I make a lot of bread, far more than two people can comfortably eat as I have an ongoing battle with sourdoughs. Sourdough breads make hard taskmasters. They demand attention, intuition, love and an even temperament. The latter essential if you are not to hurl bowls of grey smelly gloop across the kitchen in despair when after days of feeding your starter is still recalcitrant and unlikely to rise even the smallest loaf.
Yeast doughs on the other hand are wonderful, contented doughs that never fail and always yield up a deliciously light, tasty loaf.
When my husband, having battled through particularly grim loaf this week, asked if he might buy some bread I knew it was time to make a regular loaf, one that browns when you toast it, that is easy to slice and that can be made in a couple of hours.
This is it. I used a “Granary” flour which is just white bread flour with bits in it. You can use all white or half white half brown bread flour and it will still work just fine. This is my basic bread recipe so the one I use for pizza bases, flat breads and rolls. I knead in olives for olive bread and roll it around chopped nuts and cinnamon for buns.
It’s easy, it works, it taste good. Job done.
Makes 1 loaf
1 walnut-sized piece fresh yeast or 1 scant tablespoon dried granular yeast
1 teaspoon clear honey or unrefined sugar
300ml (10fl oz) hand-hot water, about 40°C
500g (18oz) strong white flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 tablespoons olive oil, melted butter or vegetable oil
Lets start with the yeast. If you are using fresh yeast, crumble it into a small bowl and add the honey or sugar. Using a wooden spoon mix the two together until you have a liquid. If you look closely you will see the yeast starting to bubble almost at once, so eager is it to work.If you are using dried granular yeast mix the honey/sugar into the tepid water then using a fork whisk in the yeast. The yeast won’t dissolve all at once but this is not important.
Take about 2 tablespoons of the measured flour and sprinkle it on the surface of whichever yeast mixture you are using. There is no need to mix this in. Leave this ‘sponge’ in a warm place for about 10-15 minutes until it is really frothy. The yeast will have started to grow and you can see the bubbles forming.
Put the flour into a large bowl, and add the salt then pour in the yeast mixture plus half the oil or melted butter. Mix together to form a rough dough. I use only one hand to do this. It’s quite simple to get into this habit, and you then always have the other hand clean to answer the phone or lift a glass.
Once you have a rough ball of dough, tap the contents of the bowl on to a board. Now you must knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. This stretches the gluten to give an evenly risen loaf. Look at the rough dough: it will look stringy. This is the gluten, and it is this you will be stretching.There is no wrong way to do this, I knead by turning and folding the dough, the stretch coming on the fold. Continue to turn and fold the dough until it changes in character and becomes smooth and springy when lightly pressed. This takes about 5-8 minutes.
As flour is affected by the weather, you may need to add a little more to your dough if it seems too sticky to knead. Be warned though: as the dough is kneaded the flour expands and takes up the water, so add only the lightest ‘talcum’ dusting of extra flour if really necessary, bearing in mind the maxim ‘the wetter the dough, the better the bread’.
Now pour the remaining oil or butter in the recipe into your reserved mixing bowl (there is no need to wash it), and put in the ball of dough. Roll it in the oil/butter until the outer surface is covered, but do not mix in.
Cover the bowl with a dry cloth and put the dough to rise in a warm place if you want to continue making the loaf, or cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge if you wish to store it for later.
Once the dough has doubled in size – which will take about 1 hour in a comfortable room – you are ready to continue.
Knock the dough with the back of your hand to collapse it, now take it from the bowl and then knead it once more until the oil has been incorporated into the dough.
You are now ready to shape your loaf: either roll into an oblong shape, tucking the ends in and place it in a 2lb 1.75kg loaf tin or roll it into a round and place on a greased baking sheet.Scatter over a little extra flour and leave to rise again. This second rising will take less time, about 45 minutes in a warm room.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200ºC/Gas 6.
Place the bread in the centre of the oven and bake until well risen and golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. The loaf will sound hollow when tapped on the base. If you are unsure if the bread is cooked err on the well-done side and give it an extra 5minutes
Turn the bread out on to a wire cooling rack. When cold, eat and enjoy.