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Farmhouse Loaf

07-September-2009
07-September-2009 11:57
in Bread & Yeast
by Georgina Ingham

Farmhouse bread for me is the kind of old-fashioned, homey bread that I imagine people of my parents generation and beyond buying from their local bakery or village store on a more or less daily basis. My Dad for instance remembers being sent to buy a farmhouse loaf like this and battling the urge to eat it on the walk back home; so tempting was the aroma of the still warm bake.

I wholeheartedly wish more bakeries selling high quality goods remained on our high streets, it is a crying shame that the supermarkets are on a course to dominate all aspects of our day to day shopping; I long for the time when you strolled from shop to shop buying your daily ingredients, safe in the knowledge that all was fresh and as locally sourced as possible. It isn’t all that long since that was a reality for a lot of people, it is something I remember doing as a young child with my mother.

After a wander down memory lane I return to the loaf; it is wholesome and filling and about as far from ‘modern day plastic sliced’ as a basic white sandwich bread can get.

This is the kind of bread that even people who claim to not eat white bread will quickly devour given half a chance.

One of my beliefs about food and cooking is that you should always use the best quality ingredients that you can afford. It’s no different when it comes to choose the right flour for my bread. I like to use organic flour from Shipton Mill and the choice of which particular flour then depends on the type of bread being baked – here I go for either the Strong Plain Flour or the Finest Bakers White Bread Flour – No.1 which is a blend of the finest bread making varieties of wheat grown exclusively in the United Kingdom. Milled to a lower than usual ash content it has a beautiful rich creamy colour. 

Shipton Mill have such a wonderful array of different flour for sale that would suit the needs of even the most adventurous baker, and, if you’re ever unsure of which flour you need or how to use a variety you bought on instinct they are always more than happy to offer advice and help. The customer service is superb and delivery is ultra fast. The fact that all their flours are organic is very important to me too. 

This creamy colour works wonderfully with this bread, giving it an even more homely feeling and richness. I’m sure the notion of creamy flour making for a creamier and better loaf is purely psychological but hey it all helps in the eating.

This bread is perfect for sandwiches, soft light and airy without being ‘airy fairy’ like most shop bought breads these days. It has substance but it is not dense. It is the softest white bread I have come across for sandwich use. A day or two later it is perfect for toasting too, if you have the willpower to make it last that long.

In a few of my recent bread baking posts I have waxed lyrical about Daniel Stevens author of Bread: River Cottage Handbook No. 3 (River Cottage Handbook 3) and here I’m going to do the same. I cannot thank him enough for the top tip about giving the dough extra rises – I am sure that the extra rises given when preparing the dough lend a hand in giving the bread better keeping qualities, this loaf remained as soft as the day baked three days later – a rather novel concept for the homemade loaf which due to the lack of artificial ingredients and preservatives doesn’t have the staying power of the commercial loaf. Given a choice of natural bread that stales in a short time or an artificially enhanced loaf that lasts over a week I know which I would go for; and it most certainly is not option number two.

I admit the giving of extra rises lengthens the process of bread baking but I am ardent that it makes the event no more stressful or requiring of more input from you the baker, just a wee bit more planning ahead maybe, but no more than that. Hardly a hardship for the end result of such deliciousness.

The recipe for the loaf is that of my own, it is purely the concept of the extra rises that is taken from Daniel Stevens.

I have had a few emails and comments recently from folks telling me they are afraid of yeast bakery, they are worried they wouldn’t have the skill for bread baking and some that simply don’t see the point in it themselves when you can buy bread so easily.

Bread baking is not a difficult job, just something that requires patience and confidence building. The first few attempts will probably not be utterly delightful, but you will feel fabulous for getting that fresh baked loaf on the table – trust me – the feel for bread will come over time, the more you bake the more quickly it will come. You will get to know the feel of the dough at various stages, what it will look like, you will learn to understand your kitchen environment, your oven.

I generally use my KitcheAid to knead my dough, it’s a time and energy saving measure but I would advise that to begin with you do knead by hand so that you can get the feel for it. There is no better feeling that bringing the four basic elements of flour, water, yeast and salt together to form an angels pillow of dough, so light and airy you want to bury your hands in it and stay forever. I’d also recommend you begin with a simple white bread like this one, once you have built up your confidence then progress to more complex methods, wholegrain breads and sweet yeast bakes.

For those of you put off simply by the idea of baking bread at home I ask you this; what could be better than having the air circulating around your house redolent with the smell of freshly made bread?

When you present your loaf you will feel like a true Domestic Goddess.

I am entering the loaf to YeastSpotting, sure doesn’t everyone need to be told about this fabulous multi-rise technique?

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