A Loaf of Bread

Bread

Bread and I have slowly made our peace over the years and I’ve built up my confidence making it. I remember trying various recipes over the years and ending up with bread that was still raw on the inside, which made me feel VERY frustrated. While it may be highly unorthodox, I usually bake bread at a lower temperature – most recipes recommend oven temperatures in excess of 200C. My loaves are never that photogenic but they always go down well with the resident bread enthusiast and various lunch guests.

I sometimes think about going on an overpriced bread making course with the aim of learning to make really lovely looking loaves, maybe somewhere nice like the Gail’s test kitchen in Bloomsbury or Bread Ahead in Borough Market. However I fear I would just get very angry and there I’d be, screeching, covered in flour and dough while everyone else turned out symmetrical loaves that don’t bubble up on one side or develop a weird foot, like a macaron. But for now, this recipe will do the job.

Bread isn’t something to make in a rush. It involves bursts of activity but patience and leaving it alone is what it needs; to rise, prove and bake. If you’re aiming for a 1pm lunch, start the bread at 9/9:30am. You can bake this in a freeform round or oval shape or you can use a large loaf tin (sold as a 2 lb bread tin). It’s lovely and fresh on the day it is made and makes very nice toast on subsequent days.

You can use plain flour, wholemeal flour or a blend of the two to make this loaf, as you prefer. Really you should use strong bread flour, as it makes a better loaf but I tend to use whatever I have in the cupboard, chapati flour included. I have also tried using a blend of rye, wheat and spelt flours. I used 125g rye flour out of 500g flour – it doubled in size in about 90 minutes but if you would like to use more rye, you will need to leave it rise for longer and the dough will only increase in size by half due to the heaviness of the rye flour. Do have a look at a recipe by the Hairy Bikers, Paul Hollywood, the deep-dive that Felicity Cloake did on making the perfect rye bread for the Guardian or Anna Jones’ recipe for a rye and spelt loaf. 

I had a go at using fresh yeast after seeing little pots of it for sale for 50p at Paul, a French bakery chain. Each pot will make 2-3 500g loaves but only has a shelf life of about two weeks and should be kept in the fridge. The main difference I found was that it seemed to give a much quicker rise than dried yeast. The Doves’ farm website has a yeast conversion table on how much fresh yeast to use in place of dried yeast – you can use 17g fresh yeast to substitute 7g dried yeast for the recipe. Just dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water before adding the rest of ingredients – it doesn’t need to go frothy. You’ll also find warnings about keeping the salt and fresh yeast separate, as the salt can kill the yeast. To be on the safe side, I added the salt when I re-kneaded the dough before leaving it for it’s second prove.

Ingredients

500g flour of your choice

7g  dried active yeast

2 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

350ml tepid water

  1. Add the flour, yeast and salt to a mixing bowl before adding the olive oil. Add the water, bit by bit, bringing the dough together as you go. It shouldn’t be dry or sticky – give it a quick knead which may either work out any hidden pockets of flour, or absorb any extra moisture. Don’t be afraid to add a little more flour or water, as you knead. You may have bits of dough stuck to your hand, but not a big sticky handful of the stuff.
  2. Knead thoroughly, by hand or using a stand mixer. I increasingly enjoy kneading it by hand. You’ll see the texture change as you work the gluten; it will become smoother.
  3. Leave to rise for an hour and thirty minutes. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave it somewhere warm, on a radiator or on top of a hot water bottle which always does the trick for me. Once it has doubled in size, quickly knead and leave to prove, covering the bowl again with the tea towel. I know they use special proving drawers on Bake Off but you can just take the bowl of dough off the hot water bottle. You don’t need warmth for the second prove bread.
  4. Shape the dough into a round, make two small incisions on the top and place on a greased tray, or put it in the loaf tin. Bake for an hour to an hour and a quarter. The bottom should be brown and if you knock on it, it will sound hollow. Leave it to sit for fifteen – twenty minutes before slicing it. It’s difficult to slice neatly when it’s still hot and the texture of the dough will look as if it’s not cooked through.
  5. You can vary the recipe by adding rosemary and sliced black olives or sundried tomatoes and thyme. You can work these through the dough once it has risen.