July 06, 2011

Sultana and apple bread + a few tips on baking with yeast

Of all the recipes, I find the bread recipes the most difficult to write. Why? Because it is extremely hard to give exact measurements for how much flour you might need for your loaf of bread. Even if you are using the exact same flour as I am, you may need to use more or less depending on variety of things, including the weather. So, I thought I'd sum just a few of my tips and 'rules of thumb' for bread baking as I know it. The list is no way comprehensive, but might be helpful if you are just starting to bake with yeast. I am planning to make Finnish rye bread with a starter method very soon, so I will give more tips on how to bake bread with a starter later on.

But before I get onto the tips, here's the recipe for a tasty sultana and apple bread I baked the other day. I normally prefer having my savoury bread without dried fruit, but sultanas work really well in this and it is certainly not too sweet, not even with the addition of grated apple. This freezes well and is perfect toasted.

Sultana and apple bread
(makes 2 loaves)

500 ml water
17g dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons treacle/dark syrup
30g brown or golden flaxseed meal
65g sultanas, coarsely chopped
1 apple (100g), coarsely grated
600-700g whole spelt flour (organic, biodynamic) or 
half-half white spelt and whole spelt
50ml olive oil

1. Warm the water until about 42C. Add the yeast in a small amount of flour and mix it in. Cover the bowl with a cling wrap and leave for about 15 minutes or until bubbly and frothy.

2. Add the salt, syrup, flaxseed meal, sultanas and apple into the mixture. Start mixing in the flour, adjusting the amount to your need. You may need more/less. Add the oil at the last stages of kneading and knead the dough until smooth and soft.

3. Cut the dough in half and bake two loaves straight onto a baking sheet covered with baking paper. Cover the loaves with a clean tea towel and leave to rise. You know the dough has risen enough, when it feels soft to touch and if you press it with your finger, it'll leave a dimple on to the dough. 

4. Preheat the oven to 180C whilst the dough is rising. 

5. Bake the loaves for 40 minutes or until they feel light and the bottom sounds 'hollow' when tapped.

6. Cool on a wire rack, covered with a tea towel, before serving.

Now, some tips...

1) Remember to have all the ingredients in room temperature before starting to bake.

2) Whether you are using fresh or dry yeast, you need to remember to use different temperature liquid. For fresh yeast the liquid should not be warmer than 40C (ideally it should be about 37C). For dry yeast, however, you want the liquid to be slightly warmer, about 42C, but not warmer than 50C. There is no need to take a thermometer out for this, however, just judge the temperature by dipping your finger in to the liquid.

3) If you are using fresh yeast, you can break the yeast straight into the liquid and mix it in until it has fully dissolved. Dry yeast needs to be mixed with a small amount of flour before mixing it into the liquid.

4) The ratio between liquid and yeast is normally about 1 litre per 50 grams of fresh yeast or about 20 grams of dry yeast. Again, this may vary depending on what you are baking and what flour you are using.

5) Adding a tablespoon of sugar, honey or syrup won't make the bread sweet, but it will active the yeast and make the bread rise quicker.

6) Try not to use too much flour as this can make the bread hard. A looser dough may be more challenging to work with, but will result in a much softer bread. You'll learn to judge the amount of flour needed as you bake more.

7) Be patient with your dough. Let it rise until doubled in size. If it is a cold weather, you can place the bowl with the dough in a sink filled with warm water. Cover the bowl with cling wrap or a clean tea towel. Often a recipe requires you to let the dough rise first in the bowl, then after kneading the dough and shaping it in to loaves or rolls, letting it rise again before baking. A well risen dough feels soft to touch and if you press it with your finger it should leave a little dimple on to the dough.

8) All ovens are different, so keep your eye on the bread and test if it is done by tapping the bottom of the bread. It should feel hollow and the bread should feel fairly light.

9) Covering the freshly baked bread with a tea towel will make the bread softer. If you prefer a crunchy crust, leave the bread to cool uncovered.

10) Last, but not least, don't be afraid to use yeast, it is much easier to work with than you may think!