top)
  • If you don’t have a proving basket, you can use any kind of suitable sized bowl, line it witha clean tea towel, and dust the tea towel liberally with flour, then place the bread inside this as for the proving basket
  • Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for another 40-60mins
  • Turn on your oven and turn it up to it’s highest temp, probably 220-240C, and if have one, place your baking stone in the bottom of the oven
  • Dust a thin baking tray with semolina and gently turn your dough onto it
  • Use a sharp knife to slash a cross on the top of your dough
  • Slide the bread onto the baking stone, or bake on the tray if you don’t have one
  • Use a sprayer bottle to spray water all around the inside of the oven as you put the bread in
  • Bake for 35mins
  • Remove from the oven, and enjoy!

Baking your own bread and eating it slathered with butter fresh from the oven, is apparently one of the 50 things we all should do before we die…

On a Make Do and Mend note, Aidan very kindly came up with some ingenious alternatives for some of the bread making bits and pieces:

Instead of a plastic scraper like this

You can cut up an old tupperware lid into the rough shape

Instead of a proving basket like this

I was VERY kindly sent a secondhand proving basket, and a scraper from the lovely people at Brook Foods when I asked on Twitter if anyone knew where to get secondhand ones!

You can either line a bowl with a tea towel dusted with flour, or if you have a wicker basket of roughly the right dimensions, you can always cobble together a cotton liner for it

Instead of a baking stone like this

You could hunt around for an old patio slab of the right dimensions to fit in the bottom of your oven. In fact, I just googled for pictures of baking stones, and found a post from Cookistry, about a baking stone hack! Made from unglazed tiles. Might give this a go.

So, there you go!

No excuses. Get baking!

I would love to see some pictures of your loaves if you have been inspired to have a go, or let me know your own fail safe version for your daily bread!

3 thoughts on “My first loaf, the Phoenix Baker way…

  1. Pingback: Bread Battles… « My Make Do and Mend Year

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