The Easiest Way to Make the Best Bread!
A note about Scottish Batch Loaves and Tins
This century, breadmaking has become a mechanised process in Scotland. Most people are used to loaves with a rectangular shape caused by the tins in which bread is formed and baked. In fact the distinctive Scottish loaf is called a "Batch Loaf" At the last moment the dough is formed by square sided tins, then put all together into the oven so that each side merges with the next, and only after baking are they pulled apart into individual loaves.
Breadmaking is unexpectedly easy!
Here we have a way of making bread which is more like the bread of old, before the factories took over. We've illustrated one loaf... but you could make several, put them in the oven together, and they'll join up just like the Batch Loaves of 200 years ago.
All you need is a flat baking tray, a mixing bowl, a spoon, some flour, water, salt, and a bit of yeast.
You don't even have to measure the ingredients exactly. Make it once and follow your instincts, and you will get a feeling about how to make it just right. You dont even need to spend much time either.... Only 15 minutes actual work for you, the dough itself (and oven) does the rest.
Ingredients: White flour, Salt, Yeast, Water
Unbleached organic flour is creamy white and has the best taste and appearance, but any flour is OK. The best "strong" breadmaking flours are a blend of "hard" North American wheat and other softer wheats. This combination gives a good rise and a springy texture. About a pound and a half makes a good sized loaf.
You can add a handful of wholewheat flour for a more rustic loaf.
If you're using dried yeast, mix it in now.
Water, yeast and salt:
Dissolve a teaspoon of salt in a jug of room-temperature water. Pour some into the middle of the flour and stir it with a spoon. Keep pouring until the dough sticks onto the spoon making it difficult to stir any more. Experience tells exactly how much water to add, and it's impossible to measure a quantity that will always work because different flours have different absorbtion rates.
The less yeast you use the better the bread... I usually halve the packet recommendations. Any kind of yeast is fine.
Salt is important not only for the taste, but also because it slows down the action of the yeast giving more time for flavour to develop... (see below)
When the dough is too stiff to stir, knead it with your hands. If it's too wet add some more flour, if it's too dry add more water. About 2 to 5 minutes is fine, though more kneading makes the bread dough even happier. You can knead in the bowl or on the table.
Traditional French cook's saying: "Il faut mettre le main à la pâte" - "You have to put your hands into the paste!" Kneading is as simple as turning and squeezing and folding.
Clean the bowl, neaten up the dough by forming it into a self-contained shape, then cover it with something to keep it moist and keep out the dust. Leave it in a cool place to rise.
Most people think you have to leave it in a warm place. This is not true! By leaving it in a cool place the yeast takes longer to rise the dough, but it has more time to develope all the subtleties of taste which take time to be developed. 12 to 24 hours rising is best. I sometimes even raise the dough in the cool compartment of the refridgerator.
When the dough has grown, bring it into the warmth for an hour before you squash it down and knead it a bit more. At this point kneading means just folding it over a few times and shaping it into its final form on a flour-sprinkled table top.
Making holes with your finger tips encourages air-pockets which will expand and leave holes in the bread when it's baked... one of the signs of good bread.
Here's the dough shaped and ready to "prove" and lying on top of a generous sprinkling of flour (to stop it sticking) on a baking tray. Proving is leaving the shaped dough in a warm place, covered with an inverted bowl so the draughts don't get to it. Now you want the yeast to get a second go at rising the dough... quickly this time.
Proving bread dough hates draughts and loves moisture and warmth. A plastic shopping bag as a cover works too, but try not to let it touch the expanding dough in case it sticks to it.
After about 1/2 hour check to see that it's rising well, then put the oven on to its highest temperature
Wet your hand with a little water and dampen the top (careful not to let drips go down the side onto the dry flour on the tin. A damp top helps encourage a good crispy crust.
With a very sharp knife make quick cuts..... There are three varieties of cut; chequer-board, parallel cuts, or a cross cut.
If you don't cut the top, the bread will make its own cuts, usually around the base so that the top rises up like a separate dome.
The best bread is baked in a wood fired oven... Wood guarantees a critical amount of moisture surrounding the bread for the first few minutes of baking. Not many of us have wood fired ovens, but a similar effect can be got by boiling a kettle, placing a flat oven-proof dish in the bottom of the oven, and as soon as you've put the bread into a shelf half-way up the oven, carefully and quickly pour 1/2 inch of boiling water into the oven-proof dish, then close the door immediately. The resulting steam will let the bread dough make a final extra rise during the first 5 minutes of baking.
Leave the oven at high for about 10 minutes then turn it down to medium and continue baking for another 40 minutes; 50 minutes in total. Check it once or twice near the end to make sure it's not getting too burnt, and adjust the temperature if it is
Click on the oven for the result...
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