Essential Guide to Bread
Everything you need to know to create beautiful bakes
The first ever bread
According to reports, during an excavation in Israel in 2004, at a site called Ohalo II, scientists found 22,000-year-old barley grains in a grinding stone. This is thought to be the earliest known evidence of humans processing wild cereal grains, and therefore, the first existence of bread.
However, unlike our fluffy 21st-century loaves, these ‘breads’ would have been more like flat cakes, made from mashed up grains and seeds.
Bread evolved from this point in many different ways, in many different cultures. Sliced bread came about in 1937, when a bread slicing and wrapping machine was installed in the Wonderloaf Bakery, in Tottenham.
Top Tips for Bread Perfection
- Give your dough enough time to rise – Rising and proving is essential when working with yeasted dough, as the yeast needs to be activated and have time to grow and multiply. This rising time is what makes your bread fluffy and light on the inside.
- Try a loaf tin – If it’s your first time making bread, getting the right size and shape loaf can be tricky. Try opting for a loaf tin for
your first few attempts; it will give your dough a guideline.
- Adding water makes for a crunchy crust – Placing a bain-marie (water bath) in the bottom of your oven can help give your breads a crispy crust, thanks to the steam it will generate when the oven heats up.
- Warmth works wonders – Putting your dough in a warm place can help quicken the proving process. Covering the dough with a slightly damp warm tea towel can also help encourage the dough to rise rapidly.
- Keep written records – Much like pastry, bread is something you may need to try a few times to learn what works and what doesn’t. Something as simple as the type of oven you have, or where you leave the dough to rise, can massively affect the final bake. Keeping quick written notes and taking pictures of your bread creations will help you keep track of what has been successful and which methods are more effective.
- Slicing the tops – Once your dough is ready to bake, before you pop it in the oven, cut three or four deep slashes into the top of the loaf. This will give the dough space to expand while cooking, and give you that traditional bakery-style finish.
- Always preheat the oven – Trying to bake bread in a cold oven just will not work and could negatively affect your rise. Therefore it’s important to remember to preheat your oven first so your bread can start cooking as soon as it goes in.
Making it Vegan
Most breads are, by nature, accidentally vegan, as their ingredients revolve around the basic components of flour, water, oil and yeast. However, some more exotic breads can include animal-based ingredients – but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out, check out these simple solutions for making plant-based breads:
Brioche: Traditionally made with eggs and milk, to give it a rich, sweet flavour, this French bread is a firm favourite for brunches. For a vegan-friendly version, combine equal amounts of plain flour and strong bread flour (the plain flour ensures it’ll have a softer, squishier texture than savoury breads) with a sachet of dried fast-action yeast and a tablespoon of sugar. Then very slightly warm a jug of almond milk and slowly pour it into the flour mix, whilst stirring. Once it has come together to form a dough, tip it out onto a floured worktop and knead until smooth. Leave the dough in a warm place to rise. Once risen, cut the dough into portions to make little buns or rolls; place on a baking tray and let sit for a second prove. Glaze with a little more almond milk and sprinkle with a few sesame seeds before baking in a preheated oven until golden on top.
Naan breads: This tasty Indian flatbread is a lot quicker to make than most breads, but contains milk. It’s super easy to create a plant-based naan, though, by combining plain flour, a sprinkle of sugar and salt, a teaspoon of baking powder, two tablespoons of oil and just over 100ml of plant-based milk (coconut works well, especially if you’re planning on turning a plain naan into a peshwari naan). Knead the dough well, then leave it to rise for 10 minutes. Heat a grill, oven or (for best results) a non-stick frying pan. Divide the dough into small balls and roll each into a naan-shape. Bake or fry the breads for a couple of minutes on each side, until cooked through and spattered with brown spots.
How to make it healthy:
- Try switching olive oil for a lower fat oil or using a higher proportion of water compared to oil.
- Wholegrain and wholemeal breads are usually considered healthier than carb-heavy white breads, as they are less heavily processed and contain complex, rather than simple carbohydrates.
- Adding seeds to your bread can amp up the nutritional value and can add a little texture and crunch.
- Minimise your salt use. Many bread recipes will suggest using salt, but try to use it in moderation and, as far as possible, use fresh herbs to flavour your bakes instead of salt.
- Breads made using water rather than plant-based milk are automatically lower in fat, but if your bread recipe does require milk opt for a protein-rich variety, such as soya or almond, rather than indulgent milks like coconut.