Saturday, 29 October 2011

The sponge method!

Another tip from River Cottage was to use the sponge method when making your own bread.  Usually used with sourdough, the sponge method can also be used with regular bread making and gets half of the flour fermenting for a few hours before you knead.  It helps improve the flavour and I like to think the digestibility of the loaf.

As my bread stocks were getting drastically low a couple of days ago, it was a good excuse to use my new mixing bowl which OH very kindly bought me earlier in the week.  You know you are a bit sad (or is that baking mad?) when you get more excited over the mixing bowl, rather than the nice orchid I got too.  It is very bright red.... who could resist?  Here beautifully modelled by my ginormous cat.  Yup, its a big bowl :)

I digress.  If making a 1kg batch of bread, put 500g of bread flour into a large mixing bowl. Add 10g of dried yeast and 600ml of water. 

Stir it all together well and it will look like a sloppy mess.  This is fine, its how you want it.  Cover with a big plastic bag or bin liner and leave for a good 5-6 hours. (Overnight or whilst you are out at work is fine too).

When you are ready for the next stage, you add the remaining 500g of flour and 20g of salt.  Mix it all up and then plop onto your work surface and knead for at least 10 minutes until the dough is nice and silky.  I tried a new flour mix from Waitrose's Love life range.  Its their Seeded and Malted bread flour.  In general bread making I always use 1kg flour, 600ml water, 10g yeast and 20g salt, however, looking on the flour packet it suggested less water.  That'll teach me not to read the packet.  No worry, whilst kneading I just kept adding a bit extra regular bread flour to the work surface to make it less sticky.

Once kneaded, pop it back in the bowl to rise for 1 1/2 hour to 2 hours or however long it takes to double in size.

Back out onto the work surface again and divide into 2 or 3 loaves.  Pop into your floured proving baskets, cover and allow to double in size again.

Then pop onto baking sheets and throw into a 250c fan oven (or the hottest you can get it).  After 10 minutes turn down to 170c and cook for a further 10 minutes.  Ovens vary, but hopefully if you knock the bottom and they sound hollow, voila, you have some scrummy bread.

If not, just pop it back the oven for a couple more minutes.  The timings are based on dividing the dough into 3 loaves, so 2 loaves will take longer. It sounds like a real palaver, but each process only takes 10 minutes or so to complete and you get your own homemade bread!  Go on, give it a go, you know you want too!

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