I have been making bread for years but it is only recently that the finished bread has been enjoyable. Most of my bread making has resulted in a lumpen dough that my husband has very kindly eaten. I think bread making takes practice. I have, I think, improved because my kneading technique has improved with practice and I now know that you shouldn’t let the salt and the yeast come into contact with one another before you start to mix the dough. Apparently the salt begins to de-activate the yeast. Also I now add more water than I used to, a sticky dough works better than a slightly too dry dough. I made a loaf of bread yesterday to go with the ham and pea soup I made and it worked out quite well. I am very proud of that achievement after years of lumpen dough.
The recipe I use comes from my well used copy of The River Cottage Family Cookbook (2005, Hodder & Stoughton). I can’t recommend this book enough, everything works and is really well explained. It is aimed at younger members of the family but it is a book I turn to again and again. I am a fan of most things coming out of River Cottage.
The picture above shows a loaf that I made out of half this quantity of dough, as I split it and made two loaves.
500g strong white flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp or a 7g sachet of fast-action bred yeast
2 tsps sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
300 ml warm water
Measure the flour and place in a large bowl. I like to warm this in a low oven (100°c, or lowest setting) for a few minutes whilst I get the rest of the ingredients ready. I have a granite worktop which cools everything down too much otherwise. Keep the salt and yeast away from one another until you are ready to mix. When everything is prepared add the yeast, sugar and salt to the flour and mix to combine. Add the olive oil and the water and work with your hands to a soft and, importantly, slightly sticky dough. Take this out of the bowl and knead well for as long as you can bear, at least seven minutes if possible, it’s better if it’s ten minutes. Do it until you feel your arms want to drop off. To knead you hold the dough with one hand and then stretch some of the dough away from you with the heel of the other hand and then bring it back into a ball and repeat. It needs to be smooth and when you poke your index finger in and take it out the dough should bounce back. Place it back into the bowl and cover with a clean damp tea towel or oiled cling film and place in a warm part of the kitchen for 1- 1½ hours until the dough has doubled in size. Grease a loaf tin or a baking tray with a little olive oil.Give the dough a punch to knock the air out and knead for 30 seconds and shape into a ball if you are making a loaf on a baking tray or roll into a sausage shape and fold in half and place into the loaf tin. Leave to prove for another 30 minutes, covered with a cloth or the oiled cling film, but don’t let it double in size again as it needs to continue to grow when it’s in the oven. Bake in a preheated oven at 220° c (425°f, gas mark 7) for about 25-30 mins. To check it’s cooked turn it out of its tin and give it a knock. If it sounds hollow it’s cooked. If I cook it in a loaf tin, I like to put it back in the oven out of its tin for a further five minutes for the crust to get crisp. Leave to cool on a wire rack.