Baking Bread in the Aga

IMG_0258I have realised that most commercially available bread, and nearly all strong bread flours sold for home baking, contain flour that has such powerful gluten ,that it is no surprise that it really can upset one’s digestion. Have you ever noticed that when you wash up after making bread, there is always a nasty gloopy mess in the sink which resembles soft chewing gum? The very worst culprit is the flour labelled Canadian extra strong bread flour. I once used this and the whole family were quite gassy afterwards. It is possible to make really nice bread with a much less powerful flour without compromising on quality, and without going down the gluten- free route.

There really is no excuse for not baking your own bread on a regular basis if you have an Aga or similar range cooker which is always on. My staple loaf is made with top-notch whole meal flour, yeast and water and nothing else. I often use a kenwood mixer, but the loaves pictured were done by hand , and with better results, according to my very critical family. I always use Batcheldre flour from Waitrose, and at £2.10 for a 1.5 kg bag, which makes 3 loaves, it is not only far superior to anything you can buy but cheaper too. I have tried many methods of making whole meal bread over the years, but the most satisfactory results are produced by using  3 heaped teaspoons of dried yeast, which you reconstitute following the instructions on the packet. 3 tablespoons of Salt, and I only use Maldon sea salt, is then stirred well into the flour along with the yeast mixture and as much lukewarm water as is needed to make an easily worked dough. Knead really well for 15 minutes, then leave to prove, covered in oiled cling-film with plenty of room for expansion. Up to 2 hours later, or when it has doubled in size, knock back as usual and place in 3 oiled loaf tins. Leave again to rise in the tins, but keep covered as before until well risen. Put in hot oven for about 30 to 40 minutes , until baked and hollow on the bottom when tapped. If they look like burning on top before they are done, place a cold baking sheet above them, or turn them out and place them upside down to cook the bottoms– this you would only need to do if you have particularly thick loaf tins!

I then leave them until the next day, or 12 hours later, and then slice them and put them in re-sealable bags in the freezer, and taking out only a slice or two at a time means you don’t have to bake too often.

IMG_0251These Pitta breads and flatbreads were both made with the same oil-enriched dough. The pittas were baked on a hot baking sheet in the hot oven for about 15 minutes, and the flatbreads were cooked directly on the simmering hob with no greasing needed, but the lid closed down upon them for just about a minute each side. The flatbreads are the most popular being slightly softer and with pleasing bubbles of trapped air. Naan bread recipes work really well on top of the Aga as well. There you have it.

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