Golden Linseed Loaf

Here I am, breaking one of my own rules and writing about baking... The New Year got me thinking about resolutions, most of which I diligently re-write in a neat list in my diary every year, only to get to December and realise I have neglected them all yet again! (Sound familiar?)

So this time I'm going with things that might actually come a bit naturally. Last year I got quite quick at pulling together a half-sized fresh loaf at home, instead of grumbling through shop bought medium white. So I am determined to do this a bit more in 2016!

I don't have a bread machine and I am certainly no artisan baker, but I've found there is something really tasty and almost meditative about making bread at home. So this weekend I'm sharing my novice's tips on making a deceptively simple loaf in your own kitchen.


INGREDIENTS

The pretty cool thing about bread is that you can make the simplest of loaves from flour, salt, water and yeast. Once you've got the knack of it, adding a little bit of something else brings a whole new loaf to life. For example, this linseed loaf is a white strong (bread) flour with a handful of golden linseed mixed in and a sprinkling of poppy seed on top.

Fresh yeast is pretty hard to find these days, although I do remember the days you could pop into the bakery department at your nearest supermarket and they'd give you some in a little bag. But the dried stuff seems to work pretty well if you treat it right!

RATIO

You can make a loaf as big or as little as you like, remembering the smaller ones cook quicker and will end up overall more "crusty" vs. soft and fluffy...

All you need to remember is the ratio of dry goods to warm water, which works out as roughly 5:3.

So for every 500g of flour + seed + salt you use, you'll need approximately 300ml of liquid to bind it together into a dough. My half-sized loaf used a generous handful of seed, made up to a total 300g weight with flour, mixed with 180ml of liquid. 

My initial attempts making bread without a machine were pretty sorry looking. The biggest killer is not getting enough rise / growth from the dough, so that your loaf is hard as a rock and too dense to enjoy. So there are a couple of things I have now "perfected" to get a better looking loaf.


MY HACK 1: Activate your yeast in water, even "Easybake"!

Measure out just short of your expected water requirement in warm water and mix in your sachet of yeast. I do this even with "Easybake" yeast now. Use a milk whisk or fork to really dissolve the little balls of dried yeast into the water, which they need in order to activate. This means none of those yeast cells will get lost in a dry "pocket" in your dough, rendering them useless.

MY HACK 2: Add flour to water, not the reverse... and whisk!

Most recipes will then tell you to form a little trench in your dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid. But I find mixing this way gives a variable consistency. Your bread mixer will mix smoothly from this starting point, but that's because it is made of tireless steel and powered by electricity, not by an increasingly achey arm...

So instead, I put my activated yeast / warm water broth into a big mixing bowl and I sift in the dry ingredients as if making the lightest of sponge cakes, whisking with a regular whisk as I do so. This mixing will start activating the gluten in the flour and the sieve will prevent lumps. Don't worry if you have larger pieces in your dry ingredient mix, like nuts or seeds. Yes, these will collect in the sieve! But if you sift only a portion at once, you can toss in those larger pieces again once the portion of flour is all through, before moving on to another portion of dry mix. 

As the mixture becomes thicker, you will reach a stage where you are having to pry some of it out of the whisk, back into the bowl... move on to a spoon! This is OK, because you have now formed a great based mixture. Continue adding dry ingredients through the whisk, a bit at a time, using the back of a large spoon to "beat" the forming dough like your bread machine would. As the dough gets less sticky, you can finish up with your hands and then pull it out onto a board to knead for a couple of minutes.



LESSON LEARNT: Preserve your air pockets.

The rise in your dough is created by yeast producing air pockets, some of which can be very delicate, only encased in a thin, stretchy membrane of dough. These can break with mishandling, causing your beautiful loaf to suddenly flatten again. Be gentle when moving the dough around before it is baked, as even a short drop onto the counter-top can knock all the air out of it.

You can also damage air pockets if you have to the rip cling film or paper towel cover off the top of rising dough. I pour a little dot of olive oil onto my cling-film and rub it around, so that it peels off easily. The tiny residual layer of oil left behind will also give a beautiful browning to the crown of you loaf!



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