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Bake your own bread and know what you're eating

Who can resist the smell of freshly baked bread? Baking your own bread is fun and it has the great advantage that you can choose exactly what goes into your loaf. People have been baking bread of some sort for over 5000 years, starting with a sort of flat loaf made by mixing ground up corn and water, shaping it and baking it on a hot stone. Nowadays the basic ingredients are flour, yeast or sour dough, water and salt. Quick soda breads and rolls can be made using baking powder as the rising agent. You can vary the basic recipe in dozens of different ways.

Tips for a good loaf

Making bread can't be hurried, but it doesn't really take a lot of your time. First of all make sure that all the ingredients– and also the bowl and the dough hooks – are at room temperature. Be aware of the difference between the different types of flour. The vitamin and mineral content, as well as the fibre content, of white flour is lower than wholewheat flour , but the starch and gluten content is higher.

If you want to experiment with gluten-free flour, you'll need to mix it with wheat or rye flour to make sure the bread crumb holds together. Of course, if you're baking with gluten free flours because you're coeliac or gluten intolerant, you can't do this, so you need to find another solution maybe using xanthan gum or mashed potatoes or grated apple.

Proving and baking

If you're using yeast or sourdough, you should knead the dough thoroughly until it is smooth and elastic. Then your dough must twice be put in a warm place to rise (or prove). As a rough guide to how long to prove the dough, you can should let it stand until it has doubled in size (yeast) or increased by half (sourdough). This could take a couple of hours or you could even let it prove overnight. If you're not sure, you can give it a prod with one finger. If the dough has proved enough the dent you make should slowly fill again. The most likely cause of your dough not rising, or rising very slowly is that it's too cold – it needs to prove in a warm place, not a hot one.

Finally shape your loaf and put it into a hot oven. Preheating the oven is important. A steamy atmosphere in the oven will help the bread to rise smoothly and you'll get a smooth crust with no cracks. Generate steam by putting an ovenproof dish full of water in the bottom of the oven for the first 15 minutes of the baking time. Often the recipe will instruct you to put the bread into a very hot oven for 10 to 20 minutes and then turn the heat down for the rest of the time. This method gets the bread crusty on the outside and softer on the inside. You can tell your loaf is done when it sounds hollow if you knock on the bottom. When you take you loaf out of the oven, let it cool out of its tin on a rack otherwise the bottom might become soggy.

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de