Chef Konstantino Blokbergen shares why you should return to traditional methods of bread baking, and tips on making real bread at home.

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Chef Konstantino Blokbergen shares why you should return to traditional methods of bread baking, and tips on making real bread at home.

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The big difference between artisanal bread – or real bread, as Konstantino Blokbergen calls it – and the ones you find at the supermarket, is time. The Greek-born chef and owner of Firebake – Woodfired Bakehouse & Restaurant is reconnecting with traditional methods of bread-baking, which involves only the four essential ingredients (flour, water, salt and yeast) and a full and natural fermentation process that takes at least 24 hours.

Konstantino says commercial bread uses over 20 ingredients, including baker’s yeast, which accelerates the breadmaking process to only two or three hours. This means the previously delayed natural fermentation will now occur inside your stomach, which may cause bloatedness and discomfort.

The passionate chef has two wood-fired brick ovens in his restaurant, and bakes sourdough bread, the type of bread that has gone through naturally occurring fermentation, daily. Not only is it more flavourful and easier on the stomach, sourdough bread is made using techniques that can be replicated at home, too.

Here, Konstantino shares the dos and don’ts of home-baking with us.
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Why is fermentation so important?

When you ferment something, you extract more flavour from the ingredients like grain and flour. Some people think that’s weird, as the ingredients are expiring, but it’s very much like cheese. Good cheese would have gone through a long fermentation process, where good bacteria had time to do its job.

Bulk fermentation is the exciting phase that makes sourdough bread so much healthier to consume; enzymes released by the yeasts as the dough acidifies effectively predigests the flour, which releases the micronutrients and, in turn, reduces bloating and digestive discomfort.

What should you avoid when home-baking?

Don’t overwork the dough, in both the fermentation and proofing stages. Let nature do its job and give the dough a natural shape and taste. Also, do not keep opening and closing the oven door or you will lose heat and moisture; you need heat for the loaf to stretch and increase in volume, and humidity to cook its crumb.

What kind of oven should home bakers look out for?

It’s important that your oven can heat up beyond 240 deg C; the higher the better.

A steam combination, in particular, is fantastic as it gives you about 40 per cent moisture and 60 per cent dry heat – a great combination for baking and when you heat up bakes that are few days old.

The closest environment to that of a baker’s oven are Dutch ovens or cast iron pots. If you don’t have these, find an oven that comes with (or can fit) a pizza or lava stone. They are good alternatives.

What can we do to generate steam in a regular oven?

Include a kitchen pan at the bottom shelf when you are pre-heating your oven and cast iron pot. When you are ready to put your dough in the iron pot, pour water into the pan – this will create a rising steam – and quickly close the oven door.

What about bread-making machines?

I have to admit that I have one at home!

They are good for new bakers to acquaint themselves with the core steps of baking, but I would still encourage starting with your hands first so as to familiarise yourself with bread making in both its visual and tactile aspects.