First up is a fail-proof bread recipe. Homemade bread is a joy, so much tastier and satisfying than anything you can buy in a shop. I also find making bread quite therapeutic and relaxing. The best thing about making bread is the amount of sitting down you get to do, because you have to leave stuff alone for long periods. You get to sit down while it does work for you. Here's the recipe:
1. First measure out 300ml of tepid water straight from the tap. Top this up with about 20-25ml of oil, or melted butter. I usually use extra virgin olive oil as it gives my bread a sort of italian bread texture. Add to this 1 and a half teaspoons of yeast, I use this stuff, which you can get from either their own website, Tesco or several other places. Finally add two teaspoons of caster sugar and give it a jolly good whisk. Leave this in a warm draft-free place for about 10-20mins until it has a big bubble of yeasty goodness on top. This is key.
2. Next weigh out 500g of flour, this is where you can get a bit adventurous. Use interesting flours, combine flours as long as you have 500g of flour you'll do fine. I usually do half and half of strong white bread flour and six seed bread flour. Dump this in a big bowl, don't bother sifting, anyone who tells you sifting is important has never not sifted. At this point you can also add dried herbs, seeds anything small that will blend well with the flour, even spices are cool. Make sure you add a couple of teaspoons of salt as well. Combine all this and make a big well in the middle.
3. Into this well, pour the yeasty water, and give it a jolly good whisk with a big fork to emulsify the oil. Using the big fork gradually incorporate the flour from the sides, combine until a uniform mix and incorporate more flour, keep going until it's too hard to move the fork through the dough. Scrape off the fork and proceed with your hands until all the flour has been incorporated.
4. At this point you should assess the stickiness of your dough, knead it a bit and if the dough is still sticking to your hands then it's too sticky. Dump it onto a lightly floured surface and knead (If you don't know how to knead, the basic technique is to hold the dough down gently with one hand and use the other hand to push away and stretch the dough a bit and then bring this back, then turn a bit and repeat. This is a skill that you will develop, keep practicing and eventually you will be doing lightning kneading!) until the flour on the surface has been incorporated into the dough. Keep lightly flouring the surface and kneading until your dough no-longer sticks to your hands, but don't go any-further or your dough will be dry and unmanageable.
5. Now you just want to continue kneading until your dough is silky smooth and elasticy. Keep going, you will get there. This, for me at least, is the best bit. I love the feel of dough at this point it's so nice to just play with and squidge about. But don't get distracted by the lovely dough. Shape the dough into a ball, lightly dust the big bowl with flour and place the ball of dough in it. Lightly dust the top of the dough and cover the bowl with clingfilm, tightly, top this with a tea-towel.
6. You need to get the bowl of dough into a warm draft-free place like a boiler cupboard or an airing cupboard. Personally I put the oven on 50 degrees C and put the dough in here, but it's important you don't go much higher or you'll start to cook the bread and kill the yeast. Leave the dough like this until it's at least doubled in size. This can take anywhere from an hour to 4 hours, be patient, take your time. This is the time when you can go do something else, just keep an eye on it. If you leave it overnight you'll have a lovely big molten rock looking bowlfull of dough.
7. Once the dough has doubled in size now is the time to knock it back. Remove it from the bowl and dump it on a clean surface—it may need a little persuasion. Make sure you get out any bits that may have stuck to the bowl. Now punch and squeeze and roll the dough until you've knocked out all the air, as long as you've done step 4 and 5 properly the dough won't stick to you or the surface, adding flour at this point can result in disaster.
8. Once you've unloaded your frustration on the dough, you can shape it. Now you can add fruit, chocolate, cheese, anything interesting that is a bit bigger and wouldn't have blended well with the flour. Shape the dough however you like, I like to divide it into submarine rolls.
9. Take a large baking tray and lightly oil it. Place the shaped dough onto the tray. Brush the top of the dough with a little olive oil and slash a few times on top so the bread can expand. Cover with cling-film and the tea-towel. Put it back in your warm place so the bread can grow, this is called proving. This time you only have to leave it for about half an hour.
10. Preheat your oven to about 210 degrees C for an electric oven or 190 for a fan assisted one. If you have been proving your dough in the oven make sure you take it out first! Once the oven is up to temp, remove the cling film and tea-towel and now you can top the bread with interesting stuff, herbs and cheese, seeds, anything you fancy. Some things may need a hand sticking, so brush the dough with either milk or a little egg yolk. Now once you're happy with the flavours you've got on the dough, put it in the oven on the same tray you proved it on and bake.
11. It's tricky to say how long it will take to bake. Baking time depends on the size of rolls, thickness, how much stiff you've put on them, and more importantly your oven. Keep an eye on it every 5 minutes, but it should be done after about 30 minutes. Remove it from the oven once it's crusty and springs back when you push it gently. A sure way to test it is to insert a skewer into the middle of the bread for 5 seconds, if when you touch the skewer to your top lip it is too hot, then you know it's cooked. There you have it you have made bread, I bet it tastes amazing. Mmmmm bread, yummy. Now eat it.
Coming up in the next week yummy biscuits, which I decided to do in a separate post because this one is already quite long. Any questions, post to the comments, Happy cooking.