Day 35 – A Handmade Loaf   7 comments

Once upon time, we bought a bread machine. The idea of homemade bread sounded so great and a bread machine would make it so easy. Just drop in the ingredients and three hours later you can have a loaf of bread. Or time it so you can have fresh bread first thing in the morning.

In truth, we probably used the bread machine less than a dozen times because the bread just didn’t live up to our expectations. Perhaps the problem was that where I grew up, we had access to an incredibly good bakery. The Golden Grain bakery made the most wonderful bread. My favourite was a plaited loaf – I think we just called it a twist. Thinking about it later, I think it was a variation on a challah loaf. That’s the bread I still crave.

Remarkably, the bakery is still there, but I haven’t been through Sudbury in many many years. It might be worth a trip sometime just to see if they still make my favourites. In the meantime, I decided I needed to take matters into my own hands. While living in Melbourne, I took a couple of full-day workshops at the Essential Ingredient. It’s a cooking supply store (with a great book section) that has a cooking school upstairs. They get world renown chefs and bakers in to give hands-on sessions on a wide variety of topics.

I had the privilege of learning from two U.K.-based bakers, Paul Merry (of the Panary) and Dan Lepard (author of The Handmade Loaf). Each of them teach real bakers who run bakeries as well as run-of-the-mill bread-gluttons like me.

From the time of the first workshop (nearly five years ago), my kids have been spoiled with handmade bread. I do love a good homemade loaf of bread, but I also really enjoy the process of making bread. For me, bread-making has been something different from the workaday world. I get to make a big mess, spread flour over the counter top, get my hands dirty. Plus, there’s just something special about the smell of bread baking in the oven, isn’t there?

Bread made by hand is far superior to that churned out from a bread machine. A bread machine rushes a process that is supposed to take time. Dough that has been allowed time to rise slowly develops more flavour and more resilience. A rushed loaf is just the opposite – the taste is flat and the bread stales quickly.

Bread really appeals to my approach to cooking as it’s more art than science. You don’t just follow a set recipe of grams and millilitres. Altitude, humidity, air temperature and ingredients all come into play so the only way you know the dough is right is if it feels right.

I like to make it all on the counter top. I dump my flour onto the counter and make a big ring. I then pour in the water, yeast, and salt (and any other ingredients like sugar, eggs, malt powder) and gradually draw in the flour to form the dough. As long as the ratios of ingredients were close enough to start with, it’s easy to fine-tune it as I go by adding a little more flour or water. Once it’s all mixed so I know the water to flour ratio is right, I knead in some oil for a little fat content.

Start to finish, a loaf of bread takes three and half to five hours depending on how long I let it rise (or if I let it rise twice), but the actual effort is minor. It takes 20 minutes to make the dough and the rest of the time it just does its thing. I need to come by every once in a while to see how it’s progressing, but then I just have to knock it back, shape it and let it rise again before popping it in the oven. All up, the average loaf of white or whole meal bread takes me only 30 or 40 minutes of my time. I think it’s time well spent. So does my family.

Technical details: ISO 100, 1/100s, f2.0, 100mm (with 12mm macro ring)
Photoshop mods: Levels to darken the background slightly

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7 responses to “Day 35 – A Handmade Loaf

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  1. Your bread looks delicious. You can’t beat the taste and aroma of homemade bread.

    We do own a bread machine but it haven’t seen daylight in months now…bread from our machine comes out in an odd shape with the paddle hole in the bottom. So I end up using the dough hook for kneading the flour and from then everything involves use of hands 😉

  2. When you open your B&B, let me know. I may move in permanently, or at least as long as the bread lasts 🙂

  3. We still take advantage of Golden Grain. Any time we go to Sudbury we time our departure for a day when they bake and bring home at least a half dozen loaves to freeze and ration out. The third generation is now running the bakery.

  4. You would love the awesome bread my English frind Linda Hewitt who lives in Lincolnshire bakes.. If you look she has a website and offers some good recipes…

  5. I love the smell of cooking especially bread! Lovely capture.

  6. We grew up on Golden Grain’s rye and light rye breads… I pretty much refuse to eat any other type of bread and still haven’t found a bakery that equals it, although Gibson’s here in Hamilton comes close.

    Kudos to you for putting in the time and effort you do!

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