Thursday, 22 May 2014

Ultimate Super Simple Bread Dough



Okay, recently I've been on a bit of a bread buzz. Up until about two months ago, I'd never made anything with yeast in my life. It was always this mystical and slightly scary thing. Baking with yeast involved words like "proving" and "kneading", cryptic techniques presumably passed on from baker to slightly younger baker.

Then I found out that "proving" just means "waiting", and "kneading" just means "beating the sh*t out of". And I've been making bread ever since!

Seriously, this dough is super easy to make and is so versatile, I've been using it for pizza, naan, burger buns, pita bread, fancy herby loaves and everything in between. If ever I say "use some dough", this is the stuff I'm talking about. It keeps in the fridge for about a week, or for much longer if you put it in the freezer. So let's get stuck in.


I was born ready

 

    Put a big pile of flour into a large bowl. Add salt. Mix sugar, dried yeast and warm water together in a jug and let sit for a few minutes, then add it to the flour. Mix it all together, using your hands once it gets firmer. Lift out the big ball of dough you've just made and start beating it up. After 5 minutes of that, put it back in the bowl, throw some flour on top and cover it with a tea towel. Leave it for 30-60 minutes. Now it should have doubled in size, so take it out, teach it who's boss for another half minute, then divide it into pieces for whatever you need it for. Done.


Sorry, didn't quite catch that

 

No problem, here's the long version.

Ingredients
  • 1kg strong white flour (I'm sure black flour is at least as strong, but I've yet to see it in the shops)
  • 630ml lukewarm water
  • 3x 7g packets of dried yeast (they always seem to come in 7g packets)
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
The "strong" part is important for the flour. It refers to the high gluten content. As gluten is vital to the raising of yeast dough, using "soft" flour (low gluten) will result in a dense product. Strong flour, or its equivalent, goes by different names in different countries. It might be called "Baker's flour" or "Bread flour". Italian TIPO 00 flour is a fantastic substitute if you can get it. It's different to strong flour, but works great for bread and will give that real, authentic Italian bread taste. You can also swap out up to 1/3 of the white flour for wholemeal flour and still get a fluffy result, but with a nuttier texture and flavour.

Lastly, you'll need a nice big counter to work on and some flour for dusting. All set? Here goes.

    Leave the water in a measuring jug and add the yeast and sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Leave for a few minutes so the yeast can wake up and have breakfast. Sieve the flour into a very big bowl and add the salt. Make a well in the middle of the flour.

    Pour about half the liquid into the well, and start mixing in the flour from the edges with a fork. When the water gets thick, add in the rest of the liquid and keep stirring. Once it gets too stodgy for the fork, coat your hands in flour so they don't stick and get to work. When you have all the flour pulled into one large ball, lift it out of the bowl and put it on your flour-dusted counter.

    Alright, time for the kneading. What you're going to want to do is push into the ball of dough with the heel of your palms, stretching it away from you. Now imagine the dough is a clock. Grab it's edges at 9 and 3, and rotate it counter-clockwise so that your right hand is now at 12. In that same movement, pull that top edge down to the middle of the dough and release your hands. Repeat. In this way, you'll squash, stretch and move the dough around, making the gluten in the bread nice and springy and elastic. This elastic gluten is what will catch the CO2 produced by the yeast, making your bread fluffy.

    After kneading for at least 5 minutes, flour the inside of your large bowl and put the, now smooth and springy, dough back into it. Coat the top of the dough with more flour (this will stop it sticking), cover the whole thing with a damp tea towel and leave it somewhere warm (very important that it's actually warm) for half an hour to an hour. It will double in size and you'll be all "Woah! Yeast is awesome!"

    As awesome as it is, we can't let it get ahead of itself. So take it out and beat it up. No, seriously, smack it around for half a minute. We want to get rid of any large air bubbles so that it has a consistent texture when you cook it. After doing that, you can divide it into whatever size pieces you need, in whatever shapes you need. Now dust them with flour again and put them in bowls or trays or whatever.

    If you want to roll out the dough, like for pita, you can use it right away. Just pull off a lump and get rolling. If you're saving it for another time, wrap in cling film and store short-term in the fridge or long-term in the freezer. If freezing, simply let it thaw completely before using it again.

(If you just want bread, make a bread shaped lump and leave it on a floured tray under the tea towel again for another hour, until it swells up once more. Then cook it in the oven at 180ºC for about 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your loaf. It's done when knocking on the base of the bread sounds hollow. For sexy, super bread, at the very beginning add basil, oregano and chilli flakes to the flour. Or if you missed that chance, just throw it on top when you're beating the dough up and knead it some more, it'll work its way in.)

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