Making bread by hand is something which has, understandably, become less commonplace over time. It is a process which is ideal for someone who is in the house all day doing lots of different bits and pieces. Now, bread is such an easy, cheap staple that few of us even think about making it, and those that do often opt for a bread maker. But I have found the process of making bread wholly satisfying and the result is more delicious than any of the other alternatives. This recipe is simple, uses very few ingredients and is almost entirely free of plastic, wherever you buy your ingredients. Enjoy and let me know how you get on.
Preparation time: anywhere from 3 to 6 hours but most of that time you don’t have to be doing anything. There is only about 20 minutes of actual prep time
Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
Makes 1 medium cob (feeds the two of us for about a week but we don’t eat that much bread)
400g strong bread flour (white or wholemeal or a mixture)
7g instant yeast
25g unsalted butter (for a vegan loaf I have found cashew butter works just as well)
250ml cool water
The trick with bread is to follow the recipe quite strictly so don’t be tempted to deviate too far from this.
Put the flour into a large bowl. Add the salt to one side and the yeast to the other. You need to keep these two separate as concentrated salt will kill the yeast and the bread won’t rise. Add the butter.
Pour in half the water and turn the mixture around with your hands. This is to slowly incorporate the ingredients without killing the yeast. Keep turning the mixture and mixing it together while adding the rest of the water. Once it has all pretty much come together, tip it out on to a clean work surface, scraping all the bits out of the bowl.
This bit takes a little bit of work. You now need to knead the dough and honestly you need to do this for at least 5 minutes but closer to 10 if you can. Kneading dough is a bit of an acquired technique but essentially you are developing the gluten to give your bread a good texture. The dough will go through a sticky wet phase but keep going until it is hardly sticky at all and holds together.
Lightly oil the bowl you used before (saves on washing up) and pop the dough in. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise. You are looking for the dough to double in size and, depending on how warm your house is, this could take anywhere from an hour to 3 hours (it takes 3 hours in our house). Be careful not to over prove the dough here. I have tried previously to make it rise more quickly by putting it in a warm over and it ended up collapsing. My advice is to find something else to get on with and forget about it for a few hours.
Once it has risen, remove the dough from the bowl and give it another short knead to knock the air out. Form the dough into whatever shape you want your bread (I have done a cob loaf here but you can put it in a loaf tin if you want or make rolls). Cover the dough and leave for another few hours to double in size again.
Once doubled in size, use a knife to cut a cross in the top of the dough
Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees. I recommend putting some water in an oven proof dish in there too as this helps the bread rise and gives a nice light crust. Once the oven is up to temperature, put your bread in and cook for 15 – 25 minutes.
Check the bread after 15 minutes. Mine is almost always done after 15 but I have seen recipes suggesting the bread needs 30 minutes so don’t worry if yours isn’t ready after 15. To check it is ready, turn the loaf over and tap the bottom. It should sound hollow. If in doubt, give it another 5 minutes.
Once you are happy it is ready, remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. I strongly advise having a slice of still warm fresh bread as soon as you can safely butter it.
And there you have it, easy peasy.
Once you have got used to this, try adding seeds to your loaf 🙂
Let me know how you get on and if you have any questions, get in touch.