It seems so simple with only four ingredients, but how do you know if you’ve kneaded it enough, if its the right texture, left it long enough to rise, if its risen enough.
Denies (Tom’s girlfriend in 2011) has been my mentor and I’ll try to put it down in words, although I have to say that practice is the only way.
The four ingredients to bake a simple white cob loaf:
flour, water, yeast and salt.
The amount of each is important especially the flour and the water, so for a small loaf I use 500g of flour and 300ml of luke warm water.
All advice tells you to use strong bread flour, but Denies is not convinced. I always use strong bread flour but what differentiates it from normal flour and why use it?
Simply by recording my thoughts in this post meant that I went and looked for answers to these questions. The following link describes them well:
Wheat flour is the best as it tastes good and performs consistently well.
Strong wheat flour has a higher gluten content which ensures an extensive and even rise and a lighter loaf
Water from the tap seems to work ok, I haven’t experimented with anything else just yet, at least not until I am happy with the basic loaf.
Live yeast is great if you can get it and I can buy it from Brecon or Hay. It starts working quicker than dry yeast.
More info on yeast
Salt, don’t use too much as it can slow down and kill the yeast.
Making the dough
1. Crumble the yeast into the flour and add the salt. You mix the yeast into the flour dry making what cooks call ‘bread crumbs’. Essentially breaking the yeast down into small parts and making sure it is well mixed into the flour.
2. Add the water to the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl at this stage and mix it together to make a dough.
if the dough is very sticky add a little more flour and if its dry add a little more water.
Take it out of the bowl and kneed well for between 8 and 10 minutes. This develops the gluten which acts as a binding agent and creates pockets of bubbles in the dough. The link below explains more:
One mistake I made to begin with was that I didn’t knead for long enough, 8-10 minutes is actually quite a long time to be kneading dough. I think that not enough kneading means that your bread can be doughy particularly at the base after you have baked it.
3. Now wipe some oil around a bowl and place your ball of dough in the bowl, cover with cling film or a damp cloth and leave somewhere reasonably warm for the dough to rise. The reason to cover the dough is to retain moisture and stop the dough getting a crust on it (this also happened to me on an early occasion, so there are real reasons for doing these things even though they are not often explained in full).
4. The dough needs to double in size. This is also a deceptive description, for me it needs to be between two and three times its original size. Take it out of the bowl and knead again for a short period before a second period of rising, but this time to get the best rise I now do the following.
5. Second rise in an oven. I put a bowl of warm water in the bottom of the oven and preheat the oven to its lowest temperature, in my case 100 degrees C. In the meantime I place the dough on the baking tray and maybe sprinkle flour over it and then put it in the oven. The dough now rises uniformly and fairly quickly for about 30 minutes. The water is important as it helps retain moisture and stop crusting.
It is tricky to know when its ready to be baked, but rule of thumb is that if its a cob then its diameter will have doubled in size.
The texture of the dough is difficult to judge but it needs to have what I call ‘stretch marks’ on it and have a slight wobble to it.
6. Turn the oven back on and up to 180 C, taking the water out
Place the dough in the oven for about 30 minutes
Hey presto a perfect cob which when cut open has a perfectly uniform texture and array of holes.
Eat is warm with butter