This post was first published on my sister website Veg Patch Kitchen Cookery School where there are lots of articles about bread making.
Here is my master recipe for a basic white bread. I call it my master recipe because once you have mastered this one it can be adapted really easily into a multitude of different breads. It’s the recipe I use in my online Bread Made Easy masterclass. In the masterclass I show you how to shape the dough into different breads, rolls, make pizza bases, pitta breads, focaccia and add flavours such as marmite and tomato. This is the perfect recipe for anyone starting out in bread making.
Simple white bread
Place your flour in a large mixing bowl. Add your yeast and mix through the flour. If you are using fresh yeast you can crumble the yeast through the flour like you would rub butter through flour when making pastry. Add the salt and mix through the flour.
Add 320g of water to begin with and using one hand like a claw begin to mix the dough. There should be no dry bits, so splash in more water gradually as needed. You want the dough to feel soft and slightly sticky. Watch this video to see what your dough should look like and how to stretch and fold it to develop the gluten. If you prefer to knead this video will show you how. You can also use a stand mixer, this article describes my preferred method for using a stand mixer.
Once you have developed the dough using either the stretch and fold method, kneading or a stand mixer it is time to let the dough ferment. Keep the dough covered well, either with a large plastic bag, a shower cap or a proving cloth. If you keep the dough at room temperature it will have become light, airy and doubled in size in an hour or a little longer in a cool kitchen. To improve the flavour and texture of the loaf you can ferment it in the fridge overnight or for several hours. This is ideal if you have a busy day ahead and won’t be hanging around in the kitchen. It takes ten times longer for a loaf to prove in a fridge than at room temperature.
When the dough has risen and become light and airy, it’s time to shape it. You can shape it as a round loaf, a tin loaf, a bloomer or as rolls, or pitta breads, or pizza bases or turn it into a focaccia… the world is your oyster. You now need it to prove it a second time so that it rises again. Once shaped, cover it well and leave at room temperature or pop back in the fridge for several hours. This time don’t let it rise to double its original size or you risk it being overproved. Instead aim for about a rise of about half as much as its original size. You want it to feel uniformly airy as you gently press a hand on the top. If it feels less airy in the centre leave it for a bit longer before baking. This video will help you.
Make sure you preheat your oven to 220C, gas mark 7, 425F, so that when the loaf is ready it can go into a hot oven. It is a good idea to place a solid oven shelf or baking tray in there for you to place your loaf onto. Bread benefits from hitting a hot surface as this will improve oven spring. If you have a dutch oven heat this up in the oven too. A dutch oven will really help improve the bake of your loaf. This article has lots of information about dutch ovens.
When your loaf is ready to bake, score it with a sharp knife so that it bursts at this slash rather than at the weakest point. Place your loaf in the hot oven. If you are not baking in a dutch oven you will need to steam your oven. You can do this with a plant mister or by placing a cup of water in a roasting tray on the oven floor. Be careful when steaming the oven not to burn yourself or spray water onto a glass oven door or the light. Steam helps the loaf achieve oven spring, as well as improving the caramelisation of the crust and getting a thinner, more crisp crust.
Bake the loaf for 30-35 minutes. Check that it is baked by knocking it on its bottom, it should sound hollow. You can also use a temperature probe, if the centre of the loaf reaches 90C it is fully baked. Allow the loaf to cool on a wire tray completely before cutting into it.
You can learn how to make bread the easy way with my online masterclass Bread Made Easy.