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I’ve been playing around a bit with the bread recipe. This bread has the right amount of fluffiness, and a more simple preparation. After all, if this is something that is going to be done on a weekly basis, efficiency is a good thing.

Ingredients preferment
1/4 tsp dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 cup flour

Preparation preferment — evening before (takes about 5 minutes of actual doing time)
Mix, cover bowl with wet towel, leave out at room temperature for at least 10 hours.
So if you do this at 8pm, you can continue with the rest of the steps at about 8 am the next day.

Ingredients 2 loaves
1 3/4 tsp yeast
1 1/2 cup warm water
5 cups of flour — for a more healthy version, replace some cups of all-purpose flour with whole grain.
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
the preferment

Preparation (actual doing time:  30 minutes maybe?)
If necessary, activate the yeast by mixing it with the warm water and a cup of flour.
Mix all ingredients together, and knead. Add a bit of flour while needing to make the dough easier to handle.
Let rise for at least 3 hours. Often I just forget about the dough, and continue when I do remember, and when the dough looks good.
Punch down the dough, roll it up, put it in an oiled bread form, seam down. Let it rise until almost the right height.
I used to make 2 loaves, but in the Netherlands bread is usually a bit more high and wide, so now we have a bigger bread form where I just put all of the dough in. The final texture of the bread is just as nice as with the smaller loaves!
Slash the top of the bread and wet it with a bit of water — At the moment I am experimenting with slashing the top already during the last rising. It seems to look a little bit nicer in the end.
If you like a harder crust, bake for 30 minutes at 230 degrees Celsius. We often go for a softer crust, baking a bit longer, at 190 degrees. When it’s done, get it out of the form and let it dry for a bit. We then slice up the bread and freeze it in, so we can conveniently use this bread for the rest of the week.

Even better white bread -- this picture is of an attempt where I still divided the dough into two loaves.

The verdict
With just a little over half an hour of work, the result is a nice fluffy bread, that lasts us for about a week. We went a long way from the bricks my husband refused to eat, to this. The final goal is to be able to make bread that makes us snort at the bread we would otherwise have bought at the supermarket. We’re not there yet, but getting closer!

About cost-effectiveness
For this bread we use:
€0,893   750 grams eco all-purpose flour (€1,19 per kilo)
€0,126   14 grams bruggeman instant yeast (€4,50 for 500 grams)
€0,085   10 grams sea salt  (€1,70 for 200 grams)
€0,071   15 ml olive oil (€4.75 per litre)
€0,001   450 ml warm water
€1,176   TOTAL

The bread we normally buy costs €1,19. So if we would include wages for the half hour of work, it is definitely not cheaper than store-bought. Though you could make it a lot cheaper by going for cheaper ingredients than these (the flour, the salt, and the oil). But what is nice to remember is that in this case, you do have full control over the ingredients. The bread from the store is not ‘eco’, and probably has some additives. A nice additional benefit is that your house will smell deliciously of freshly baked bread — yumm. And you cannot get your bread any more freshly-baked than this!

About waste
The olive oil comes in a glass bottle (recyclable), and I found a place in the city where you can get refills from large canisters. The water comes from the tap, and the flour in a paper bag (recyclable). The salt in a PE pot, so that should be downcyclable. The yeast is packaged in some kind of mix of plastic and aluminium I think, so that one is problematic. But instead of a plastic bag with each bread you buy, 500 grams of yeast is enough for 35 loaves of bread (large), and the salt lasts for 20. When this salt is gone, I’ll go get 1 kg packaging, so again a nice reduction in waste.

Based on the tips on The Fresh Loaf and his recipe for white batard, here is an improved recipe for white bread.

For 2 loaves of white bread

Ingredients
2 tsp dry yeast (~14gr)
1/2 cup warm water + 2 cups of warm water
6 cups of flour + 1 cup
2 tsp salt
4 tbsp honey
3 tbsp olive oil

The evening before (about 12 hours before the next step)
Mix 1/4 tsp dry yeast, 1/2 cup warm water, 1 cup flour
Cover bowl, leave out at room temperature

The next day 
Mix 5 cups of flour and 2 cups of water. cover bowl with damp towel. wait for 30min (autolyze)
Mix in the 2 tsp salt, 4 tbsp honey, 3 tbsp olive oil, the preferment (mix from the day before), and rest of the yeast (1 3/4 tsp) — note: if you have the type of yeast that needs activating, put the yeast in a separate bowl with 1 cup of the warm water and a bit of the flour, for about 10 min. This is also a good way to test if your yeast still works.
Stretch and fold –– it is so sticky that I just do the best I can with a spoon. Let rise for 30min.
Stretch and fold — it is still very sticky, but I add about half a cup of flour just try. Let rise for 30min.
Stretch and fold — still sticky. Again adding half a cup of flour . Let rise for 30min.
Divide into 2 loaves, shape into the form you like or put in bread form, seam down — do not punch it down totally, but leave some gas in. Carve the dough in at the top, at least 1cm deep  Let rise for 1h.
Note: because I let one loaf rise in a form, but the other not, it was difficult to cover them during the rising process. Instead I wetted the bread tops every now and then to prevent dehydration.
Wet the top with a bit of water. Bake at 230 degrees Celsius for 25 min.

    

The verdict
The final bread looks nice. The internal structure is great. Love the holes. But it does seem a bit too oily to me. During the process, it smelled a lot like oliebollen, which are oily, sweet dumplings Dutch people eat at new Year’s eve. One other thing I did not like about this recipe compared to my previous recipe, is that it takes a lot more effort, as you knead the dough four times, with only thirty minutes in between! Less work is definitely better.

Next time?
My recommendations for adjusting this recipe for even better bread are:  less water (2 cups?), less oil (1 tbsp?), less honey (1 tbsp?). Let’s keep the preferment and autolyzing. They require little effort, just more waiting. As there is a lot less sugar then, remove one kneeding down, and add a little more time in between the rises. Keep the high temperature baking. The recipe now seems to move more into the direction of French baguette. When I try this next week, I will post the results again.

In the Netherlands, bread is generally sold in plastic bags. You could go to a bakery, and ask them to leave the wrapping off, but you could also learn to bake your own bread. This way, you can be certain about the ingredients in them. Besides, the smell of baking bread is delicious, and the kneading is actually quite zen. Bread making does not take that much active time, perhaps only about 20min. The rest is waiting for the dough to rise and the bread to bake. So why not give it a try?

A very simple recipe that works quite well for me:

Ingredients for 2 loaves
14 gr dry yeast (buy in bulk to avoid all the wrapping)
2 cups warm water
2 tbsp honey (or sugar)
6 cups all purpose flour
~1tbsp salt, ~3 tbsp olive oil

Preparation
Mix the yeast with the water and the honey. Wait a little.
Add the flour, salt, and oil. Mix and knead for about 10min. Let it rise to double size in a bowl covered with a wet towel.
Knead the dough again, flatten it out and roll it up to a bread shape you like, or put the roll in a bread form. Let it rise again to almost the size you want it to be when done. You can cut into the top so the dough does not break, and to give the loaf a nice look. When I don’t want to wait too long, I let the bread rise in the oven at about 40 degrees C.
Bake in oven for 30min at 180 degrees Celcius. Let it cool off.

The result  is a nice white bread with a very soft crust. It does not have the structure yet of store-bought bread, but it is getting close enough that my picky husband is eating it voluntarily. I don’t know why, but the rising works better when making 2 loaves at the same time.

Just today I discovered this great website: The Fresh Loaf. It features a great set of lessons that takes you through the different ingredients and steps in bread making, including tips on how to get a better end result. I will definitely be trying out some if his advice, such as: adding more sugar, preferment, autolyse, more water, less punching down in the last step, and baking at higher heat. If it works out well, I’ll post the new and improved recipe, with pictures.