Baking bread can be one of the most satisfying thing you'll ever do. Whether it's for your family or for the sheer joy of it, you can make both basic loaves of bread and exotic loaves in beautiful shapes. But before you start making an ambitious 8 strand braid, you need to know the very basics of bread making.
I'm going to be talking about what goes into bread, what yeast does and how and the importance of proving properly.
So that's a lot of ground to cover so let's get started!
Without further ado, there are a few different types of yeast, namely dry active, fast action and compressed yeast.
I like to use compressed yeast, also known as fresh yeast, because it gives a much better result, there isn't a strong smell of yeast when the bread is baked and it's much healthier in my opinion. Although it's difficult to get hold of in New Zealand, fresh yeast is definitely worth the hassle to find. It's normally sold in 1kg bricks and has to be bought in 18kg boxes. It's a bit costly and comes from Pinnacle but you can also ask at supermarkets that have bakeries although I've only tried that in the UK (and it works there by the way). The big difference is the way you treat the yeast though. Compressed yeast will melt in liquid. It also freezes well for 3 to 6 months and it can be stored in the fridge for up to 21 days before it becomes too old to use.
If you're going to use dry active or fast yeast, there are a few ways of using it. I'll cover this more in depth in a video about yeast, but I'll include the bare basics here for you.
Firstly, you need to know that dry active or fast yeast are widely available. You can buy them from most supermarkets in the baking aisle and they don't cost nearly as much as compressed yeast. This is because this yeast is multi-purpose. Both bakers and brewers can use this type of yeast to make their products, making it more popular.
The major difference is that because dry active and fast action are granular, you have to activate them. Most recipes recommend that you add the yeast to your warm water and allow it to foam and activate that way, but when I did a bread course in Italy, we just added the granules to the top of our dry ingredients and went ahead as if it was fresh yeast. Try both ways and see which one suits you, everyone is different when it comes to bread making.
So once you've found the yeast you and your wallet like, you need to know what yeast actually does.
Most people know that yeast makes bread rise and yes, that's the basics but you need to understand a little more about yeast than just that! Yeast is a living thing so it needs a few different things like food, water and warmth. The food is the protein in the flour or sugar or salt that you add; the water is literally the water you add to the mixture and that will depend on the weather and the flour used and finally it does need a little bit of warmth to grow.
So if you want to add a little bit of sugar to the dry yeast and water mixture then that's fine by your yeast, it'll have a nice little snack. Be careful when adding salt though because if it comes in direct contact with your yeast, it will kill it off. Yeast is a fickle thing!
The yeast also creates gas when it eats and that causes the rising process to start. This is where the term de-gassing comes from when you knock down your dough. It means your yeast is alive and well so you can do a happy dance at this point.
So that's the main function of yeast, to create gas and allow rising to occur.
The next big thing about bread making is the rising process. This is called proving and it's where the majority of people go wrong.
There is a stigma attached to bread making that really pisses me off. Everyone says that bread can rise for too long and that can cause tunneling. Yes, that's true, but please stop spreading your horror stories all over the place, you're not R L Stein.
Bread is a lot more robust than people think and an extra half an hour rising while you're in the shower will not hurt your bread so no more panicking, thank you very much. It's also better to leave it a few extra minutes than to under prove bread because that causes problems.
There are a few golden rules to proving bread:
1. Over rather than under prove!
2. The longer it proves, the longer your bread will stay fresh.
Having said that, shall we discuss under proving and why it's bad? Yeah, good idea.
Have you heard of gluten free? Of course you have, it's everywhere. Gluten free is becoming a trend but not because it sounds cool or because Miley Cyrus swears by it, it's becoming a trend because there is a very real problem with the way that bread is mass produced.
Manufacturers use the Chorleywood Process which was developed after the second world war and was designed to create bread quicker and faster at a lower price thanks to rationing and world wide shortages. It made sense then. It does not make sense now. Basically, manufacturers add a lot of crap into your bread and they whip the yeast like there's no tomorrow. The problem with this is that the yeast gets hot and over active and when they add it to the flour (no matter the level of protein in the wheat) it begins to rise very quickly so it's able to be baked with about half an hour, making the process quicker and more economical because more is produced.
When you buy your loaf of bread and begin to eat it, the gluten in the flour is underdeveloped compared to the yeast and it hasn't had enough time to do it's thang. So, you eat the first slice of bread and when it hits your stomach, it's compressed back into dough and it begins to ferment and work inside of you. Your body is not designed to cope with this and the proving process continues to work until you visit the bathroom. A lot of people think that their reaction to this means they can't have gluten when in actual fact, they just need to buy or make bread that's developed properly. It can also cause heart burn and indigestion so be careful.
Of course, there are people with genuine gluten problems, I'm not saying everyone is just buying rubbish standard bread, but the majority of people can avoid problems with bread by simply buying real bread from independent bakeries, market stalls and artisan retailers.
That was a lot of text!
But basically, if you prove your bread properly, you will be able to eat it without having any health problems. I will be doing a post on how to prove etc a little later on so don't panic if you have no idea how to prove your bread yet.