Taken from our book – Slice of Jersey

Words – The Vienna Bakery
Images – Catherine Hill

Great bread is simple. It requires just four ingredients: flour, water, yeast (or another pre-ferment) and salt. It also requires time, patience, some work and attention – and ideally, friends and family to share your meal with. Baking is one of the most ancient crafts and some would even say the very basis of civilisation. In a world where our food arrives fast and processed, we think it is worth taking time to connect with the food that has made us.

Ingredients
1kg medium to strong wheat flour
600ml lukewarm warm water, or more depending on your flour.
(Modern flours are typically 20 – 40 ml more)
18 to 20g of salt
20g yeast, or equivalent in dried yeast (follow the instructions on the packet), or your own pre-ferment of sour dough.

Cooking tip: water absorption will vary from one variety of flour to another. This recipe is at 60 per cent, but many of our in-house recipes will be several per cent more. Generally, a common mistake for home bakers is a tendency to add too little water because they instinctively find the dough sticky then add more flour too late in the kneading process.  

Bread

Method
By hand, place the flour in a pile on a clean workbench, flatten out with your palm to a circle the size of a large plate and then make a well in the centre. Sprinkle the salt around the outer edge of the flour. Dissolve the yeast into the water with your fingers, pour into the well and with your mixing hand place your fingers and thumb on the work surface like a five-legged table. Rotate your hand gently around the inside of the well, gradually incorporating the flour into the liquid. This is where the magic starts. The gluten (wheat protein) starts to absorb water over the first few minutes of being hydrated. As it forms and is gently kneaded, the protein molecules form long chains not unlike I imagine the paper Christmas chains we made as children. After about four minutes you should have a claggy mass and an inclination about what the final dough will be like. The dough now requires the first “secret” ingredient, which is the hard work: kneading. Form the dough into a rough ball using your hands and a plastic dough scraper, lifting it off the worktop. Place one hand on one edge of the ball to hold it down and with the heel of the other hand push the dough away in gentle but firm strokes, then roll it back with cupped fingers, form a ball again and repeat. 

Once you have achieved a smooth, homogenous mass of dough, place in a bowl and cover. You are aiming for a temperature of about 24ºC. It is difficult in a home kitchen to control temperatures because there are so many variables, but if you can leave it to prove somewhere warm, away from drafts and direct heat. It should have doubled in size after about one hour. Tip the dough onto your bench and divide into five pieces (for baguettes) or in half for a large loaf.

Form the pieces into balls with lightly floured hands, cover and rest again for a further 30 minutes or so. Then when the dough has relaxed, give it your desired final shape. It will need another half hour or more before baking at about 230ºC and after 20 minutes to an hour (depending on loaf size and your oven) it should feel fairly firm and sound hollow when tapped cautiously. Many of our doughs take 24 hours to prepare and others 12 hours for final proofing. 

Great bread takes time, energy, pride and a little bit of love. If you are a novice baker, don’t worry if your results aren’t too pretty on your first attempt. If you get the basics right, it will be the most delicious thing you have ever tasted. A decent loaf will take several hours to make, but in that time you are only carrying out a process for 15 minutes or so. It is also an empirical science, a process which improves with experience; mix, knead, prove, bake, observe, share, enjoy and repeat.

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