This is a bit of an aside for this blog, hope you like it!
I’ve been making my own bread for almost 3 years now; it was something I wanted to try as soon as we got back into our newly renovated house after it being a building site for a year. Marie tried to keep my expectations realistic; our perception was that making bread is quite difficult and previous attempts with a bread maker had been pretty uninspiring.
Nevertheless I was determined to try, and after a lot of iteration I got a recipe / technique down to something that reliably gives me cheap, fresh bread all week, and really isn’t that hard or time consuming to pull off, so long as you’re organised.
After being asked a few times for my recipe, I thought I’d put it here on the blog so it’s easy to reference if anyone else asks.
I don’t make loaves any more, instead I always make rolls, mainly because that means it’s really easy to make a large batch, part-bake any that I’m not using that day, and freeze them for later. This means I can make a batch once a week and have fresh bread ready in around 9 minutes by completing the cooking later, straight from frozen.
Getting the timing right for that took some experimentation, but I’ve totally got it down now. You can skip all that & just follow this technique if you want 🙂
White / brown flour mix
I personally like a mix of white & wholemeal flour, but you can pretty much chuck in any combination you like. You may have to tweak the water quantity a bit though, white flour needs less water than brown.
My recipe has a tad more butter than some, which means slightly longer proving times than some other recipes. I also most often use Guernsey butter, or Kerry Gold as a fallback, both of which are richer than average. This is just a taste thing, I think it works but YMMV. If you do scale back the butter, reduce the rising times a little.
For 8 rolls you will need:
- 250g Strong white bread flour
- 250g Strong wholemeal bread flour
- 7g Easy bake dried yeast
- I use a tub and measure it out, because I often scale up the recipe, but pre-made sachets come in 7g units which is convenient to start with
- 30g Unsalted butter, melted
- About 300ml Water (tepid/body temperature)
- 1½ tsp Brown sugar
- 1½ tsp Salt
- Electric mixer with dough hook (ideally)
- Separate large mixing bowl (preferably glass)
- Cling film
- Warm, dry area (airing cupboard, sunny window sill)
- Tea towel
- 1 Large 45cm x 30cm baking tray, or 2 smaller ones
Step 1: Making the dough, first rise
Preparation time: 15 minutes (with practice) Waiting time: 45 minutes
For step 1 I use an electric mixer with a dough hook, it makes it way quicker and in my recipe I knead it manually later anyway. If you don’t have one you can just do this step manually in a bowl with your hands, it’s just a bit messier and slower.
- Melt the butter in a microwave or pan, leave to cool for a few minutes
- Stir together the flour, yeast and brown sugar in your mixer bowl
- Add the salt and mix again (this is separate so that the salt doesn’t touch the yeast directly)
- Attach the dough hook, set the mixer to a relatively slow speed, I use 2-3 out of 10 on my Kenwood Chef, and start the mix
- Slowly add about half of the water in a constant trickle as the mixer runs, until the flour starts to clump
- Add almost all of the butter, leaving just a teaspoon to grease the other bowl
- Slowly add the rest of the water. During this process:
- Slowly reduce the mixer speed to the lowest setting as the dough gets more solid
- Monitor how wet the mix is, the 300ml water is approximate:
- You’re looking for long gluten strands to form as they stick to the sides
- A “sticky” mixture is good, but not “wet”
- Stop adding when you reach that stage and all the ingredients are combined
- At the end you should have a somewhat more sticky than tacky, stretchy dough
- Leave the mixer kneading the final mixture for about 3 minutes on the lowest setting
- Grease the other bowl with the rest of the butter
- Stop the mixer then transfer the dough into the other bowl, then cover with clingfilm and place in a warm, dry area for 45 minutes (first rise)
Having a separate glass mixing bowl for the rise is useful because you can see how it’s doing; in my experience 45 minutes is always dead on for my setup but you’re looking for the dough to double in size.
Sticky? Really? I aim for a first rise dough that is stickier than some; other recipes may tell you it shouldn’t be sticky, just a bit tacky on the surface. However, the knocking back / kneading / shaping stage of making rolls can lose more moisture than when making a single loaf, so I err on the side of sticky and have found it works better. If you feel you’ve made it too wet, you can always sprinkle a handful of extra flour to balance it either while it’s mixing or afterwards when you’re kneading / shaping.
Step 2: Knocking back, shaping, second rise
Preparation time: 15 minutes (with practice) Waiting time: 1hour 10minutes
After 45 minutes in the warm area the dough should have doubled in size. Now, we’re going to “knock it back” (reduce the air), knead it to give it some extra elasticity, and shape it into rolls.
- Remove the dough from the bowl onto a generously floured surface
- Give the dough a few “friendly punches” to knock some of the air out; I usually flatten it to about 5cm thick all over
- Knead the dough for about a minute by folding it back on itself and then pushing forward / outward, stretching it out then recombining it
- Divide into 8 roughly equal pieces by repeated halving
- Shape a roll from each piece:
- Flatten the piece with the palm of your hand
- Grab a bit of the edge with a thumb and 2 fingers, and pull/fold into the middle, then press the end into the centre with your knuckles.
- You’re trying to stretch the gluten on the underside
- This will become the top of the roll, so it’s nice and smooth & crusty
- Turn the piece 45 degrees and repeat, until you’ve folded in all the edges. You can go around more than once to neaten if you want
- Flip the piece over and spin it between your hands, shaping it even more into a round
- Make sure it’s dusted with flour both sides, then place on your baking tray. Leave a good 3cm between them as they will expand during rising and cooking.
- Cover the rolls & tray with a tea towel, and place back in the warm dry area for another 1 hour 10 minutes
Again you’re looking for the dough to double in size by the end of the second rise, and if you gently prod the dough it should return to normal after a few seconds. If it doesn’t, it’s probably had too long. The timings here work every time for me but your setup may be slightly different, so tweak as needed.
If the shaping part is confusing, see this video. This isn’t quite how I do it but the result is the same; see how the edges are pulled into the underside of the final roll to stretch the top. My way adds some kneading as well, so if you prefer the gentler way you might want to knead for a bit longer at the start.
Step 3: Baking
Preparation time: None, just remember to turn the oven on Cooking time: 12-18 minutes
- Pre-heat the oven before the 1h10m is up, to 200C for a fan oven, or 220C for a non-fan oven (I assume, ours is fan).
- When the second rise is done, remove the tea towel (of course!) and place in the middle or upper area of the oven
- To bake completely (no freezing), leave for 17-18 minutes
- For par-baking so you can freeze, bake for 12 minutes them remove
- If you want to finish baking some for today, return those to the oven for a further 5-6 minutes.
Optional Step 4: Freeze & Finish from Frozen
Once your par-baked rolls have completely cooled, bag them up and freeze. You can cook them directly from frozen whenever you like, and honestly, in some ways they come out better than the single-bake ones, because the crust goes extra crispy.
To cook from frozen:
- Pre-heat the oven to 200C for a fan oven, or 220C for a non-fan oven (I assume, ours is fan).
- Place rolls straight from the freezer onto a baking sheet and bake in the middle or upper region of the oven for 9 minutes
Because I work from home, I use this method every day for my lunch, and it’s very indulgent to have fresh, warm, crusty bread available so easily every day.
It’s not that hard, honest
Now that I’ve written this all out, it quite long so might look more complicated than it actually is. When you’re proficient at this, it only takes about 30-45 minutes of actual effort, the rest of the time is waiting and just being consistent about timing. But we all have phones which have timers so that’s really not that hard.
If I had time, I’d make a video to demonstrate, that would probably be more approachable. Maybe I still will sometime? In the meantime, I hope this covers it for the people who have asked.