Before I tried it, baking you own bread (and bread related items) seemed like something people tend to do when they’re retired and slightly quirky. The people who regale their children and grandchildren with epic tales about their latest loaf, mulling over the finer details of yeast and pretending you know what every dial on the bread maker you got for Christmas does. But then I did it myself.
Turns out it’s awesome.
Before anyone asks, Great British Bake Off had nothing to do with me embracing the dough life. I don’t watch it. And I can’t imagine watching someone crying over a flan would inspire a desire to roll my sleeves up and fanny about with flour for hours on end. Nope. It all started with a pizza.
While buying all the gumph needed to ‘make my own pizza’ I looked at the packets of ‘pizza dough’ in Sainsbury’s. If you’ve looked in the flour aisle, you’ve probably seen the plethora of ready to use packets milling about: pizza, cupcakes, bread, pancakes. Basically anything that’s essentially just flour.
Realising this packet was little more than a very small amount of flour, I cast my eyes over the flour. This pathetic bag of “flour and some other stuff” was racked up by those charlatans at the same price as a massive bag of actual flour. Refusing to be mugged off once again, I went for the flour. The only problem was, I didn’t know what those other things were they stuck with the flour. Or what I was supposed to do with it.
I did what anyone else with a phone and time to kill would do. I Googled pizza recipes, with an emphasis on ‘basic’. There was a lot said about 000 flour, I ignored that. Water was needed – I’ve got that. Yeast? For those who’ve never bought yeast, the yeast guys are super helpful and sell it in packets of exactly the amount you need it in. Lovely bastards.
Returning home with all the stuff needed to make my own pizza base, I vaguely followed the instructions.
Without hesitation, I got my water, yeast and flour nice and acquainted. Should be simple? Yes, it fucking should. But there’s no warning about the near constant battleground that these few ingredients manufacture.
Trusting the recipe too much, I used all the water I was told to use. Did it work? It did not. It made some kind of horrific wet paste. So I added more flour, which was devoured by the water-paste monster with relentless hunger. That “smooth, elastic dough” the recipe spoke of looked forever illusive. That was until I just rammed more flour in. Like, a lot more. Then I had to add more water. This went on a while. But eventually, it was ready. Ready to knead.
If you’ve never kneaded dough before, believe me – it’s life changing. Not winning the lottery life changing, or meeting your soul mate life changing, but closer to finding the shiny Pokemon card life changing. It was a nice bonus. The life changing aspects are I’d say four fold. Yes. Four.
The Need To Knead
Consider baking, namely the kneading process, as really, really, really cheap therapy. Had a bad day? Smashed together some watery flour for quarter of an hour. You’ll feel great. Plus, at the end of it (well, after an hour or so of proving and then however long baking and cooling) you’ll have something potentially tasty to eat. Bonus.
What really helps is finding the right kneading soundtrack. Find the right song and you can drop into an unstoppable kneading rhythm that’ll have you smashing that dough into a glorious, smooth bastard in no time. My personal favourite is an old running track I used, Queens of the Stone Age’s ‘Go With the Flow’. It’s got the ideal rhythm and pace for long, repetitive actions (careful now).
Save Dough, Yo
Remember I said cheap therapy? Yeah. It’s real cheap. While bread’s admittedly not amongst the most expensive of luxury items, a bag of flour is about a pound. You can make approximately loads of bread with that. On the flip side, you can buy one bread (loaf thereof) for about £1.20 (less if you buy really, really shit bread. But if you like really shit bread you probably don’t have any baking in your future).
It also eliminates waste. I don’t know about you, but I might get a bag of pitta, or some wraps or bread and use a bit of it. Maybe a third. The rest will be growing new life forms before I need more of it. And if you’re thinking “why don’t you just freeze it”, well you, you can. Unless you have a tiny freezer. I have a tiny freezer. So consider it a bake-as-you-go type deal.
If You Believe, You Can Bread
Not everything’s about money though. Sometimes you just like that warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Not the one you get when you put too many jalapenos on your pizza. The one when you’ve made something. Consider every loaf as an achievement. A very, very small achievement.
It’s obviously more likely to make you rotund than Rembrandt, but having created your very own bagels from scratch you can sit proudly and go: I made that.
Take the Flour Back
As with making your own anything, you get complete control over what’s in your food. After reading several recipes for different doughs – which almost entirely look the same to me – I noticed they all want you to throw in sugar and salt.
I’m sure there’s a good reason, but I can never tell the difference whether I use it or not. Either my tastebuds suck, which they probably do, or it’s just superflous. BEcause does a pitta bread REALLY need sugar in? It’s not a fucking muffin. It’s a pitta bread. So sugar can go back on the horse it rode on.
If salt/sugar/ whatever intake is something you care at allabout, then this is all good. If you don’t, then that’s all good too. Do what you like. Point is, you get to choose, and know, what the hell’s in your food, which is never a bad thing.
Go Forth and Bake
So I for some reason you actually want to make bread or bread related items now, here’s a very basic recipe.
– Some Water
– Some flour
– Yeast (for some reason this is almost always 7g)
Mix these things until they’re sort of wet but mostly not wet. Throw it on a floury surface and punch, rub, push, poke it until it’s smooth like silly putty. Leave it in a bowl until it gets way bigger.
Now go forth. Bake bread. Or don’t. I don’t care; i’m going for some chilli.