Dan Lepard shares his
tips for home-made bread

Melbourne-born Dan Lepard is famous in the UK for his baking prowess and recipe books. Now he’s weaving doughy magic on his home town as a star on Channel 9′s Great Australian Bake Off. (Picture: Kike Munoz)

Dan is “the nice judge” on the popular Tuesday night show, offsetting the tough line by fellow judge Kerry Vincent – Australia’s “Simon Cowell of Cake”. Hosts Shane Jacobson and Anna Gare keep the show on the road, with a happy crew of home bakers competing for top honors. Sweet treats have been the main game so far, but bread is Dan’s passion – a skill honed in the UK after working as a pastry chef in some of London’s top Michelin-starred kitchens. His award-winning book Short and Sweet has been on the best-seller list since 2011.Dan Lepard's Short & Sweet

Dan insists anyone can have a crack at baking, but the devil’s in the detail.

“No matter what recipe you use or even what type of bread you want to make, there are tweaks you can do that subtly improve the result,” he says. “Bread making is a bit like home brewing or wine-making in that the basic recipe is simple but success or failure is in the detail. Luckily, getting a fantastic loaf of bread at home is stacks easier and quicker than producing great wine or beer, but these five tips are guaranteed to get you baking better bread than ever before.”

1. Flour flavour

If you want great white bread, don’t simply use white flour. That sounds crazy, I know, but white flour doesn’t have much flavour. So take your usual recipe (there’s one below to play with) and replace a fifth of the flour with wholemeal and continue with the recipe as normal. Your bread will still turn out pretty white but the flavour, man, it will burst forth together with a lovely wheaty aroma. Works with bread machines as well as handmade loaves.

2. Yeast likes it wet

I don’t care what the dry yeast packet says, as I suspect they just want to sell you more. Unless I’m using a bread machine — where the yeast usually goes into the machine dry — I always get a better result by dissolving the yeast in warm water first. The reason: dissolving it ensures that every particle of yeast you measure in gets wet and soft immediately, and so puts it in the right state to start working on that flour. The yeast releases enzymes, creating bubbles in the dough that make it tender and aerated.

3. Walk away

This is the bread police: step away from the mixing bowl with your hands up. Many artisan bakers leave the dough for 10-20 minutes after the first mixing – before any kneading starts. Over those 10-20 minutes, a chemical change occurs in the dough and proteins will bond to form a stretchy resilient compound called gluten. And the biggest factor that gets this happening is time. Trust me, once you’ve mixed your dough, walking away for a while is the best thing you can do, as you’ll find it takes much less kneading to get a dough that’s smooth and elastic.

4. Kneading

For years recipes used to say (and a few still do, even now) to knead in more flour if the dough is sticky. Don’t do it, unless you want a heavy dense loaf of bread. If the dough feels dry at first just work in more water until it feels soft. Typically, you want a mass of dough that very slowly starts to spread in the bowl when you stop mixing it. It should hold its shape for the first few seconds when you plonk it out of the bowl on the worktop, but very slowly start to flow outwards. Do this and you’ll get much lighter bread.

5. Keep it hot & steamy

I know that cranking the oven up as high as it will go sounds scary, but usually that’s the best way to bake bread at the beginning. Adjust what the recipe says so you start with a high temperature and as the loaf bakes reduce the temperature slightly. If you want really soft rolls, say for a hamburger, keep the baking temperature high and the baking time very short (I give mine 12-15 minutes on average). But if you want a loaf with a thick crust, start high for the first 20 minutes then reduce the heat and bake it for much longer. Also, keep a metal dish in the bottom of the oven and fill it with boiling water just after the bread goes in. This will help the loaf rise well in the heat and help stop it cracking around the base.

Dan Lepard’s easy white bread

This recipe comes from Dan’s book Short and Sweet. “With a little effort and barely any kneading, you can conjure up an impressive crusty white loaf,” Dan says. “If flavours are your thing, then toss in up to 200g of cubed cheddar, or a little crispy bacon or some well-drained pitted olives and a handful of chopped herbs and you’ll have one of those ‘wow’ breads you see in the best bakeries. If you’re going to be at home for 3 or 4 hours, this recipe will take barely 20 minutes of your time, without you ever breaking into a sweat.”

Ingredients
400g white bread flour (plus extra for shaping and dusting)
1 tsp dry yeast, like Tandaco (available from supermarkets)
1 tsp salt
300ml warm water
Oil for kneading

Method
Put the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl, pour in the warm water and stir everything together into a sticky. shaggy mass. Scrape the dough from your hands, cover the bowl with a cloth and leave for 10 minutes. Lightly oil a 30cm area of the work surface and your hands, and briefly knead the dough, repeating twice more at 10-minute intervals.
Return the dough to the bowl and leave it for 45 minutes. Wipe the work surface, dust it with flour then pat the dough into an oval. Roll it up tightly, give each end a pinch to keep it neat then place the dough seam-side down on a floured tray, cover with a cloth and leave until the dough has increased in size by a half – about 45 minutes.
Heat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan. Flour the top of the dough, cut a slash down the middle and bake for 35–40 minutes.

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