From weekly banana breads to smug sourdough starters, our Instagram feeds are filled with all things bread right now. While the world might have slowed down and no one has holiday snaps or #outfitsoftheday to show off, they’ve all taken to their kitchens to showcase their baking prowess. Yep, the world has gone bonkers for bread and we’re here for it. Cheap, easy (when you know how) and a staple of family mealtimes, baking bread has become a trend during these mad lockdown times. Plus, it’s a great way to while away the time.
So, we’ve gone straight to the experts to find out all you need to know about the daily loaf.
Matthew Jones founded Bread Ahead back in 2013 way before every East Londoner was making doorstep-sized sourdoughs. It’s now one of London’s most in demand and coolest bakeries, filling the bread baskets of some of the capital’s top restaurants and selling loafs to Londoners in Borough Market, Chelsea, Soho and Wembley. The team also host workshops to get people started in baking and they’ve just launched a book, Baking School: The Bread Ahead Cookbook – the perfect addition to your cookery book shelf during quarantine.
We spoke to Matthew to steal all his tips on how getting the perfect rise
People have gone wild for bread making during these quarantine times. What are the three golden rules you need to know?
Bread baking has been bubbling in the background for quite some time. People are keen to do it and this can be seen through the popularity of The Great British Bake Off and the huge popularity of our baking courses. The difference is, now people simply have the time to get involved and try it out. For new bakers out there, the three golden rules are:
- Good quality ingredients
- Practice – you’re not going to do your best bake on your first go
What equipment do you need, if any?
You don’t need much at all. You just need yourself, and that will to do it. You don’t need a professional kitchen to bake, any standard kitchen will do.
What are the essentials you need in your cupboard to get started?
All you really need is some strong bread flour and some salt. It’s a simple as that.
Let’s talk flour. What are the main ones we should know about and what are they used for?
The big one for baking bread is strong flour. That’s the one you need to get the gluten. For anything else, such as cookies , you can use a soft flour.
Everyone wants to make sourdough but do you need the starter? If so, how do you go about that and where would you get it from?
We run online tutorials on our Instagram every day at 6pm to take you through the sourdough process. It’s much easier to be shown how to make the starter rather than reading instructions. Anyone can do it though, it can be made at home on your own. To make a sourdough starter the ingredients are simple all you need is a pot, flour and water.
Where should people start? What’s fool-proof and which loaf is a little more challenging?
We find that a ciabatta or a focaccia is easiest to make. We do these in our Introduction to Italian Baking courses and they always seem to work. If you want something more challenging, it’s got to be sourdough. It is a process that takes a bit of time to master because there are so many variables. It’s the holy grail of baking a good sourdough.
Any tips for turning your bread into something more – a pizza or a sweet treat?
I like to make a really good garlic bread. The good thing with garlic bread is you can use an old bread – especially a sourdough. Add some garlic, butter, seasoning and the old loaf is transformed.
Fresh bread goes off quicker than shop bought. What are your top tips for making it last?
Bread isn’t really designed to last a week, but there are many options to make sure you have your regular supply of fresh bread. You can buy little but more often from your local bakery.
You can also freeze it. Bread freezes really well, once your bread is baked, slice it then pop it in the freezer. Then you can take however many slices you wish and pop it in the toaster – toasted fresh bread is delicious.
Lastly, while everyone has a bit more time, practice that home baking by making bread twice a week – you’ll have fresh bread in constant supply.
Any tips for using stale bread?
You should never throw bread away. You can use stale bread to make really good breadcrumbs (for a chicken kiev for example) or to make garlic croutons for soup. You can also used it to make a delicious bread pudding, we’ve got a lovely recipe in our new e-book.
Why do you think bread has become so trendy? It’s not like we haven’t been eating if for thousands of years.
We don’t think bread has become trendy as such. It’s just a normal staple and always has been, it never really went away. However during hard times people do tend to fall back on comfort foods. When people are feeling miserable it’s nice to come back to something warm and nostalgic which may be why people are choosing to bake bread more.
Matthew’s Easy Focaccia Bread Recipe
This Italian olive oil bread can be topped with an array of seasonal produce and makes for the perfect centrepiece to any family feast.
- 500g strong white bread flour
- 10g salt
- 6g fresh yeast (or 3g instant/quick/fast-acting dried yeast)
- 400g cold water
- 80g olive oil for folding and topping
- sea salt flakes and seasonal produce (i.e. rosemary, olives etc.) for topping
- Place the flour and salt in a bowl and combine.
- In another bowl, add the yeast to the water, then mix until dissolved (if using instant/quick/fast-acting dried yeast, mix the yeast through the dry mixture instead).
- Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the liquid. Bring the mixture together to form a loose dough.
- Tip the dough onto your work surface, ensuring you scrape all of the dough out to leave a clean bowl.
- With the heel of your hand, push the dough into the table and stretch and tear for 5 minutes, making sure you scrape your dough to the centre throughout the mix.
- Pour ¾ of the oil into the bottom of your bowl and place the dough back in the bowl.
- Spread the oil from the bowl over the top of the dough, then give your dough a fold. To do so, place your hands under one side of the dough, pull it up and stretch over to the other side. Do this from the bottom, the top and each of the two sides (this is considered a single fold). This will help to merge the oil with the dough.
- Leave to rest for half an hour. Give your dough 3 more folds resting for 30minutes each time. After the final fold, move to the fridge and leave for 10 minutes.
- Preheat your oven to 220°C/fan 230°C/gas mark 7 or as hot as your oven will go.
- Gently slide your dough onto a lightly oiled tray, fold in half (like a giant Cornish pasty) and massage the rest of the oil into the surface of the dough making sure it is evenly covered.
- Press your fingers into the top of the dough to spread out into the tray. Make sure you press the whole surface (this will give your focaccia its dimpled appearance).
- Top with your desired toppings and leave your dough for 30 minutes. If you choose, you can now hold your focaccia for up to 6 hours in the fridge.
- Sprinkle with salt, then place your tray in the oven and lightly spritz the oven chamber with a water spray.
- Bake for 15 minutes.
- Take out, glaze with olive oil, cool and serve.