During my extreme shopping trip today (which is where I hit three supermarkets before 10.00am like some sort of ninja with a trolley), a couple of people asked me about baking bread & how come it’s so hard/messy/time-consuming (you get the picture). My reply: it’s not (well, it’s not the way I do it).
Firstly, I don’t possess a bread making machine (save your money – buy a pasta machine instead). I make all my bread by hand – I’m not built like a brick shed with muscles & you don’t need to be either. Baking bread is like creating some sort of magic in the kitchen! There really is nothing quite like that heady, warm scent of a freshly baked loaf – especially if you’ve made it yourself. Both my husband & son bake bread – I taught my son this recipe when he was at junior school (which he proudly told his teacher was better than her packet bread mix & refused to make it – she wasn’t impressed!).
Now I’m not disputing that there are some beautiful artisan breads out there which take time, effort & years of experience, but if you just want some good, basic bread to feed your family, then this is for you. It’s cheap, really easy & you get a free mini workout with every batch (“Yay – free stuff!” I hear you say). So, let the floury fun commence!
What you need:
12g fresh yeast (or the equivalent of dried)
500g strong bread flour (I have tried them all & my favourite is Allinson’s), plus a bit extra for dusting your worktop
330ml (approx just over half a pint) lukewarm water (stick your finger in it & it should be the same temperature)
Half a teaspoon of ground sea salt
A little olive/sunflower oil or melted butter – to brush around the inside of your loaf tins
2 loaf tins (standard size) – you can do it free-form too, just dust a baking tray with a little flour
2 tablespoons olive/sunflower oil – this is down to individual taste
Seeds/herbs/dried fruit – you can put whatever you like in (my favourite is to mix a teaspoonful of poppy, linseed, sesame & pumpkin seeds together).
How to do it:
Dissolve the yeast in the water, which should go a light muddy colour (give it a good stir with a fork).
Put the flour & sea salt in a large mixing bowl, slowly pour in the yeast water (add the oil at this stage, if using) & stir into the flour until it forms a dough ball & the bowl is clean. Sprinkle a little flour in the bottom of the bowl & set aside for later.
Dust some flour on a clean worktop, place the dough on it & start kneading – here’s your free mini workout! Kneading is simply stretching the dough, making the gluten in the flour flexible & will make your bread rise well. Give it ten minutes, firmly pushing the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, then pulling it back on itself. Once kneaded, it should feel more elastic, so just put it in the floured bowl, brush a bit of oil on some clingfilm & put this on top of the bowl (oiled side down), making sure there are no gaps. Put it on a tray in the airing cupboard or a warm place, where there are no draughts & leave it for about half an hour. This is called proving the dough.
Heat your oven to 220*C. Brush the inside of your tins with a little oil & place on a baking tray.
Take the now risen dough from the airing cupboard (put the oiled cling film to one side) & put onto a floured worktop. To knock out any large air bubbles, I like to throw it on the worktop a couple of times, knead it for a few seconds, then split it into two equal balls. If you’re putting seeds/fruit/etc in, gently stretch it with your hands into a rectangle, sprinkle some seeds on a third, fold it over, sprinkle some more, fold it again, then sprinkle the rest. Fold it gently again to distribute the seeds/fruit in the dough, shape it to fit your loaf tin & pop it in. Repeat with the other dough ball. Cover with the oiled clingfilm & leave for a further half hour to prove again.
Now you’re ready to bake! Remove the clingfilm from the tins – the dough will have risen again & is ready to go into the oven. Put the tray in the middle of the oven & bake for about half an hour.
Once done, it will be golden & risen above the tins, so just tip out onto a wire rack to cool. To test if it’s cooked, give your loaf a tap on the bottom – it will sound hollow if it’s ready. Resist the urge to eat it before it’s cooled a bit! Once cooled, slice it, spread it, dunk it & dip it! Whatever you do, share & enjoy it. As the old Italian saying goes “La vita non e’fatta di solo pane” (“You cannot live on bread alone”) – but you can bake it! A x