One of the unexpected revelations of disease-induced lockdown is that people turn to weird, shared hobbies in a crisis. Along with collecting loo roll and recording terrible dance routines with your family, one of the most noticeable has been the world’s newfound obsession with bread. Instagram and Twitter are now seas of sourdough starters. It's a pain-demic.
For anyone who hadn’t dabbled in baking before being forced into isolation, the idea of forming your own loaves may feel quite intimidating. Fortunately, we have some expert advice to help you get started. Together with the Twisted chefs, we’ve come up with a handy list of hints and tips for how to make brilliant bread at home. Whether you crave crunchy crusts or springy centres, we’ve got you covered. Bready, set, go!
1. Test your yeast
Yeast has been the building block of bread for as long as we’ve been baking, so it pays to make sure it’s working properly. Before you get started, check your yeast is still alive and kicking by adding warm water and waiting for five minutes. If it starts to froth and foam, you’re good to go.
2. Add some fruit
Sourdough starters can be tricky business. A handy hack for keeping your new pet alive is to add thinly sliced slivers of fresh fruits like rhubarb, tomato and apple at the beginning of the process. All three have naturally occurring yeast to help get things going, and each can help impart a unique flavour to the end result.
3. Be precise
Unlike many stovetop recipes, adding a little of this and that rarely bodes well in baking. If you want to achieve the best possible results, it pays to follow instructions as closely as you can - whether that’s with quantities of ingredients or type of flour.
4. The “windowpane” test
Kneading is one of the hardest things for any new baker to get to grips with. Though the balance between over and underworked is difficult to get right without experience, there is a way to make things easier for yourself. To check whether your dough is ready, simply stretch a section out between your hands into a thin square. If it breaks, the gluten has not yet formed and you need to keep working. If it doesn’t, you’re all set!
5. The key to a crust
While it’s easy to delight in a butter-covered spongey centre, most of the flavour of your bread will actually come from the crust. A great way to get this component right is to add water or an ice cube to the bottom of your oven. The resulting steam will help a crunchy crust to form.
6. Soft edges
If you would prefer your bread to have slightly chewier, more yielding crusts, we recommend covering them with a tea towel as soon as they have come out of the oven. This will help to trap the steam, preventing the edges from becoming too hard.
7. Useful tools
Breadmaking might be a rudimentary skill, but that doesn’t mean you can’t accessorise. Many homemade recipes call for useful gadgets such as stand mixers, but we also swear by pots like Dutch ovens and cast iron casserole dishes. Cooking your bread this way will allow it to steam as it would in an actual bread oven, and allow the crust to get really dark, gnarly and delicious.
Anyone who has watched The Great British Bake Off will know that soggy bottoms are the worst fate that can befall any baker. Protect yours by preheating your oven/any surface you intend to be baking on, as this will help a proper crust form on the bottom of your loaf.
Just as with any new skill, it’s almost inevitable that mistakes will be made. Even if you end up with a few bready monstrosities, hopefully following these tips will help you get it right more often than not.