Adventures in Bread-making


Here is a different kind of diary – one woman’s journey of learning to make bread.

Attempt 1: The wholemeal rolls. 

This was a recipe we were given by our nursery, and we used half wholemeal half white flour, but they still came out pretty brown overall. We added sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and poppy seeds. The kid had lots of fun making this, especially all the kneading and squishing and squashing.

Not looking too good after the first proove.

Rising slightly more on the second proove after I put them into a warm oven on my mother’s advice.

They were not bad for a first attempt, but didn’t really rise as there was nowhere warm in the house to leave the dough, and weren’t really left for very long, so they came out very flat, and extremely dense and solid, like the kind of rolls that could double as a murder weapon.

Attempt 2: The shop-bought bread mix 

This was a packet of tomato and cheese dough mix we picked up. Didn’t require much in the way of kneading or prooving, so we were sceptical but I did manage to proove them in a warm oven this time. These definitely did expand and double in size, but they spread outwards instead of upwards, so were still very wide, flat rolls. We also added in some chopped sun-dried tomatoes into half the dough, which made it very oily but was tasty.

Prooved and spreading outwards not upwards…

These were lighter and fluffier than the previous attempt, and much more edible, though still very flat and looked rather peculiar. Also a tad greasy in the ones where I added the sun-dried tomatoes.

Attempt 3: The no-knead bread

This was a recipe sent to me by my neighbour using the “Dutch oven” method. I was once again dubious as it has a tiny amount of yeast in the recipe, and claims not to need a warm place to proove. Again our first proove didn’t do much, so I moved it outside to sit in the sunshine for the second proove which helped.

It is cooked at a super-high temperature inside a big pot or “dutch oven” like this which has to be mega-hot when you put the dough in:

And I didn’t expect much but this was by far the best one so far – it was amazing to see when I took the lid off – it looked like proper bread!

Goes back in without the lid for an extra 10-15 mins to get it nice and brown and crispy and it was really delicious!

A little chewy/rubbery, rather like sourdough but without the yummy sourdough flavour, though I am planning to experiment with salt, cheese, tomatoes etc. Also next time I think I might try leaving the dough to proove overnight and cooking it in the morning to see if that helps make it lighter and fluffier.

Sadly the only issue with this one is the lack of kneading, which is the fun part for my daughter!

2nd attempt at making this one I left it to proove overnight and it was AMAZING – really really yummy bread! I’m so pleased!

Attempt 4: Harissa and Sun-dried tomato bread

I’m told this no-knead bread is very well-suited to olives/olive bread, but because olives are disgusting and they are the devil’s food, I went with some chopped sun-dried tomatoes, a teaspoon of harissa paste and a little pinch of smoked paprika. Plus a load of pumpkin and sunflower seeds. We used mostly white flour but added a little (50g approx) of wholemeal flour too.

This time I left it to proove for about 18-20 hours overnight, so it’s a little more bready.

It is softer and moister, though I didn’t leave it in long enough at the end so the crust is not as crusty as I would have liked. This one was also delicious and much better than my last attempt – definitely my best one yet! Except for the part where I was putting the dough into the insanely hot cast iron pot, got distracted by my toddler and I absent-mindedly reached for the pot lid to put it back on without my oven gloves and burnt my fingers pretty badly… That part sucked. But otherwise it’s pretty freaking delicious!

I’m planning to make this one again while I wait for my class on Sourdough baking to start in a couple of weeks – I’ve now got a sourdough starter that I need to feed and will be attempting a sourdough loaf once I’ve had my zoom class!

2nd attempt at this one was also yummy, though I let the kid put the seeds in and it was a little too much! Need to measure them next time….

Attempt 5: Sourdough

This was via an online Zoom class so it was great to be taught properly how to do it and be able to ask questions. I feel like such a hipster breadwanker now!

Also I am now choc-full of incredibly dull bread-facts. For example, I now know that commercial yeast was only developed approximately 200 years ago, but bread has been around for much much longer. so technically all bread prior to commercial yeast being available was sourdough, made with a “wild yeast” starter.

Also, my starter has come all the way from San Francisco, which apparently is famous for a particular flavour. One thing I really do like about sourdough is the tradition of sharing and passing along the starter to others, as well as the knowledge. And of course I can now grow and share my starter with others in case anyone wants any!

First we fed the starter to wake it up on Thursday night, and then we bulk-fed it on Friday afternoon ready to use, so it was fermenting and growing away all afternoon.

Then on Friday evening we measured out the amount of starter we needed for bread, and put the rest away in the fridge for next time. I was originally given a little tub with about 50g of starter in it, and after feeding I had 520g, so used 400g for my bread and put the remaining 120g back in the fridge for next time.

Then she walked us through how to mix the dough and knead using the “stretch and pull” method. We had to keep kneading it a little and then leave ti for 10 mins, and then knead it again 4 or 5 times so took about an hour or so.

After that we covered the bowls in tea towels (this was enough for 2 large loaves, but next time I’ll only make one loaf as it is far too much bread for us!). After covering with tea towels, we wrapped the bowls in plastic bags to stop the dough from drying out and put them into the fridge overnight. Sourdough apparently likes a nice long, slow, cool proove, though you do need plenty of space in your fridge! In winter months you could leave it in a cold room like a conservatory, though my house is roasting hot when the heating is on so that wouldn’t work for me.

In the morning on Saturday, my dough looked like this straight from the fridge:

We did a little more stretching and pulling, and then a little shaping, and popped it into baskets or colanders lined with tea towels for the 2nd proove. This time we left it out on the side for 2 hours, but you could also put it back in the fridge and leave it to proove for longer, or even overnight again if you want.

As I was doing 2 loaves, I did one in my pot/dutch oven (on the left) and one on a baking tray (on the right). However I wasn’t expecting them to rise quite as much as they did so the one on the top hit the top of the oven and started to burn! So I had to do some hasty oven re-arranging, but they came out just fine! Next time I’m likely to only cook one loaf at a time anyway so can put it in the middle of the oven for a more even bake. But look how tall they are! They rose a lot more than my no-knead bread usually does.

I attempted some scoring on the tops, but definitely need to practice that part next time and try to get a more interesting shape….

The final product was absolutely delicious, light, fluffy bread! I’m not sure it’s what connoisseurs would class as sourdough, as to me it tasted more like a nice white loaf but not very sour, and not as chewy/tough as I think of when I think of sourdough. I’m hoping next time to add some seeds and maybe let me starter develop a bit more to get more flavour out of it. I might also play around with adding a little more wholemeal flour into the starter.

I split the second loaf and gave half each to two of my neighbours, so only have this massive loaf to get through!

Suffice to say I’m now starting to feel a little sick of eating bread (even though it’s so yummy!) so might have to start doing it once every two weeks or so for balance.

Next time I’ll only make one loaf, but might also use some of the extra starter to make something special like sourdough pizza or sourdough brownies….

1 thought on “Adventures in Bread-making

  1. Great real experimentations and observations, science & arts, great documentaries by homemakers, the nursings of mankind.

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