As well as being great fun, bread making takes us back to the very basics of food production and to a time when a happy accident led to flour, contaminated with natural yeasts was left longer than usual on a warm day and began to rise. The cooked bread was found to be lighter and easier to eat and so a revolution in food was born.
Activity One – Looking at natural microbes
There are many microbes in the world around us which, in their quest for survival, feed off natural sugars and protein,s causing them to decay. These produce moulds and gases of which some are harmful and some are helpful.
The children can test for the presence of microbes around them by leaving bread, cheese and fruit out in the air, in a safe place, and note the changes that happen over the course of a few weeks. What we see is the microbes feeding off sugars and proteins and developing fruiting bodies which we call mould. Now mix some fresh or dried baker’s yeast with warm water and sugar and leave it somewhere warm but ventilated. After 30 minutes to an hour they should be able to observe frothing of the mixture and a pungent smell. These are caused by the production of carbon dioxide and alcohol in the process known as fermentation.
Now show the children a loaf of bread and slice it in half. What do they notice?
Ask them what they think caused the holes in bread. Keep referring to the froth on the yeast mixture and show them that when it is stirred, the bubbles disappear. Why doesn’t that happen with the bread?
As an introduction to bread making, read the children the story of the Little Red Hen. It illustrates beautifully the process of bread making from field to plate in order to show how cooperation can enable all to share in a reward for their combined efforts. From the book, ask the class to illustrate and label each stage of the process and display it around the class. Can they use the ideas from the book together with what they have learned to far to write instructions for the bread making process? There will be gaps but they can complete those later after the process has been completed.
You can also link the idea of bread making into the history topic of Invaders and Settlers.
Begin by asking the children what kinds of food invaders would eat and what kinds of food settlers would eat. Can they justify their choices with reference to how long each takes to produce? Early humans were nomadic and had a protein rich lifestyle as they killed animals from the flocks they herded or wild animals through hunting. As humans settled in hospitable areas they initially became gatherers and then found they could cultivate much of what they gathered. This meant that they would have to stay in the same place for as long as the crops took to grow and would need to spend time tending the crops during the growing season. One of the earliest cultivated crops was wheat and this was used to make bread.
Ask the children to bring in different kinds of bread. You may get wholemeal, granary, oatmeal, rye, soda, unleavened etc. Do an observation and taste test with them. Label headings on the board such as what it looks like, texture, size of holes/bubbles, taste, like or dislike. Be careful to check you have no celiac sufferers beforehand. Looking at the wrappers will tell them what is different about the ingredients or how it’s been cooked. From this you could discuss healthiness by looking at the nutritional information label on the bag and rank the breads in order of healthiness, deciding what it is about each bread that makes it healthy or unhealthy.
Making bread! Children love this and it’s easy and almost always successful. It’s even more fun when you go right back to the beginning and buy some whole wheat grains and mill them in a pestle and mortar. The children will see the white powder that is the flour and after sifting they’ll end up with nearly pure flour. This could take a very long time if you want to make all your flour this way so I’d recommend mixing some of your ground flour with commercial bread flour. At the same time you could sow some of the wheat grains in a pot or in the school garden to see how it grows.
Get the children to make us the yeast mixture as you showed them in the previous activity. It will begin frothing almost immediately and they’ll have to mix it with the flour and salt quickly. Once the dough leaves the sides of the bowl cleanly, ask the children to pick out the dough and begin kneading it. Ask them what they notice happening to the dough as they do this. The gluten in the flour is being released and making the dough stretchy. Once the dough is smooth and stretchy, put the dough back in the bowl and leave in a warm place to prove. An hour later ask the children what they notice and what has happened to the dough to make it rise. If you carefully cut a piece off using a sharp knife the children will be able to see the bubbles in the yeast. Ask them again if they can understand why the bubbles disappeared in the yeast mix yet stay in the dough. They’ll have to knead the dough again and then shape it to form their bread before proving it again. You can explain that this is to make sure the yeast and bubbles form evenly through the bread. Finally it’ll be ready for baking. Making one of your own with the children will earn you some kudos and you can use yours at the end of the activity to demonstrate the capture of the bubbles through the hardening of the dough through cooking.
Dave Lewis, Primary teacher