All you need to know about the basic ingredients for making bread and cakes.
Four key ingredients
There are four simple key ingredients for making bread: flour, yeast, salt and water. Fat can also be used to help your bread stay soft and tender for longer. You can use either very soft unsalted butter or olive oil, depending on the type of bread.
Strong white flour
When making bread you need to use strong flour. Strong flour has a higher level of protein than other flour and this gives it its stretch and chewy crumb.
Plain and self-raising flour
When baking biscuits or cakes, you require flour with a lower protein level for a crumbly texture – such as plain or self-raising flour. Self-raising flour is mainly used for cakes; it contains baking powder, and therefore requires no other baking agents.
Strong wholemeal flour
This flour has a high fibre and nutrient content. Where possible, I use stoneground wholemeal flour, as this retains more nutrients from grain. Wholemeal flour absorbs more water, and therefore requires more kneading. I often mix wholemeal with other flours for a more complex flavour, although you will need to add some strong white flour to give more lift. You can also use wholemeal bread flour when baking biscuits and muffins, but I suggest you mix it with plain white flour to bring the protein level.
Malted bread flour
Also known as ‘granary flour’, this has a nutty taste and is slightly darker in colour. It is essentially a white flour with added flakes of malted wheat. I always add an extra 5 minutes of kneading when using malted flour, as the protein levels can vary.
Although contains some gluten, people with wheat intolerances often find they can tolerate spelt better than other flour. Spelt is in fact an ancient grain, and an ancestor of modern wheat. Because of its low levels of gluten, it tends to spread outwards whilst proving and baking, and therefore I always suggest that you use a tin when baking with spelt flour at home, as this will create a more balanced loaf.
This flour is actually a grass, but it is related to wheat and contains some gluten. As it is very low in protein, it behaves differently from wheat flours. It produces a heavy, sticky dough, which can be difficult to work with and takes longer to rise. But it can create a delicious taste.
The idea of yeast may seem scary to first-time bakers. However, instant yeast is easy to buy, store and use. I always use ‘fast-action’ or ‘easy-blend’ yeast.
Salt not only prevents the bread from tasting bland, but it also strengthens the gluten in the mix. I use ordinary fine-grained cooking salt in my recipes.
Water makes a difference to how much the dough rises and the structure of the crumb. Ordinary tap water is fine to bake with.
More baking basics
Here are some of my top tips to ensure your bakes are perfect every time.