I don’t have a favourite type of food, or a particular favourite cuisine. I love so many different cuisines and what I want to eat, or to cook, may depend on my mood, the time of year, the occasion, or simply the contents of my fridge. However, after great deliberation, I can say that the food that I find most enjoyable and satisfying to make has to be bread. This could have something to do with the fact that I am an undeniable carb-addict, but I think it also has something to do with the magic of dough.
I love the fact that the taste, the texture and the overall success of each loaf is so heavily influenced by what we do with the dough: how we treat the dough is usually more important than the actual ingredients added to it. I also think its pretty amazing to watch a few dry ingredients and a bit of water come to life before your eyes and rise, grow and develop.
There are thousands of different bread recipes to be found all over the globe, and I often feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface (just eating, let alone baking)! However, this is a bread recipe that I make time and time again. When my daughter was 6 months old and being weaned, we discovered that she had a dairy allergy and an egg allergy. I used to make this loaf every week for her so that I could be sure of what was in the bread she was eating. I’ve loosened up a bit since then and she has moved onto Warburton’s finest (!), but this is still my go-to basic bread loaf.
I sometimes mix it up a bit and replace up to 200g of the white bread flour with wholemeal bread flour if I fancy a wholemeal loaf – but I don’t tend to go further than this as it gets a bit heavy for my liking. Just remember that wholemeal flour tends to absorb more water and needs a little more kneading to get it just right, so you will need to alter accordingly. It’s also pretty easy to double up and make two loaves at the same time (I could pretend that one loaf is for the freezer, but in reality we would probably get through both pretty quickly)!
This recipe is based on Paul Hollywood’s Bloomer recipe in his book ‘Bread’.
Makes 1 loaf
500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
7g dried yeast
40ml olive oil
320ml tepid water (I would say hand-hot)
Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the yeast to one side and the salt to the other (apparently if you put them too close together then it adversely affects the yeast – I don’t know if this is true but always stick to this rule anyway!
Pour the oil into the bowl along with about 2/3 of the water (approximately 240ml). Using one hand (keep the other one clean for now!), start to mix the ingredients together to bring it into a dough. You will probably need to keep adding a little water to gather all the flour together from the sides of the bowl, but you may not need the whole 320ml (this will depend entirely on the absorbency of the particular flour that you are using). The aim is to have a soft, sticky dough.
Once doubled in size, tip the dough out again onto a lightly oiled surface and knead vigorously for a minute or so, to knock out the air. Once the dough is smooth again, flatten it out slightly with your hands and tuck the edges of the dough underneath itself, shaping the dough into a smooth oval, and place it on a lightly floured baking tray. Cover the dough – if you have a large, clean plastic bag that will completely encase the tray and bread without it touching the dough, then use this, otherwise, I find that a clean tea towel (using the aforementioned clean tea towel again) is fine.
In about 45 minutes time, preheat your oven to 220 degrees celsius, and pop a roasting tin in the bottom of the oven to heat up. Once the dough has doubled in size again (this should take about an hour), remove the covering. It’s really important that you don’t skip this step – the second prove is what will improve both the texture and the flavour of the bread.
Sprinkle a little cold water on the top of the loaf (or use a spray), and dust lightly with a little bread flour. I then like to cut 4-5 diagonal slashes across the top of the loaf – these will open up in the oven and give the traditional bloomer finish.
If you want a super crispy crust, just before you put your bread in the oven, pour a litre of water into the roasting tin in the bottom of the oven, then pop the bread on its tray on the middle of your oven. The steam created from the water is what will give you that crisp crust. Bake for around 25 minutes, then lower the oven to 200 degrees Celsius and bake for a further 10 minutes. When the ten minutes are up, take out your loaf, lift it up gently (you will need that tea towel again!) and tap the bottom. If it sounds hollow, then its done. If not, put it back in the oven and check again after another 5-10 minutes. Once it is ready, pop the loaf on a wire rack to cool before slicing. Enjoy in sandwiches, toast, with soup, or just on its own with a thick slab of butter.