Basic Bread Recipe: Artisan Wheat Bread

"Happiness is...freshly baked bread"

"The quality and integrity of the ingredients that one uses during bread making is vitally important. Below are some basic guidelines for anyone embarking on this wonderful baking adventure!"
  • Flour

Use wholesome stone-ground flour. Demand it from your local shop. Flour is a whole food and doesn’t need to be supplemented with artificial and extra vitamins and minerals unless it has been mistreated during the production process. For nutrition, colour and flavour, the wheat germ must be in the flour.

We recommend Eureka bread flour. While natural flour can be a bit more fickle depending on time of the year, harvest or wheat quality, it will give you a more wholesome, tasty loaf. Natural flour will absorb more water. Reduce the amount of water to 700 ml if you use general white flour.

  • Water

Use tap water only if it’s in good drinking condition. If not, use good bottled still water.

  • Yeast

Fresh yeast must be moist, even coloured, and short in texture. If fresh yeast isn’t available, substitute with half the weight of dry yeast, or one-third of the weight of instant dry yeast. Remember that fresh and dry yeast should be dissolved in water, while instant dry yeast is mixed directly into the flour at the start.

  • Salt

Use a good, natural, non-iodized sea salt such as from Khoisan Trading. Besides adding flavour, salt also contains minerals and substances that give it nutritional value. Taste different kinds of salt side by side. Avery white, refined salt is usually sharp and harsh, while salt with a greyish, brownish, pinkish tint is generally more mild and complex. Let your taste buds decide. 

Ingredients

Makes 3 x 500 g loaves

This is a fantastic bread recipe for a rustic wheat loaf. It has a chewy, irregular interior and a crispy, nutty crust. The basic dough can be shaped into a variety of small loaves and other fun items.

1 kg bread flour (from Eureka Mills, if possible)

4 teaspoons salt

750 ml water (at room temperature)

15 g fresh yeast

extra flour, for working

olive oil, for brushing the bowls

Tools

For dough making: scale, dough scraper, 2 small bowls, 1 larger bowl, 1 dish towel, a smooth table surface, digital thermometer (if possible).

For baking: a baking pan or a stone surface, baking paper, a cast-iron pan (for steam) and a lot of chutzpah!

"Bread deals with living things, with giving life, with growth, with the seed, the grain that nurtures. It is no co-incidence that we say bread is the staff of life."  -  Lionel Poilane                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Mixing

  • Sift the flour onto a smooth table surface and make a circular wall to hold the water.
  • In two separate containers, first dissolve the salt in 200 ml of the water, then dissolve the yeast in another 200 ml of the water, reserving the 350 ml that is left.
  • Pour the remaining (350 ml) water into the well in the flour. Using one hand only, blend the flour from the wall into the water until it starts to form a paste.
  • Add the water containing the dissolved yeast, and continue mixing in the flour until the entire mixture turns into a paste.
  • Finally add the salted water in the same way, until the mixture becomes a sticky, unstructured mass.
  • Scrape the surface clean of all the remaining flour and sticky dough, and pile it to the centre.
  • Scrape your hand clean. Take a little flour and rub your hands together to get all the sticky dough off.
  • Sprinkle a little flour onto the dough and shape the mixture into a loose ball. It will be quite soft and sticky, and not smooth.
  • Measure the temperature of the dough. It should be between 23°Cand 24°C.

Fermentation and folding

  • Place the dough into a bowl brushed with olive oil. It must be large enough for the dough to double easily in size.
  • Cover with a cloth.
  • After 45 minutes, pour the risen dough onto a table sprinkled with flour. Pick up the edges of the dough and fold them over the centre of the dough. Continue folding until the dough forms a ball and picks up tenacity, or feels firmer. Place it back into the freshly-oiled bowl and cover again.
  • Rest for 45 minutes.
  • Repeat this folding process twice more, then allow the dough to rest for a further 45 minutes. The dough would now have rested a total of 3 hours (4 x 45 minutes) with 3 foldings in between.
  • Oil the bowl each time to ensure easy working.
  • You’ll notice that the dough is rising higher each time and that it becomes smoother and sturdier each time. Sweet success!
  • At this point place a baking stone or heavy sheet pan into the oven and pre-heat the oven to 240°C.

 [Note: If the dough is cooler, place in a warm place. If it’s too warm, place in a cooler place. The dough will rise a bit faster when it’s too warm, and will develop more slowly when it’s too cold. All this means is that the resting time during the foldings will vary, depending on the room temperature. It may take a few tries to get it right. You can use tepid water on a cooler day or place a few ice cubes in the water on a hot day. Don’t let it get you down. Your bread will still be great! ]

Dividing, shaping and final rise

  • Tip the dough once more onto a floured surface and cut into 3 equal pieces of 500 grams.
  • Fold each piece as you did previously, by picking up the edges of the dough and folding them over the centre. Repeat this motion until the dough is formed into a somewhat tight round shape.
  • Don’t worry too much about the shape. You’ll become more skilful each time you do it.
  • Take a sheet of baking paper larger than the size of your baking tray.
  • Place it onto a flat sheet pan or wooden board.
  • Place the dough pieces seam down onto the baking paper, leaving an even space in between.
  • Cover with a cloth and allow to rise for another 30 to 45 minutes. The dough shapes should bounce lightly back when gently dented with a finger.

Baking

"Oh symphony of crackle, only great bread sounds this way"

  • Make three long diagonal cuts along the surface of the loaves in one direction and three cuts criss-crossing in the opposite direction (like drawing a grid). This will allow the loaves to expand during the first 10 minutes of baking. Use a very sharp knife or a serrated knife and cut swiftly.
  • Slide the risen dough pieces onto the pre-heated sheet pan. The paper will easily slide off the board and into the oven and ensure that nothing sticks unexpectedly at this exciting moment. Work quickly and gently. Open and close the oven door without delay.
  • Bake at 220°C for about 10 minutes, until the loaves start showing colour. Turn the oven down to 180°C and bake for a further 25 minutes, or a total of about 35 minutes. Allow a dark brown crust for texture and flavour. Be daring.
  • You can check the loaf after 20 minutes. It should sound slightly hollow when you knock it on the underside.
  • Allow the loaves to cool on a screen, or lean them against  something to ensure that they retain their crispy crust and cool equally all round.