Easy home made white bread

I love home made bread, and unashamedly so. When you tell people this (for it naturally comes up often in conversation!), some people do look at you as though you are a little off your rocker, and let you know that it must be difficult, or time consuming, or both. And anyway, why would you bother when you can now buy such good bread? Well, it isn’t really too difficult, and actually not time consuming either. Sure, you don’t get instant results, but for much of the time it takes to make your own bread, it is doing its own thing and you can be doing yours. The benefits too are twofold. Firstly, much of the pleasure is in the making, the process of producing your loaf, mostly in the quiet, almost therapeutic kneading, but also of course in the aroma of a loaf baking in the oven filling the house. Secondly, in my opinion, there is little that beats thickly smeared salty butter melting onto a hunk of bread straight from the oven.

Most recipes for a basic white loaf are much of a muchness. A similar list of ingredients in similar quantities, and the method doesn’t vary much either. I generally go for the overnight rise, mixing and kneading the dough the night before I intend to bake the loaf, simply because it seems to me that this makes the process easier, less rushed. The result is generally also a more strongly flavoured, more ‘yeasty’ bread. Good flour makes a difference too, and if you can, it’s worth getting organic, although if this is the deal-breaker, then don’t let it put you off. And finally, for the kneading, I doubt my technique is anything like that of a professional baker! I generally stretch the dough by holding it down with the heel of one hand and pushing it away from me with the heel of the other, then fold or bring it back together, and repeat! Works for me. Get stuck in and have a go.

500g strong white bread flour, preferably organic, plus more for kneading

1 sachet (7g) easy blend yeast

1 teaspoon sugar (optional – I have just always added this)

2 teaspoons salt

1 glug good olive oil

300ml warm water

Put the flour, yeast, salt and sugar, if using, into a bowl. Add the oil then tip in the water and mix everything together with a butter knife or a wooden spoon. Try and get as much of the flour incorporated as you can. At this stage, you’ll have a stringy, sticky dough in your bowl. Flour your worktop, tip the contents of the bowl onto it, including any flour not worked into the dough, and knead away, for at least 10 minutes. If you’ve got a freestanding mixer with a dough hook attachment, then you can let it knead for you, and it will probably only take about 5 minutes, but where’s the fun in that? As you’re kneading, you’ll feel the dough changing from a sticky, wet mixture into something smooth, far less sticky, and quite elastic – when you push the dough away from yourself, it will start to spring back.

Form the dough into a ball, and smear the inside of a large bowl with a little oil, spreading it up the sides. Drop in the ball of dough, turn it over so both top and bottom are lightly oiled, cover the bowl with clingfilm and whack in the fridge overnight. I’ve left dough for up to 24 hours, and never had a problem with it. If you’re not going for the overnight route, leave your bowl in a warmish place, not in a draft, for an hour, maybe a little more. In both cases, it’s ready when it’s twice the size, or therabouts, it was before.

If you’ve left the dough in the fridge, get it out and let it warm a little, then remove the cling film and press the dough with your fingers (or punch it with your fists!) until it deflates. Switch the oven on – 220C/200C fan -then knead the dough for just a minute. Form it into a ball (and don’t worry too much about this, however round my loaf goes into the oven, it always comes out looking slightly misshapen, or as I would have it, rustic and home made). Place the ball into a baking sheet, and generally I use one that is lightly floured, again more out of habit than reason, although I suppose it is notionally non-stick, cover loosely with clingfilm, and leave it for another half an hour to double in size again. Remove the clingfilm, and bake in the preheated oven for around 40 minutes. To see if it’s done, carefully lift up the load and wrap the bottom with your knuckles – if it sounds hollow, it’s done, if not, give it a few more minutes.

Once it’s out of the oven, you can do one of two things. For a crusty loaf, let it cool on a wire rack, and for a slightly softer crust, let it cool on it’s baking tray covered by a clean tea towel. The steam it gives off will keep it a little softer. Once cool, keep it in an airtight tin, and eat it as soon as possible. It won’t last as long as a shop-bought loaf. That’s a good thing, though.

 

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