Like an appreciation for early nights and not being able to get out of a chair without groaning, bread baking came to me a little later in life. And thank God it did.
I never want to give unnecessary steps to my readers because I never want to waste your time, energy, or money but there are some things in life that really are wonderful when they are homemade. This is for two reasons: primarily, the taste. A homemade loaf of bread will always taste better than anything made in a factory. Secondly, it does feel like like a small accomplishment. Not the planting a flag on the moon kind of accomplishment, but a small pat on one’s own back for actually doing something that at first may seem complicated.
Because the beauty of bread making is that… it genuinely is not complicated. People often confuse things that take a long time with things that are complicated, and the two are absolutely divorced concepts. Bread baking is not had but there are a couple of mandatory steps, and there is a bit of waiting around in the middle.
And I get it, if you want bread quickly, I mean… Lidl is right there… and that bakery will save your life sometimes… however, when the rain comes down and the dog refuses to walk, I get idle hands. And if it’s a decision between cleaning the bathroom or baking something, I will don an apron. I sure will.
I think the kneading is where people get the ‘can’t be arsedness’ of it all. You need to go for 10 minutes at least – 15 if you can – because this is what develops the gluten in the bread, stretching it out, and this is what you need to give a rise to the loaf because the proteins will lock air into the dough which then reacts to the heat and gives a nice rise. The thought of kneading puts people off, but for me, I set a timer for 10 minutes, line up a few of my favourite songs in a playlist back to back and get cracking.
This particular loaf was a scrambling of ideas and something I really wanted to share with you so that you could have a go at making bread without the nervousness. Flavour wise, yes it’s a wholemeal loaf. Not just because I had the bag and needed to use it up, but I’m finding that the nutty, earthy flavour of wholemeal is something I tend to crave in these turbulent weathers. It’s more warming. The beer gives a maltiness to the loaf which is sometimes missing with plastic white loaves, but I didn’t want to be eating a foam textured pint, so the addition of honey gives a sweet mellowness to slice.
Now this won’t produce a loaf of bread that is perfect for sandwiches, or delicate afternoon tea stuff. It’s a dense, fudgy loaf that needs to be enjoyed warm with nothing more than a lick of butter and a then a crunch of salt on top.
Makes 1 loaf
330ml beer – any light-coloured beer will do
1 tablespoon honey
7g dried yeast
300g wholemeal flour
100g plain flour plus an extra sprinkle just before baking
A few tablespoons of oil for kneading
100g mixed seeds – pumpkin, sunflower, sesame… literally just whatever is in the mixed bag at the shop
- Pour the beer into a jug. It will froth, so aim to get the liquid at around 350ml and the froth will calm down and settle eventually to around the 330ml mark. Top it up to 330ml if it’s just a little under.
- Add the honey and yeast, stirring just a little to get the yeast all excited and leave to one side. Smell it first though. I used to work for a brewery and that yeasty, beery smell is what I had to smell every morning for two and a half years. Lush but also… gross…
- In a big ol’ bowl combine both flours, oats and seeds with a generous sprinkle of salt and fork everything together.
- Pour in the yeasty beer, don’t worry about making a well or anything, just mix everything in the bowl with a fork, a spoon, your hands, or my favourite, a dough whisk. It will feel quite sticky and tacky, but don’t worry.
- Once combined, turn this sticky mess out onto an oiled work surface, and start kneading the dough until the dough starts to tighten up a little. I wish I could do this step for longer because I get lost in it but go for 10 minutes, pushing the dough away with the bottom of your palm and then pulling it back with your fingers, repeating this, moving the dough around while you do so. Once the dough starts coming together quite tightly but is still just a little sticky, pop it back in the bowl.
- Cover the bowl with a tea towel and put it somewhere warm for an hour and a half. An airing cupboard would be fine but I’ve also balanced mine on a warming radiator in desperate measures.
- After the hour and a half is done, take the bowl out of its warm hiding place and turn the dough back out onto the floured work surface. It would have grown a little by now, which as with many things in life, is a great thing.
- Knead again for 5 minutes to tighten the dough once more before placing it on a lightly oiled tray. Try and shape it into a little round ball. Cover it with the towel and put somewhere warm again, but only for 30 minutes and in this time, preheat the oven to 200°
- Once the half hour is up, take your tray out of its hiding place, make a few slashes in the top (I just use a scissors and cut an X into the top) and sprinkle with some flour.
- Bake your loaf for about 40-45 minutes, but you’ll know when it’s done when you can tilt the loaf carefully, tap the bottom and it sounds hollow. Allow to rest for a little bit, maybe 15 minutes if you have the patience before slicing, buttering and devouring.