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Bread is a staple in most households, most of us consume it in some form every day. But the process of baking your own loaf is very different from buying it. There is little that is more satisfying than the aroma of freshly baked bread wafting through your home.
Toasted and smothered in salty, smooth butter, or thick cut and used as a crusty vessel for a succulent roast chicken sandwich, whichever way you like your bread, it’s easier than you think to make your own. If you’ve never baked a loaf of bread, give it a go. I guarantee you’ll be only delighted with yourself.
This is a straightforward and easy loaf, no sourdough starters in sight. You can also make it into rolls, or use it for pizza. A simple loaf has four basic ingredients: flour, salt, yeast and water. I always add a pinch of sugar to mine, this feeds and encourages the yeast which allows the bread to rise beautifully. I like to toy around with different flours when making bread too. Rye, spelt and wholemeal are flavoursome and earthy, but you can’t go wrong with a lovely pillowy loaf of white either.
There is a little stopping and starting involved while waiting for it to prove, but the dough can be chilled overnight to rise slowly in the fridge if you don’t want to wait around all day for it. Just bring it back to room temperature the next morning. You can use a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, or if you need a little stress relief, kneading by hand is wonderfully therapeutic.
I often bake this bread freeform, in a large mound, however a loaf tin would do the job too. Cooking the bread with a tray of water at the bottom of the oven creates steam, which ensures a gorgeous colour and crunchy crust.
If you’re worried about your loaf going stale, there are a myriad of ways to use it up; freeze it in slices ready to pop into the toaster, blitz it into breadcrumbs for stuffing, chop it up and toast it in the oven with garlic and herbs to make croutons, or use it in a fruity bread and butter pudding.
EASY WHITE YEAST LOAF
Makes one loaf
500g strong white flour
10g fine salt
300ml tepid water
7g dried yeast
1 Sieve the flour into a large bowl, or into a stand mixer if using, and add the salt.
2 Measure the tepid water into a measuring jug, it is important that the water is blood temperature. Put your finger into the water, it should be neither hot or cold. This is crucial; if the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast. Too cold and the yeast won't be activated.
3 Sprinkle in the yeast and add the sugar. Give the water a mix and leave to sit for two to three minutes.
4 If using the stand mixer, attach the dough hook and start to mix the flour and salt. Pour in the water and continue to mix on a low speed for five minutes. Increase to a medium speed and continue to mix for another 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.
5 If making by hand, mix the flour and salt in a bowl and pour the water into the middle, slowly bringing the flour into the centre. Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead slowly, stretching the dough out and bringing it back to a ball. Continue for about 15 minutes until the dough is soft, smooth and elastic. The dough should spring back when pressed with a finger, if it doesn't, it needs more kneading.
6 Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a clean tea towel. Put the dough in a warm place and leave to rise for an hour, or until doubled in size.
7 Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knock the dough a few times with your fist. This allows all of the large air bubbles to be released, which ensures an even second rise and an even-textured finished loaf.
8 Preheat the oven to 220 degrees and lightly grease a baking tray. Place another baking tray filled with water in the bottom of the oven. Shape the dough into a ball and place on the tray. Cover with a tea towel and allow to rise for a second time for about 30 minutes.
9 Dust the loaf with flour and make a few signature cuts with a sharp knife. Bake the loaf for about 35-40 minutes, until beautifully golden brown. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before serving.