Sliced Seeded Bread
Credit: <p>Image courtesy of Paul / <a href="" target="_blank"></a></p>

Fresh, home made bread is healthier and more delicious than anything you can buy in the supermarket.  By choosing to bake your own bread, you can have complete control over the ingredients, and with a little practice, you can create the perfect loaf for your tastes.  

Many people I speak to say things like 'I wish I had time to bake my own bread'.  I believe that once people have an understanding of the processes involved in bread making, then most people can find a way to fit it into their routine.  

So, my intention is to give you a quick outline of the stages involved in bread-making, and a few suggestions about how it might find a place in your lifestyle.  

The first thing to understand is that although baking bread takes a relatively long time, most of that time is hands-off, and there are long periods of waiting.  The stages involved in creating a loaf of home-made bread are broadly as follows:

  1. Mix the ingredients to create a sponge.
  2. Wait.
  3. Add remaining ingredients to form dough.
  4. Knead.
  5. Wait.
  6. Knock back and shape the dough.
  7. Wait some more.
  8. Bake.

It's certainly a long, drawn out process, but it's not actually that demanding in terms of hands-on time.

Before moving on further, I'd like to offer an aside about steps one to three on the above list.  I make all of my everyday bread using one of two methods - sourdough, which I have written about here and here, or the Tassajara method.  These processes suit me, and they make bread that my family and I enjoy eating.  It is of course perfectly possible to make good bread by skipping straight to step 3 and just mixing the dough in one stage, but in my opinion, the bread is infinitely better when I use the sponge method.

So, with that in mind, here is a brief outline of the way that this fits in to my routine. I tend to bake a minimum of two loaves at a time (there are six people living here, so a couple of loaves doesn't last all that long), and will bake 3 or 4 times a week.

The night before (5 minutes):

Mix the sponge ingredients, cover and set aside.  In winter, I leave the bowl on the work surface, in warmer months, I give it an hour at room temperature, and then put it in the fridge overnight.  I've scraped over-active sponge off the counter enough times to know that slowing the yeast down in the fridge is sometimes a good plan!

In the morning (10 minutes): 

Mix and knead the dough - usually I do this by hand, and it takes me about 10 minutes, sometimes I'll use my Kenwood free-standing mixer, which takes less time but makes more noise!  Coat the surface of the dough lightly in oil, cover the bowl and set aside again.  (At this point I normally head off to take the children to school and run whatever errands I have for that day).

At lunchtime / early afternoon (5 minutes): 

Knock back the dough, shape it into loaves, cover and set aside.

At dinner time (45 minutes of oven time): 

Bake the bread - this timing works well for me because I can get the most use out of the oven when I turn it on.

As you can see, the hands-on time required to make two loaves of fresh, delicious home-made bread, is around twenty minutes, spread over three sessions.  You can play around with the timing of these sessions, and make them fit in with your lifestyle.  The actual baking can be done while you're doing something else - watching Eastenders? putting the children to bed? 

So, my challenge to you - find yourself a good bread recipe, break it down into the chunks of time needed, and see if you can fit it in.  I promise you, the effort will be well worth it!