Monday, August 13, 2012

The Magic of Bread, Part 1

I grew up on brown bread. We might have had white sandwich bread at some point, but all that sticks out in my memory is brown bread. When we were pretty young it was 60% whole wheat and I remember we'd get multiple loafs from the bakery section of the supermarket and that smell of fresh bread is always in my head.

So I grew up loving brown bread. As I got older we ate multigrain and I still do to this day. Don't get me wrong, I love a really good Italian loaf or French baguette, but when it comes to sandwiches or toast, nothing beats a really nice, slightly dense multigrain loaf with a crust that is slightly dark. I know it's a thing in my family, but anyone else absolutely love the crust and ends of baked goods? Are we just weird? I'd quite happily eat the top of the muffin and pass the bottom to someone else.

I had to zip out to pick a few things from the shop (listen to me, the lingo has taken a hold!) and I was cruising past the bread in one aisle. There was a moment when I stopped and eyed the loafs of brown and white bread wondering if I should just grab one considering we were down to only a few slices back at the flat.

"Don't do it!" the motivational side of my consciousness screamed out.


"You don't need bread. Go make it."

"But that takes time and I couldn't find any proper yeast and I don't even know if that other yeast I bought will work properly."

"You haven't tried it."

"But if it doesn't work I'll still need to buy a loaf of bread..."

More pondering ensued and I left the shop without any bread.

Fast forward a few hours and I just mixed together a loaf and it's currently rising... presumably.

Score 1 point in the battle against tiredness and laziness. Admittedly, I made it after a nap, so I had a bit more energy than earlier. Something about my nice week of weather being gone and the rain coming back that made me feel lethargic this morning. Staying up for the closing ceremonies of the Olympics didn't help either.

I've gone a little nuts for flour here. See, it took me a bit to sort out the differences in lingo and actual processing. Here, you have plain flour, bread flour, pasta flour (often notated by 00 to show it've very fine) and sometimes you pastry flour. No cake flour. A really good quality all-purpose flour is the best you can hope for, but when I made cupcakes for Ryan's party, I found one that claimed it was fine, and having eaten said cupcakes, I would say they were right.

Bread flour here is also known as 'strong' flour, or extra strong. This means that it has a higher gluten content that when kneaded results in a nice rising bread. All purpose flour/plain flour just doesn't quite do the trick. On top of that is the shift in lingo from whole wheat/whole grain to brown/wholemeal. When you see 'brown' here, that is generally equivalent to whole wheat. The all important and more healthy 'whole grain' is called wholemeal here.

Got that all straight?

Now, so far, I haven't made wholemeal bread with 100% wholemeal flour. It usually is way too heavy so I've been playing with wholemeal/white flour mixtures to find which one I prefer. 50/50 works pretty well for bread, I prefer my pizza crust a little lighter so I use about 60/40 white to wholemeal.

Bread also requires yeast. All I've ever used before is dry active yeast. It comes in little containers that you measure out or in pre-measured sachets. I've been using it loose and just measuring out whatever my recipe calls for. Yes, some time was spent looking at conversions for yeast measurements and differences between countries because what is the equivalent in one country in a sachet is not the same in the other.

Oi people, you're giving me a headache!

The crux of my problem is that when I went to buy more yeast and after 4 shops I couldn't find the containers and I ended up with sachets. Fine, I could deal with that. However when I read the box carefully (notably after I got home), I realized that I had quick yeast, not regular dry yeast. None of my recipes called for it and I had no idea how to substitute and adjust the recipe to make it work.

Insert more internet research here. And then some procrastination.

So after successfully dodging the commercially made loaves (which I should note I have nothing against, but it's sooooo nice to have homemade bread), I set out to make bread this afternoon.

I used wholemeal extra strong bread flour and instead of plain white strong bread flour, I used one that had all kinds of grains and seeds in it. My thought is that it would still be light, but have that wonderful nuttiness that multigrain bread gets. In place of the wheat germ (which I didn't have), I used porridge oats, which is as close to rolled oats as you get over here.

I learned in my research that quick yeast basically is finer and doesn't require 'proofing' in water first. So I added it right to my flour. The salt and a bit of honey was dissolved into my water (which normally would have contained yeast, not the salt), and it was all mixed together.

Admittedly, I had my doubts. There was no confidence after kneading the bread for several minutes that it would actually rise properly and turn into moderately light multigrain bread. Thirty minutes into the first rise and I can say that I was wrong. It's rising beautifully.

Stay tuned for the results and the verdict...


  1. I haven't made a loaf of bread in years, my poor bread-maker sits accumulating dust. Which is sad, because as a child I loved home made bread, especially when it was fresh and warm... absolutely delicious. We always had white bread growing up, but when I moved out I switched to wheat bread, then I discovered a multi-grain honey oat bread and it is my favorite... too bad it's double the calories of regular store bread!

    I hope your bread turns out good :) You totally lost me on the flours, I usually just grab all-purpose and wheat for my baking. I never really learned about flours growing up, and never had much need to since I moved out either... maybe I should educate myself now though, lol.

  2. I loved this post. I've also been trying to figure out the different labeling on flour where we are (Malawi). I think the brown bread flour here is whole wheat but I've heard that it may be white flour that has had bran added back in after it has been processed (I don't really understand what the point of that would be). We also have cake flour which is a good all purpose flour but I haven't found any whole grain/wholemeal flours. I've tried to make a light 100% whole wheat loaf and have only had success with recipes from The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. It has great information on working with whole grain flours. I'm with you on the ends being the best part of a fresh loaf. Mine often have both ends cut off before they make it to the table! I hope your loaf is a success.

  3. I think the quick yeast is the same as instant yeast here or what I would use for the bread machine.
    Hope it turns out great and if not, keep experimenting, you'll figure out what works for you. :)


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