02 September 2013

Making our own bread

The bread lady has been on vacation for the past two weeks. She also took two weeks off earlier in August. That means that we have had to fend for ourselves when it comes to bread, rather than depend on her four-times-a-week deliveries.

There are basically three solutions when it comes to bread: (1) get in the car every day and drive five miles or more round-trip to buy fresh bread from one of the local boulangeries; (2) buy several baguettes at a time and put them in the freezer, thawing some for consumption each day; or (3) make your own. I've been doing a combination of all three, but making my own has been the most satisfying.

Besides being better shaped, the loaves (épis) on the right cooked at a higher temperature and have a more pleasing color.
All four loaves were made with 400 grams of all-purpose flour and 100 grams of oat flour.

I'm pretty pleased with the result. I use a stand mixer (a Kitchenaid) to mix and knead the dough. I bake the loaves of bread on a pizza stone in the oven. Here is the ingredient list for three to four small loaves:

400 grams of all-purpose flour (French type 55)
100 grams of some other flour (corn meal, oat flour, rye flour)
1 package (5 grams) of active dry yeast
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of honey
about 1 cup of warm water

Those proportions have been working really well for me. The amount of water is approximate. The only way to judge the precise amount is by feel. Put all the dry ingredients — flours, salt, yeast — in the mixer bowl and stir them together well. Then slowly pour in the warm water, with the honey dissolved in it, as the mixer turns the ingredients until a ball of dough forms and feels not too sticky to the touch. The mixer kneads the dough for 10 minutes, and then I knead it by hand on a work surface for two or three minutes before I put it into a bowl to let it rise.

These two fat loaves were made with 400 grams of all-purpose flour and 100 grams of corn meal.

Cover the bowl containing the dough ball with plastic wrap and then with a couple of kitchen towels to protect it from air currents and to keep the dough ball warm. It will double in size (volume) after an hour to 90 minutes of rising.

At that point, take the dough out of the bowl, using a pastry scraper if needed, and shape it into a loaves or boules as you want (make sure they'll fit on the pizza stone). Flour the work surface and the loaves lightly, and let the dough rise a second time. Score the tops of the loaves with a very sharp knife or a razor blade. I've found that letting the loaves rise on a floured wooden board for about an hour works well, and then it's easy to slide them off the board onto the hot pizza stone.

 This one's a couronne or crown of pain aux céréales (grains and seeds in the flour).

I've also found that cooking the bread at 250ºC works best — that's 480ºF. Lower temperatures don't give as good a result. It's important, also, to humidify the oven by pouring a cup or so of hot water into a shallow pan placed under the pizza stone near the floor of the oven. The steam produced gives the bread a nice crispy or crunchy crust, along with a tender moist crumb or mie. It takes about twenty minutes to cook small loaves. Then they need to cool on a rack before you cut and eat them.

As I said, this has been working really well for us during the bread lady's time off. I'll almost miss making bread when she resumes making her rounds tomorrow morning. But then, the professionally made bread is really good too...


  1. Those loaves are as good as any you see on the stalls.

    I use our breadmaker as a dough maker... it is more patient!!

    I've not tried cooking at that temperature all the way through...
    I start at 240C...
    and when the oven "bips", whack the risen bread in...
    then cancel and reset the temperature to 200C.
    My breadmaking tips book says this is closer to bread put into a hot wood-fired oven.

    I've never tried putting water in the pan...
    I'll have to work out how...
    I bake in the microwave, and there is only a couple of centimetres between the bottom of the roasting rack and the metal pan...
    do you reckon I could put some that close to the bread?

    This is useful info...
    I think I'll print this post out and put it in my bread book!!


  2. Of all things home made, I think bread is the most rewarding product.

    While France has a baker for every 800 citizens, I think more people in North America should bake their own bread. Healthier and for sure tastier.

    Yours seem to have a great crispy bite to it.

  3. Your breads are gorgeous, but excuse me for skipping past the recipes. My solution, go downstairs to the little bakery for fresh bread (don't even have to cross the street). If I had to make it myself, I'd live without bread.

  4. like chm, I have been making my own bread in a breadmaker for 15 years.

    I can make what I want when I want, I can have hot bread for breakfast, and (best of all) I know what's in my bread (no HFCS, no preservatives, no rubbish [as dr. spo says]). I do use honey as my sugar.

    your loaves are loverly! :)

  5. You could easily put the bread lady out of work...great job.

  6. Bonjour CHM, and apologies. I deleted your comment by mistake. Here's what you wrote:

    "I've been baking my bread [in a machine] for thirty years, because in the U.S. you have to drive far to find good bread.
    Baking your own bread is very rewarding."

    Baking bread is rewarding. I've been enjoying the process, and enjoying eating what I've made.

  7. Those loaves look delicious, especially the darker ones.

    May I suggest you experiment with the kind of slow rise that Walt uses for his pizza dough? I make a sourdough using Peter Berley's recipe, which gets a long cool (in the fridge) rise. The flavor really develops during that time. It has ruined most other breads for me. I know you don't like sourdough, though!

    Instead of putting a pan of water in the oven, I spray the inside of the oven three times with water (just not on the bread) during the first 20 min or so.

    Your post prompted me to get out my sourdough. It's been too long since I made bread.

  8. I'm looking forward to using the
    oven again soon...still 100F most
    afternoons here in Texas.

    I use a sourdough starter and use
    the no-knead method and a clay
    cloche baker. Long proofing times
    much like Walt's new pizza dough
    recipe. Haven't had a failure yet.

    Your loaves look beautiful.

  9. Well, looks like Carolyn and I
    have the same technique.

    If any one in the US is interested in obtaining an excellent starter
    I recommend breadtopia.com. Great
    informative website too.

  10. Carolyn, the sourdough bread I had in the San Francisco area was always far too sour. But I'm not against the idea.

    Sheila and Carolyn, I need to try the no-knead method. If the resulting bread is as good as W's pizza crust, it will be fantastic. Problem is, the bread lady returns tomorrow, so I probably won't be making bread again any time soon.

  11. Wow! Those breads look fantastic-- my mom is sitting here, and she let out a, "Oh boy!" when she saw your breads. She appreciates a good European style bread.

  12. Ken, we already knew you were a man of many talents but this is just amazing! I love it that you and Walt are such good cooks and are not afraid of experiencing different recipes from wonderful books and are always opened to suggestions! The smell must have been amazing while cooking the bread.

  13. Those loaves are making me wish for cooler days here, too! Turning on the oven in these muggy days would not be enjoyable here in Oregon.You would definitely be competitive with the french bakeries around here.

    I can't remember, did you find another pizza stone? Didn't your last one break?


  14. I've never made bread, and most likely never will. I could easily get through the rest of my life without it. That's not to say that I don't like the occasional baguette.

  15. This looks so delicious! It's midnight here, and I wish I could have a slice of such excellent bread!

  16. Your bread looks fabulous! You know you can survive if the bread lady goes out of business. xo

  17. I don't generally eat bread but I'm willing to sample yours. Looks wonderful, I can imagine the feel, smell and taste. Ooohh!

  18. Thanks for sharing.
    The breads are funny.
    But it must be delicious.


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