The title may be in jest, but I thought it was time for a post regarding an area of cookery many shy away from, often out of apprehension and fear or previous misadventure. Some of this seems to be based on the fact that baking is often heard in company with words like chemistry and science. This is all true, I won't try and deny it; consider for a moment though that these terms can all be applied to getting those potatoes crisp, the roast browned or the vegetables steamed nicely. Familiarity is the key in that if you can get a feel for what is happening, success will ensue. The reality is probably that we all have more experience (good and bad!) at roasting a chicken, than we do at baking a loaf of bread, yet which one do we consume most often?
So I've been playing around with some bread recipes for both amusement and nutrition. As to the science, without going into painful details there are a few things to note, but not stress over:
Salt is crucial to the structure of the loaf in baking, it strengthens the dough and helps preserve this in the cooking process, it also moderates the activity of the yeast, so remember too much and you will inhibit the yeasts action excessively. Salt also enhances the flavour, which is pretty important I think.
The type and quality of flour has the biggest impact on the resulting product more than anything else, particularly in breads, it's important to use a quality strong flour. Basically the higher the protein (gluten) content, the more suitable as a bread flour for a traditional, light, elastic white loaf, of course, there are infinite variations.
Be precise in your measurements, but don't sacrifice a sense of feel when making a dough. Measuring is important, but you have to remember, particularly with the addition of liquids that everything is hugely variable depending on humidity, type of flour and altitude. These all influence the final mix, So get your hands dirty and use your eyes, if it looks and feels right, or the opposite then don't be put off making an adjustment.
I've been trying some bread recipes with the basic flour, water, salt mix, to this I added a little brown sugar and olive oil. The yeast was stock standard dried. From this I could produce a quite reasonable loaf. With experimentation I found the volume of oil defined the richness and softness of the loaf.
A sour dough starter has also been embarked upon and at the moment this is a work in progress, I'll certainly update this as it progresses. I did want to note that there is something beautifully seductive about the process, as it requires only flour, water and salt to make perhaps the most beautiful bread. Patience should also be added to this list in fairness, as time is needed to get the culture going and also produce and bake the loaves. The result is well worth it however!