Making bread is lovely, and is about the easiest thing possible. It seems to have a kind of mystique around it, and while a nice big loaf of tiger bread from the supermarket is nice, nothing beats a nice chunk of tasty homemade bread, with butter thickly spread on top. Really good bread can be like a savoury cake – it doesn’t need anything else and has its own depths of flavour and texture.
Ignore weights and measures and just go by feel – it is almost impossible to mess up. It feels wrong calling this a recipe, so here is my method. Everyone has their own little variations, but it is all basically flour, water and yeast.
Put some bread flour in a mixing bowl. I like about a third wholemeal and two thirds white, but go with what you feel like (or happen to have in the cupboard) Apparently newer flour is better, but I’ve never noticed a difference, so buy it when it is on offer and keep in a sealed container.
You want approximately half a normal sized bag of flour. but a bit more will just make a bit more bread and vis versa.
Next you need yeast. With instant yeast, put in one packet, or do whatever the container says on the side for other types.
Then add a good big spoon of sugar and a smaller one of salt, and a big glug of oil of some kind (olive is nicer, but vegetable or sunflower is fine)
Here is my secret – you don’t have to, but you will get a better result if you crush a vitamin C tablet and add it to the mix.
Get some blood temperature water – it should just feel pleasantly warm to your fingers. Mix it in bit by bit until the dough looks like, well, dough. Don’t worry if you put too much water in – just add more flour.
This is the fun bit- chuck loads of flour onto a surface – a scrubbed table, a chopping board, whatever. Then attack the dough – pull it, squash it, squish it, roll it. I press any passing children into service for this bit – my four year old is a dab hand. If things get sticky, add more flour. Do that till you, or the child, gets bored. Then put the dough back into the bowl and put it somewhere warm – imagine it is a cat, and put it where a cat would go. Unless there is already a cat there – in that case, put it somewhere else. You can also put it in the fridge overnight if you like, which is slower, but can give better results.
When the dough is twice the size it used to be, get it out and do another knead. Then find some kind of baking tray and put the dough on it – make sure there is room for it to become double the size. Put your oven on to heat up – about 200 degrees if you have a oven that lets you choose. I used to use a range oven and just used the hot bit. Put the dough somewhere warm again – near the heating up oven could be good – until it has expanded to slightly less than twice its size. Then put in the oven.
It will be quite happy in the oven while other stuff is cooking, or I have even baked it in the oven after it is turned off from cooking a big meal.
The bread is ready when it a) looks like bread and b) if you pick it up and tap the bottom, it sounds hollow.
My slapdash approach to recipes does mean that the bread turns out different each time, but I like that. You can also add seeds, garlic, olives, cheese, onion – whatever you like, and you can put it in weird shapes if that floats your boat.
Ooh, and something worth trying is to get the oven steamy – I sometimes put a yorkshire pudding dish of hot water on the bottom of the oven. It makes the crust nicer and seems to make the bread softer.