Tuesday, 10 February 2015

A Simple White Loaf!

This is the bread that I most often make, baking up a number of loaves each week for my gang who absolutely love it. There’s nothing fancy or elaborate about it… it’s just a plain white loaf. Sometimes I bake it in a loaf tin, other times I braid it or bake it free-form after it has had its second rise in a proving basket.
 
Bread at its very simplest contains flour, yeast, salt and water – that’s all! Once you understand and get a feel for making your own bread a whole new world of possibilities is opened up and, believe me, you will have great fun adapting the basic recipe to create wonderful homemade breads that your friends and family will descend upon like hungry vultures. And really… for me that’s what cooking and baking is all about, making delicious tasting food for those whom you love. Although I am often experimental on the cookery front (which alarms my three children who tend towards being fussy eaters) my main aim along with extending their culinary boundaries is to produce food that they will enjoy eating.
 
Along with using different flours, this recipe can be adapted to include nuts, seeds, dried fruit and other flavourings. I really would encourage you to experiment and most of all to have fun doing it.
 
Many people seem to think that making your own yeast-risen bread is an arduous task, but really it isn’t. Yes… it takes time, because the bread has to be allowed to prove, but it does that by itself, covered with a clean damp tea-towel or some cling-film, nestled away in a corner of the kitchen. The bread does require kneading for 8-10 minutes, but other than initially weighing out the ingredients and later shaping of the dough, there is very little physical effort required.  You can knead the bread using the dough hook attachment on a free-standing mixer, but I actually prefer to do it by hand, because you get a ‘feel’ for the dough and come to understand when it is ready. Ultimately, do whatever works for you.
 
I sometimes substitute different flours for the strong white bread flour listed in the ingredients for this recipe. In one of my favourite variations, I substitute just under half the white flour for malted brown/granary flour, which tastes absolutely amazing! The nutty, malty aroma in the kitchen as this bread bakes is addictive and you will find yourself checking the clock and counting down the minutes until the bread is baked. One thing to note when using/substituting different flours is that their absorption rates may differ to that of white flour and may require slightly less or slightly more fluid than I have specified here. To be honest, if I was going to err on either side, I would always opt for having my dough slightly too sticky rather than too dry as the latter produces a heavy dense and indigestible loaf.
 
You will see that I have recommended using fresh yeast to make the bread. If you are unable to get your hands on some, by all means use dried yeast, using half the amount of fresh yeast specified in the recipe.
 
I think that I have said this before and I know that is sounds a tad pretentious, but there truly is something so life-affirming and fundamental about baking your own bread. I can really see why people become quite obsessive about it. Anyhow… do have a go at making your own.
 

Ingredients:

500g strong white bread flour
10g salt
15g fresh yeast
300ml water
1tblsp olive oil

Method:

1. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl and add the salt, giving everything a good mix with your hands so that the salt is well distributed. Crumble in the fresh yeast and mix this through as well. Add the water and olive oil and mix with your hands to form a soft dough.
2. Tip the dough out onto a clean work surface (no need to dust it with flour) and knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough feels soft and silky. Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling-film. Set the bowl aside and allow the dough to prove until doubled in size which can take anything from 60-90 minutes depending on the ambient temperature of your kitchen.
3. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and gently punch out the air. Shape the dough into a nice round ball and place presentation side down (i.e. top first) into a proving basket liberally dusted with flour or bottom/seam side down into a 900g lightly oiled and floured loaf tin. Allow to rise for a second time until it is almost doubled in size again, which will take about 60 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to highest setting and place an empty roasting tin onto the floor of the oven to heat up along with the oven.
5. If you have used a proving basket gently upend the risen dough in one movement onto a floured baking tray. Slash the bread a couple of times with a baker’s lame or sharp knife and place the tray into the preheated oven Throw some ice-cubes into the heated tray at the bottom of the oven to help the bread develop a good crust.
6. Bake the bread in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until well risen, deep golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. If using a loaf tin, the baking time should be the same, but allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before removing and transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.

Makes 1 large loaf.