Category Archives: bread making tips

The 3 types of yeast and how to use them

Sometimes it can be confusing when faced with the dilemma of which yeast to use and how best to use it. Should you use fresh yeast, and how much? What about active dried? Is that different to easy-bake? I answer your questions here:

Let me know which yeast you prefer to use and why in the comments section below.

Marmite Bread

Last week, in my post about my top three books for beginner bread makers I mentioned Marmite bread, with reference to James Morton’s book Brilliant Bread, where I got the initial idea for this recipe. (It’s a great book that should be on everyone’s shelf.) I offer Marmite bread as a choice for people to make on my full day Bread Basics course and it will be a recipe that will be included in my upcoming online course because it one of my absolute favourites.

My mentioning Marmite bread prompted Tony to get in touch and ask if I had published the recipe on here yet. It is included in my recipe book but Tony was one of the first people to attend one of my bread making courses, way back in May 2015, and as learning to make bread is a lifelong adventure I hadn’t come across James’ Marmite Bread at that point.

So this post is especially for Tony, as a thank you for his support for all of this time.

Even if you hate Marmite I urge you to try this recipe just once because I promise that it doesn’t have to taste marmitey, if you reduce the Marmite to 30g (don’t go lower or there is no point in adding it at all) all you get is a deep savoury taste to your loaf which is absolutely delicious and fantastic with soups and stews, but please try the 40-45g first as it really is lovely even for the Marmite haters amongst us (weird creatures). It also makes delicious toast which can, of course, be spread with yet more marmite for a double hit. Can you tell I am a Marmite lover?

Note of caution though – Marmite is salty so reduce the salt that you would normally add otherwise the loaf will be too salty. Also, don’t do what I did once and overdo it on the marmite front. I got cocky in a class one day and added two spoonfuls instead of my usual one spoonful and whilst everyone else’s loaves rose beautifully mine remained as flat as a pancake. The saltiness of the Marmite will kill the yeast if you go overboard. Lesson, well and truly learned.

500g strong white flour or you could replace 100g with 100g wholemeal or 50g rye & 50g wholemeal
5g easy bake/ instant yeast or 15g fresh yeast (remember that you can reduce the yeast and allow the bread to rise longer)
5g fine salt
45g Marmite
340-380g water (depending on flour choice)

Place the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl and mix together. Weigh the Marmite out in a jug and pour over 100g hot water and stir to dissolve. Allow to cool a little and then add to the flour. Add another 200g of warm or cool water (if you use cool water your dough will take longer to prove which improves the texture and flavour). Start to mix, adding splashes of water in until you get a dough that is soft and slightly sticky. Make sure that there are no dry bits in your dough. Leave to rest for at least ten minutes or up to an hour depending on how your day is going.

Knead your dough or use the stretch and fold method as I demonstrate in this video.

Cover well and leave to prove until airy, remember it will take longer for it to prove if you used less yeast or cooler water. You can also pop it in the fridge at this point for several hours or overnight if that fits better into your day.

Shape your dough. I show you how to shape for a loaf tin or as a batard/ bloomer in this video.

Cover with clingfilm or similar, remember to oil it well so it doesn’t stick to the loaf and deflate it. Allow to prove, again this can happen overnight in the fridge if it suits you.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees centigrade, gas mark 7 or use the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga. Steam the oven well as you put your loaf in, I like to use a plant mister to do this, spraying several times (avoiding the glass door and light). Bake for 30 minutes, check that it is baked by tapping on the bottom, it should sound hollow or insert a temperature probe and check that it reaches 90 degrees centigrade. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack and I promise you will love it even if you hate Marmite.

Best Books for Advanced Bread Makers

This is the third in the series of my favourite and most used book recommendations for anyone learning to make bread. You can read about my three favourite books for anyone just starting their bread making journey or my top three (ok, four, I squeezed an extra one in) sourdough books. This one is all about digging a bit deeper into the art of bread. So if you feel like you have cracked the basic loaf and you are ready to learn more these are the books that I recommend for the book pile next to the oven or the bed, and I can’t just choose three this time either.

My first recommendation is Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery. This is a well researched and in-depth book and makes for a really interesting read. I definitely recommend that this one sits ready on the bedside table. David discusses the history of milling, talks in-depth about flour choices and other ingredients integral to bread making and has a really interesting chapter on the history of bread ovens and lots of recipes. It is a book that you can read and re-read. It deserves a place on everybody’s book shelf.

If you are as much as a bread geek as me then you will love to learn the science of bread and my top recommendation for this is Emily Buehler’s Bread Science, which is available as an e-book in the UK. Emily goes into the science of bread in great depth. Some of it boils my brain if I’m honest but that may be because I am not a natural scientist although the science of bread is my favourite subject and I can bore anyone with it within five minutes of meeting them. If you want to get a grip of the science of what is happening in your loaf then this is the book for you.

Another great book available to download if you want to understand the mystery of sourdough is Trevor J Wilson’s Open Crumb Mastery. It delves into the science of how to achieve the perfect open crumb (if that is what you are looking for and if I am honest I prefer a toast that can hold its butter) but the book is definitely worth reading as it can really help you to understand what is happening when you are making a loaf of sourdough.

A fantastic resource to have to hand if you are really serious about bread making is Michael Suas’s Advanced Bread and Pastry: A Professional Approach. It has been designed for the professional baker so it might be a bit hardcore for anyone not completely obsessed with bread, but it is a book that I return to again and again for advice.

A book that is more suited to the enthusiastic home baker is Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes. Again pitched at the professional baker but it is slightly less hardcore than Michael Suas’s offering. Hamelman’s book offers a formula for the home baker in every recipe and it is a great book to introduce you to the science of bread making so that you can understand the process in-depth which will help you correct any mistakes. The only frustration for me is that the home bakers recipes are in pounds and ounces rather than metric and my brain works best in metric these days, which means that I have to convert them. However, there is a bakers percentage given for every recipe so it isn’t difficult to convert the recipe and scale up or down.

It was difficult choosing which books should appear in this list but these are the ones that have been most helpful to me and that I return to the most, although there are lots of others that could be included here. Let me know if you have a favourite in the comments.

My Top Three Sourdough Books

Hands down, my favourite book for helping you understand sourdough is James Morton’s Super Sourdough. He writes clear explanations and delves into the science just enough so that you can understand the process and learn what you may be doing wrong and make adjustments.

Super Sourdough by James Morton

Making sourdough bread can seem complicated and scary but James Morton gives you the confidence to tackle it and I promise that once you have practiced a few times and you understand the basics you will be making the most delicious bread ever. Although, I will admit that even after years of sourdough baking and teaching other people how to do it I will have the odd failure. With sourdough it’s just something that the baker learns to accept. I used to worry that it was just me but after listening to many professional bakers on podcasts all of them will admit the same thing, sometimes the loaf isn’t as good as you hoped, or looks terrible (but will taste good). With sourdough that is part of the challenge – will this loaf be the perfect loaf? And even if you get very, very close to perfection there is always the hope that the next one will be even better.

My second recommendation is Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson.

Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson

This one is a classic for a reason. Sometimes professional bakers forget that you are baking at home with a domestic oven. There is a big difference between baking at home and baking in a professional bakery. In Tartine, Chad Robertson recruited home bakers to test his recipe, twiddle it and feedback the results. This means that the recipe (and there are many detailed pages for the basic recipe, 39 pages in fact) works well at home. The instructions, although lengthy, are easy to follow and allow for a consistent result. This book also popularised the use of the dutch oven for home bakers, which, if your budget can stretch to one, I highly recommend (I will be blogging about baking tools soon).

My third recommendation is for The Bread Builders, Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott.

Something clicked for me when I read this book. It was like having a lightbulb moment in my head. It doesn’t have the simplicity of James Morton’s book or the detailed instructions of the basic recipe of Chad Robertson but it does go into the science of bread making and really helps you to understand the bread making process and for the bread geek there is the added bonus of a section on masonry oven construction (one day, Kath, one day…). Alan Scott was a hugely influential figure in the Amercian artisan baker movement and Chad Robertson spent time learning his craft with Alan Scott (that’s a young Chad Robertson on the cover).

It’s difficult to choose just three from the array of books on the subject but if I had to, and I have had to for this post, then these would be my three top choices. I will add as a bonus Sarah Owens Sourdough, Recipes for Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savouries and More just because this book will open your eyes to the opportunities for using your sourdough starter in all of your baking including pastry, cakes and biscuits and is just a lovely book to dive into.

Sarah Owen's Sourdough book

Next time I will let you know my favourite books for the advanced baker. If you have any favourite bread books let me know in the comments.

Best Bread Making Books for Beginners

I sent out a newsletter last week asking what people struggled with when making bread. I am here to help you to understand bread making better so if people are struggling I want to be able to help with tips and answers. Jonathan got in touch with lots of great ideas for helping people understand bread making better. One of his requests was for recommendations on the best books to use when learning to make bread. This is something I have been meaning to write about for ages. So here we go with part one of a series of blog posts to help you decide which bread book you should buy or borrow from the library.

Starting with the best books for an absolute beginner and where best to start than with the book that started all of this for me. River Cottage Handbook No. 3, Bread, by Daniel Stevens.

River Cottage Handbook no. 3 Bread
My well thumbed copy

In 2009 I found myself in the position of taking a career break to look after my girls who were then aged 3 & 5. I wanted to learn new skills and have something to focus on whilst they were at nursery and school and so I set up my food blog The Ordinary Cook. It was my corner of the internet where I could share my recipes and hopefully inspire people to start to cook or bake. A couple of times a week I would try out a new recipe and if it was a success it would be posted onto the blog.

I have just looked back and you can see my first recipe for bread was on 22nd September 2009 where I finally find that I have made an edible loaf of bread. I can still remember the joy of that particular loaf, as prior to this, I had always struggled to make a good loaf of bread. My previous attempts had been heavy bricks that Richard had been very kind about. The recipe for this particular loaf came from another favourite cook book of mine and one that comes from the same source, The River Cottage Family CookBook, another firm recommendation for anyone wanting to learn to cook. It is a brilliant starting point as it sets out all the tools and the ingredients you will need and a step by step process which is aimed at children but is equally suitable for adults, even those who are already proficient at cooking. After this success, I dived into the River Cottage Bread book and practised and practised. The book is so good because every recipe works, mostly because the instructions are easy to follow and there is an in-depth guide to the bread making process at the beginning of the book.

This is my number one book that I would recommend for anyone starting out on their bread journey.

James Morton Brilliant Bread

My second recommendation is James Morton’s Brilliant Bread. Another book from which every recipe I have used has worked. He also gives you a clear explanation of the basics at the start of the book to help guide you through every subsequent recipe. I got the inspiration for the Marmite bread from this book and it is a bread that is loved in this household and, of course, either loved or hated by people who come along to the Bread Basics Full Day course. (I will also be recommending James Morton’s Sourdough book as my number one choice if you are diving into the world of sourdough when I do a full blog post on this subject soon).

My third recommendation for anyone beginning to make bread is Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s How To Make Bread. Again every recipe works and he gives full instructions, with photos, of the stretch and fold method that I use for all my doughs and that you can see me demonstrating in this video. This is the book which suddenly turned on the light for me and showed me how easy making bread can be.

So there you go, my top three recommendations for anyone starting out on their bread making journey, with the number one spot going to the River Cottage Handbook No. 3, because it has a special place in my heart as it was the book which ignited my obsession about bread. You can read about my favourite sourdough books and books for the more advanced baker too.

Making Bread The Easy Way

You can now watch my first bread making video. Part One shows you how to mix and develop a dough using the stretch and fold method which is the way we make all of the doughs in my classes. Using this method makes it really easy to fit making a loaf into your daily (or twice weekly) routine. It is less messy and waits for you to be ready rather than you trying to structure your day around your loaf.

With this basic white dough you can make the loaf that I make in Part Two or you can make pizza bases, rolls or naan breads.

More videos will be added to help you with your bread making adventures soon.

Using Freshly Milled Flour

Komo flour mill

The photo shows my Komo flour mill in action. Using freshly milled flour makes a huge difference to the taste of your bread, cakes, scones and biscuits. When you mill fresh flour the flour smells of wheat. That may sound obvious but I am yet to open a bag of flour and smell the wheat in the same way that you smell it when it is freshly ground. Using freshly milled flour in your baking will lead to your bread and cakes etc tasting and smelling sweet and delicious. Freshly ground wholemeal flour is as nutritious as flour can get. As flour ages it loses its nutritional value. If you are grinding the flour minutes before using it, you get the full nutritional benefit.

Using freshly milled flour in bread making is not without its challenges however. As flour ages the gluten stabilises. It takes two weeks for gluten to stabilise fully. This is why flour from large mills tends to be aged artificially by oxidising the flour before being sent out to retail. Most flour that you buy has been sitting in warehouses and on the shop shelf for longer than two weeks since milling. Using freshly milled flour means that you are working with weaker gluten. The flour is stickier to work with, it takes a while to absorb the water as you add it and it can seem to be able to take a lot more water than normal but then will leach the water back out after allowing the dough to rest. It takes some getting used to when working with freshly milled flour for bread, but the benefits far outweigh the negatives. The taste and fragrance more than compensates for the slightly denser loaf.

When using freshly milled flour in cakes, biscuits or scones the less stable gluten can work in your favour adding a tenderness and lightness to the finished bake that you can’t get when working with an aged wholemeal flour. Using freshly milled wholemeal flour in a Victoria sponge results in an incredibly light and tasty cake. The biscuits and scones will taste better than any you have ever tasted before.

If you would like to learn more about using freshly milled flour in your baking you can join me for a full day class where we will use freshly milled flour to make bread, biscuits and scones. I will also be talking about the benefits of freshly milled flour at this year’s Ludlow Food Festival. This year’s festival promises to be better than ever as they celebrate 25 years. I am doing a Talk and Tasting at 11am on Friday 13th September all about freshly milled flour and you can also catch me later the same day at 3.15pm in the Bake in Time tent talking about bread making.

http://www.ludlowfoodfestival.co.uk/whats-on-at-ludlow-food-festival

Learning more about bread

Whilst I am working I sometimes like to listen to podcasts.  There is a wealth of information out there that you can just absorb as you go about your daily business. If you want to learn more about bread – whether that’s making it, the history of it or how grain gets from the farmer into your loaf, there is plenty to listen to out there.

Here are just some of the podcasts that I have enjoyed listening to and learned from. If you know of any more please add a comment below. As I come across new ones I will list them here.

Heritage Radio have recorded a comprehensive series of podcasts with the authors of Modernist Bread. The first episode, and all the subsequent ones, can be found at http://heritageradionetwork.org/podcast/pre-ferment/. It’s full of interesting information about bread making and the use of grains.

If you are interested in hearing about life from the baker’s perspective the Rise Up podcast from Mark Dyck in Canada is an interesting listen.

Stella Culinary have some really interesting podcasts and videos about bread making available at https://stellaculinary.com/cooking-videos/stella-bread

Eat This Podcast has done a series of podcasts around the subject of wheat and bread that are interesting to listen to. You can find the first one at https://www.eatthispodcast.com/our-daily-bread-00/

Flour absorbency

One of the things I bang on about during my bread classes is how different flour can be. Even using the same brand of flour can be different from bag to bag. It will depend on so many factors: where the grain was grown – country and even county can make a difference; the soil health and type; weather conditions the grain was grown in; whether it’s spring or winter wheat; the variety of grain; how long it has been since harvest; how long since the flour was milled; how it was milled – roller and stone grinding produce very different flour texture and flour composition; whether the grain was tempered before milling; the moisture content of the grain at the time of milling; the protein content of the grain; the gliadin/glutenin ratio of the grain etc.

See what I mean? There are a lot of variables even if you are considering what may seem at first the same type of flour, i.e strong white.  All of these factors will make a difference to how the dough absorbs water. Then if you bring in the difference between using white flour, wholemeal flour, adding in rye, einkorn, spelt, emmer, kamut the absorbency of the flour changes again.

This morning I have been preparing starters ready for my sourdough class on Saturday. I have used my wholemeal starter as a basis for making a white, rye and spelt to show how it is possible to have flexibility with your starters without maintaining four different starters all the time.  I take my wholemeal starter and refresh it about four times in the next two days. By then, it has changed its appearance, its aroma and its flora. When I mixed them up this morning I used 20g of my wholemeal starter, 50g of flour and 50g of water.  Here is how they all look:

Using wholemeal spelt (20g of fairly stiff wholemeal starter, 50g wholemeal spelt, 50g water)

Making a white starter using 20g fairly stiff wholemeal starter, 50g white flour (roller milled, organic), 50g water

Making a rye starter using 20g fairly stiff wholemeal starter, 50g wholemeal rye (aka dark rye), 50g water

I hope this illustrates that these different flours have very different absorbency rates.  The rye will take a lot more water than the white and the spelt. Whilst the spelt needs a little more water to get to the same consistency as the white.

When you are making bread use your senses – touch, sight and smell, to adapt your recipe. Don’t follow a bread recipe word for word. If it asks for 325g of water, add 300g and then splash more in as you mix. Use your sense to tell you when your dough has had enough water. Let your dough sit for at least ten minutes and then see if it needs a bit more water. If you think it does, wet your hands and use the remaining water on your hands to mix the dough a bit more. Keep doing this until the dough feels right.  Bread making is all about your senses and getting used to how the dough feels in your hands and adapting to each batch of flour and each loaf by learning from experience.