Although I’ve made bread by hand on and off for many years it’s taken me this long to learn all the little tips that are the secret to making a good loaf. Probably the most important thing I’ve learned is to make bread as often as possible so that you keep your hand in, each time remembering what were the good and not so good points about the last loaf you made. That way, each successive loaf will be better than the last.
There are many bread recipes to be found in books or online these days and mostly they’re all as good as each other. Occasionally, when eating out, we’re taken by surprise when we’re served bread that has been freshly made on the premises. It doesn’t happen very often but these breads are always really inspiring and often give me ideas for recipes.
makes 1 loaf
250g of wholemeal or other strong brown flour
250g of white strong flour
2 teaspoons of dried yeast
10g of salt
50g of mixed seeds (optional)
2 teaspoons of black treacle dissolved in a small amount of hot water in a measuring jug, then made up to 320mls with tepid (not hot) water
30mls of olive oil
• measure the flours into a large mixing bowl and stir in the mixed seeds, if using.
• prepare the treacle and water mixture and add the olive oil to the measuring jug
• add the yeast to one side of the mixing bowl and the salt to the other side. Salt and yeast don’t like to be in close contact with each other so keep them apart at this stage!
• using your hand, mix all the dry ingredients together and then pour all the measured liquid straight into the bowl. Different flours tend to absorb different amounts of liquid, but I’ve found that generally a wetter dough makes better bread.
• still using your hand, mix everything together well until the ingredients are combined and most of the flour is mixed in. If at this stage the mixture seems too dry, don’t be afraid to add a bit more water
• tip the mixture onto a very lightly floured work surface. The dough should be very sticky but resist the temptation to use too much flour on the work surface as this will alter the balance of the ingredients
• knead the dough for 5 – 10 minutes. As you knead, you’ll be able to feel the dough changing consistency and texture. It’ll become much smoother and much less sticky and at this stage it’s ready for it’s first proving
• well grease a mixing bowl and put the dough into it, pressing it down gently with your fist. Cover the bowl with a clean, dry tea towel and leave the dough to rise until it is roughly tripled in size, about 1.5 to 2 hours. The dough doesn’t need to be put anywhere hot to prove, it’ll be quite happy at room temperature.
• if you are making a free formed loaf, grease a baking tray, otherwise grease a loaf tin and dust it lightly with flour, tipping out the excess
• tip the dough back onto the work surface, again dusted lightly with flour, and punch the dough back for a minute or two with your hands to knock the air out of it
• either press the dough into a loaf tin, or shape it into a round, making sure that any seams are on the underside.
• cover the dough once more with a clean, dry tea towel and leave it for a second prove. The dough needs to double in size and this usually takes about an hour at room temperature
• preheat the oven to 200°C (fan)
• gently brush the surface of the bread with water and give it a light dusting of flour. This isn’t for any technical reason, but it enhances the appearance of the finished loaf
• bake the bread on a middle shelf for 25 minutes, then remove it from the tin and sit the loaf directly onto the oven shelf. Bake the bread for 5 minutes more
• to check that the loaf is cooked, knock on the base of it. If it sounds quite hollow it means that the bread is done. If in doubt, give it another 5 minutes in the oven – it won’t come to any harm
• leave the bread to cool on a wire rack