Beginners Bread - Make half your grains whole!
There are few pleasures in the world like the joy of baking your own bread! There is something so basic about it, yet so exotic for those of us who grew up in the modern world of sliced bread. I’ve been baking bread for a decade or more and I think it’s the most satisfying thing to do, by yourself or even with kids. Baking bread is not difficult – it just requires some technique and some patience. Allow yourself to succumb to enjoying the process (not just the product), an entirely sensorial experience. You touch (as you knead and mix the dough), you see (watch it rise), you smell (the aroma of freshly baked bread is heavenly) and finally, you taste. Which is why bread making is a wonderful activity for children. Not only can they participate in the entire process, but they can shape the dough into all kinds of things. My kids have made fish, tortoise, letters of the alphabet, and even bone-shaped bread for our dog!
There are 8 basic stages to bread making:
1) Mixing (proofing the yeast, mixing and kneading the dough)
2) Fermentation (the first rise)
3) Punching down (degassing)
5) Second fermentation (the second rise)
6) Glazing and garnishing
8) Cooling and storing
The goodness of homemade bread comes from using good quality ingredients and knowing that there are no preservatives. Once you get the feel of baking bread, you can experiment with all kinds of whole grains, adding nuts, seeds, dried fruit or vegetables (fried onions, olives), or making stuffed buns.
This image is of a pure whole-wheat loaf, using the tangzhong method described below.
Must Read: Bread baking tips for beginners:
Please use standard cup measures and spoon measures - 1 cup=240ml, 1 teaspoon = 5 ml.
Always start with basic white bread or half wholewheat. Pure whole wheat bread is usually denser and heavier and you are likely to get disappointed if you start with it.
Proper kneading for 8-10 minutes is very important. The softness/lightness of bread is from the gluten formation resulting from kneading well.
Please do not expect homemade bread to be like commercial sliced bread. Commercial bread contains bread improvers, emulsifiers, additives, and preservatives. Just read the labels and you will know what I mean. Also know that commercial wholewheat bread is not 100% wholewheat. It will have refined flour in it, possibly up to 50%.
This recipe is adapted from my Everyday Love cookbook, which has a whole chapter devoted to baking bread, including ones that use only flour, water, salt, and yeast, the old fashioned way. I've used my enriched bread roll (refined flour) recipe but incorporated a cooked dough technique developed by the Japanese, the tangzhong method, which makes for softer bread that stays fresh longer.
Pan size is important (like for cakes too). This recipe works well for a loaf pan that is 10”x 5”. You can use a smaller loaf pan that is 8.5”x 4.5” but use ¾ of the dough, and make a few bread rolls with the rest. If you use a pan size that is too big, you will get a flat-ish loaf. I’ve made this mistake many a time. The other fail-proof option is to make bread rolls from the dough.
Happy Baking! Do let me know how your bread turns out and do tag me on Instagram @sharmilacooksforkids, if you do make it and post on social media.
Beginners Sandwich Loaf or Bread rolls
If you want to make a refined flour/maida loaf or rolls, use 4 cups of refined flour and reduce the total milk/water used by ¼ cup for a total of 1 ¼ cups. I do recommend starting with a refined flour loaf and then moving to half whole wheat and then finally to whole wheat, if you choose to go that way.
Ingredients for Tangzhong
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons flour
Ingredients for Dough
3 teaspoons (10g) active dried yeast or 2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups maida (refined flour)
2 cups atta (wholewheat flour)
1½ teaspoons salt
¼ cup melted butter or vegetable oil
1½ cups milk or water (if you are lactose intolerant/vegan)
Milk or egg wash for glazing
Sesame seeds etc. for garnish
1. For the tangzhong, put the flour, milk, and water together in a small saucepan on medium-low heat, and stir continuously with a whisk until it comes together as a thick cooked paste, called a ‘roux’ in French. This will just take a few minutes.
2. Proof the active dried yeast. In ½ cup lukewarm milk/water, stir in 1 teaspoon sugar and gently sprinkle the active dried yeast on top. Let it proof i.e. sit for 10 minutes in a covered cupboard-like place. The yeast should froth and rise. If it does not rise at all, then it’s not good to use and you will need to buy a new batch. If you're using instant yeast, there's no need to dissolve it in the warm milk; simply add it along with the flour.
3. Sift the flours into a large mixing bowl and mix, along with salt and the additional sugar (and instant yeast, if you are using). Make a well and add the cooked dough, the yeast-milk mixture, the remaining 1 cup of warm milk/water to the flour, and the ¼ cup of oil/butter. Start mixing/bringing it together to form a dough that leaves the sides of the bowl. Ambient temperature affects the dough. If too sticky, add flour, a little at a time. If too dry, add a little water. Oil your hands, to make the dough easier to handle.
4. Take the dough out and knead on a lightly floured countertop, for 10 minutes until soft, smooth, supple, and pliable. TIME THIS PLEASE, the first few times. The kneading action should be to fold over and push out with the base of your palms. Shape the dough into a ball.
5. Put the dough in a large oiled bowl (roll so that a little oil covers it) and cover with a plastic wrap or shower cap. Leave to ferment in a warm or covered place, for 1½ hours at max. It should double in size. This is called the first rise.
6. Punch the air out of the dough, gently knead it for a minute, and prepare your baking pans. Grease a muffin pan for buns, a loaf tin, or 2 baking trays for rolls/baguettes/other shapes.
7. Shape the dough into one long loaf or 12 round buns/rolls, as desired. To make a loaf, flatten out the dough slightly, make it into a roll/log, and tuck in the ends, seal the joints (using a little water if needed) and place the log with the seam side on the bottom.
8. For bread rolls, divide the dough into equal sizes. I use a sharp knife to cut a long roll of dough into 12 equal pieces if making buns and shape into rounds and place in a muffin pan. Follow the same method - shape into rounds, seal the joints, and place seam side down. Remember that the dough will rise again, so leave enough space between each roll for that rising. The muffin pan is a space and time-efficient way to get 12 buns at one go – a normal (12”x9”) baking tray will only hold 6 rolls - but you will not get a crusty bottom. You can handle that by taking out of the pan and baking them with bottom heat only for a few minutes.
9. Cover loosely with a lightly greased plastic wrap/shower cap or thin damp muslin cloth (so they don’t dry out) and let the loaf/buns rest for another 40 minutes or so. The loaf should have risen above the pan if it is purely refined flour. This is called the second rise.
10. Preheat the oven to 200°C for 15 minutes and turn it down to 180°C just before baking.
11. Wash or glaze and garnish the bread, if you wish. Water is the most common wash, and it allows you to add seeds or flakes on top. For a crusty finish, spray or brush with salted water; glaze with milk for a soft crust. For a shiny egg wash glaze, lightly beat an egg with a teaspoon of water until frothy and with a pastry brush, glaze the top of each bun or loaf. To garnish, sprinkle with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, oat/bran flakes if you wish. You can also brush the bread rolls with olive oil or melted butter as soon as they are out of the oven. Yum!!
12. Bake the buns or bread rolls at 180°C in the middle rack of the oven for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown. Bake a loaf for 40 minutes, but using bottom heat only. To test if the bread is done, knock on the underside of the bread. If you get a hollow sound, remove from the oven.
13. Let the bread cool. Resist the temptation to eat the bread fresh-out-of-the-oven, and let it rest for at least 30 minutes or more, before eating. This allows the starches to set, the moisture inside to be absorbed and the flavour to intensify. A loaf will take longer to cool.
14. Store bread in brown paper to retain crustiness, but consume the same day. You can slice the loaf and freeze it in a plastic wrap or ziplock bag. To eat, toast slices directly from the freezer, or let the bread rolls thaw and warm in a preheated oven at 180°C.
Note: Using Instant or Rapid Rise Yeast: You do not need to proof instant yeast. Mix the instant yeast directly into the flour first. Do not mix instant yeast in water. Always store yeast in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. It stays fresh for months. Yeast is available in baking product stores or online. I have started using instant yeast because of convenience.