About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Bread

Bread is not very expensive to buy, but in the spirit of self-sufficiency, I'd rather make it myself, even if it's not much cheaper. OK, it's not really all that self-sufficient if I'm having to buy flour and yeast, but still...

I've noticed that friends who make bread, and they tend to have bread makers, get very enthusiastic about variations on the basic receipe, and serve up bread with fancy ingredients such as olives, or sun-dried tomatoes in it. Very nice, but not really what I'm aiming for. Apart from the fact that this would ruin the bread for Ian, the point for me is just to make bread. You know, the kind you toast for breakfast in the morning, or make sandwiches out of for lunch. I'm not trying to improve on what I can buy in the shops. I should clarify that: I'd like to get something better than the soft squidgy stuff than comes in plastic bags, but if I can match a standard loaf bought from a baker's shop, I'll be very happy with that.

As a start, I went online to investigate recipes and found that some people get really passionate about this! In the course of my investigations, I learnt about 'no knead' bread. This takes a lot longer to rise, which apparently improves the digestibility of the bread, requires little or no kneading, and uses half the yeast of a normal recipe. All sounds good to me! The method sounded a little complicated, but I kept browsing until I came across a blog* saying, "I tried these recipes then cut corners until I came up with this." This is my kind of cook.

*Edit: I just rediscovered that blog - The Really Good Life - and inserted the link.

The recipe goes:

Mix 1 lb flour with 1/2 tsp dried yeast, 1 tsp salt and 340 ml cold water (can be mixed with a spoon)
Leave approx 12 hours/overnight at room temperature until doubled in size
Add a bit more flour and fold the dough in on itself (this is easier done with hands than a spoon)
Put in a tin and leave for another two hours, also at room temperature, to rise again
Cook at gas mark 6 (that's what my oven needs. I forget what this is in degrees) for about 45 min
Test by removing from the tin and tapping the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it's ready. If not, put it back in the oven (won't need the tin any more) for another five min.

I bought myself a bag of white bread flour but didn't bother buying yeast as I have an old tin of yeast in the cupboard which still seemed to be alive when I used it for elderflower wine, so I thought it would probably be OK. I tried the recipe and it was fine. Rather dense, but still tasty bread, so fine. I tried varying the kind of flour I used - strong bread flour is fairly expensive, standard flour cheaper and, obviously, 'value' flour cheapest of all. Although I know in theory strong flour has more protein in it, so makes better bread, I found that the kind of flour I used didn't make a huge amount of difference to the resultant loaf. They were still rather dense, though.

I was chatting to my friend Sam, who's a farmer's wife and knows about these things. She said that she'd done much the same and found that old dried yeast, while it works, isn't terribly enthusiastic. She encouraged me to get some more yeast, so I did. While I was at it, I thought I might as well get actual fresh yeast instead of dried. The result was dramatic - a light, fluffy loaf of bread. It even smelled better while it was cooking.


Demonstrating the difference made by fresh yeast

So there you have it. It's possible to make a decent loaf of bread with the cheapest flour, but the yeast really matters.

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