I’ve been making bread since my early twenties. Just recently though, I’ve become obsessed. Why do I make bread? The taste is just amazing and it’s so good for you. It’s also great to share with friends and colleagues although there I nearly caused an upset recently when Mr EF took some to work and everyone wanted some!
When you make bread yourself, you know exactly what’s been put in it. To make real bread all you need is flour, water, yeast and salt. And you can forget the yeast if you’re making sourdough.
Launched by the Real Bread Campaign in 2009, Real Bread Maker Week is Britain’s biggest annual, national celebration of Real Bread and its makers. The aim is to encourage people to start baking Real Bread or buy it from independent bakeries to support your local communities. This year, the Real Bread Campaign has exciting plans to help people who, for one reason or another, have a tougher time than most of us enjoy the social, therapeutic and employment opportunities Real Bread making offers.
So, in honour of Real Bread Maker week, read on for some books to inspire you, where to find fresh yeast, flour and all the equipment you might need.
Breadmaking is not as difficult as you think
There are plenty of reasons people choose not to make real bread or even avoid eating it including the following:
- It is difficult – no it’s not just get as much practice as you can. (I assure you I am still learning!)
- It is time consuming – yes the elapsed time can be long, but you don’t need to be standing over it!
- It makes me fat – no it doesn’t. Because the bread you bake is so good, you might be tempted to eat more, but it’s usually what you choose to put on it!
A good baking book makes all the difference
Marie, Patrice and I met on a Richard Bertinet bread course. We revelled in trying out new techniques throughout our 5 days together. We’re now having fun exchanging photos of our successes (and a few disappointments) in an effort to improve. I asked Marie and Patrice to share books on bread that they turn back to time and again. I share my thoughts on Richard Bertinet’s books.
Jeffrey Hamelman reviewed by Patrice Halbach, Minnesota
This book has been a primer for commercial and home bakers in the US since it was published in 2004. Hamelman, who is one of the few Certified Master Bakers in the US and bakery director at the King Arthur Flour Company, has recently updated his classic. Bread contains 140 recipes and covers the waterfront from baguettes to bagels, rye to pizza, straight doughs to sourdoughs.
There is a lot to like about this book. The opening chapters provide foundational instruction on ingredients, kneading, shaping, scoring and baking. Each category of bread (e.g., rye or sourdough) is introduced with its own detailed description of techniques, idiosyncrasies and tips for successful outcomes. Finally, each recipe provides additional tips for executing the best possible product.
Each of Hamelman’s recipes contains everything you need to make that particular bread. There’s no need to flip back and forth from a “basic” dough formula to your variation. Best of all, Hamelman’s recipes work. His descriptions of what the dough is supposed to feel and look like, desired dough temperatures, and suggested fermentation and proofing times provide excellent templates for the home baker. He flags recipes that are more forgiving and provides variations to maximize flexibility for the baker. Hamelman strives mightily to make this book equally useful for the commercial and home baker but falls a bit short on the home front. For example, recipes are given in both commercial and home quantity. However, only the commercial quantities are in metric (home recipes are in American weight measures). Further, mixing times assume a commercial, spiral mixer. Home bakers will have to adjust based on their equipment.
“Bread” deserves a place in every serious bread baker’s library. It delivers great recipes and a rich resource for building great bread making skills.
The Breadmaker Bible
by Karen Saunders reviewed by Marie Tait, Cheshire
I have been making bread for many years and until recently I was self taught. In the beginning I used a bread maker but only to make the dough, I always baked the bread or rolls in the oven because I didn’t like the big hole in the loaf and because I thought the bread wasn’t crusty enough. I have bought many books in my quest for knowledge about bread making over the years but one I used a lot and have recommended to friends is the above book.
I don’t use the bread maker any more but I think they have a place for those who don’t have the time, the inclination or the physical ability because of arthritis to make it by hand.
As a beginner to bread making you don’t want to be bamboozled with talk of percentages you just want to be able to make a loaf of bread that tastes better than shop bought. Understanding the finer details can come later when you understand the process a bit better. I don’t think I have tried any recipe from this book that hasn’t worked, this is exactly what a beginner wants it gives you confidence to go on to be adventurous. There is a section at the beginning containing helpful hints about different flours and how they are used, yeast, liquids oven temperatures etc. This section is written in a easy style that doesn’t confuse and isn’t too scientific.
Moving on to the recipes the usual white and wholemeal ones are there, but then you can move gently on to mixed grain bread, rustic rye Italian and sweet doughs. Then you move on to the breads made with an overnight sponge or poolish, this section includes a recipe for making and using a sourdough starter, this is the first sourdough starter I made but mine has been changed and developed over the years till it suited me.
The next section deals with breads for special diets, wheat free, gluten free, dairy free, egg free, sugar free. This section in my book is very clean because I haven’t used any of the recipes, I haven’t needed to. The book finishes with a trouble shooting section and a list of suppliers.
My favourite recipe from the book? Walnut bread, I love it and still make it. The pizza dough is pretty good as well.
When Richard Bertinet started to write Dough, the editors asked him how many recipes would be included in the book. “About 20” he replied. This was unusual to say the least they were looking for quantity. He also insisted that a DVD was included in the book – highly unusual. He stuck to his principles and the book went on to win awards and its no nonsense approach suits this baker. Once you have mastered a particular type of bread, you use those techniques in further recipes. The techniques are shown in easy to follow pictures and instructions at the front of the book. There is a fair bit of leafing back and forward as rather than repeat instructions you’re encouraged to refer back to the basic instructions. Richard’s dough manipulation technique is different to any other method you’ll have come across. Master it, and you’ll have the lightest tastiest bread imaginable.
Crust is a follow up to Dough and it too includes a DVD. In Crust, sourdough is explored. Again Richard’s approach is no nonsense. There’s need to feed the starter each day for example. One thing that Richard kept reiterating concerned sour dough. He believes and we agree that you need to thoroughly understand the techniques before you try sour dough. It truly does make a difference.You’ll also find poolish starters, ciabatta doughs and more.
During our 5 day bread course, we baked from both books and I’d certainly find it hard not to have both on hand.
Do check the credentials of those offering bread courses. The Real Bread Campaign has a comprehensive list.
Andrew Whitely co-founder of the Real Bread Campaign and author of Bread Matters runs all levels of courses throughout the year in Lamancha, Scotland.
Richard Bertinet runs courses in Bath – the next 5-day course is in October this year, but there are plenty of shorter courses.
Once you start baking, you’ll find you get different results from different flour. Always use white flour that is labelled “strong”, but there is no need to go for the “extra strong” this is too vigorous. You’ll find Dove and Allinson flours everywhere, but seek out others. Here in Edinburgh, Real Foods have a good selection of flours including spelt, rye and wholemeal which they also sell online. I am a big fan of BacheldreFlour
which you can buy online Amazon (you can even set up a subscription). You can also order direct from Shipton Mill and Bakery Bits (see below).
Always use fresh yeast if you can. We’ve a separate post on this “fresh yeast is best“, but suffice to say you can also order it online or pop into your local Polish shop or ask at the bread counter at your supermarket – some oblige.
Yes, you can use any type of salt, but sea salt is the best. I’m particularly enjoying using Hebridean Sea Salt currently.
With all new passions, you can go rather mad on equipment. Suffice to say, my kitchen is groaning with all sorts of bits and pieces. You’ll need some large mixing bowls, thick tea towels, metal trays and tins. But most of this can be improvised – my proving baskets cam from IKEA at £6 each. An excellent online resource is Bakery Bits.
Join the Real Bread Campaign
You can join wherever you are in the world, and you don’t event have to be a baker! Membership is open to home bakers and professional bakers alike.
The main benefit of joining the Real Bread Campaign is that you become a member of the only national community dedicated to championing the rise of Real Bread in our local communities and the people who bake it. Join now.