Something I really enjoy doing is making my own bread. I started making my own bread about 4-5 years ago after buying an incredible book from the best bookshop in London on the subject. I’d made bread at school which turned out very well, but could never quite remember the recipe properly, so made lots of mistakes. I promised myself it was something I would master. This wonderful bookshop is called Books for Cooks in Notting Hill’s just off Portobello Market. The book is simply called “Bread” by Eric Treuilee & Ursula Ferrigno. Eric actually runs Books for Cooks and can frequently be seen sauntering through chatting to customers, helping with enquiries, looking every inch the learned cookery writer he is.
I’ve tried almost every recipe in his book and they truly are delicious and you want to make more and expand your repertoire. I have to confess when I make bread it’s usually with my son in mind and, alas, he prefers plain bread he can toast, whereas I prefer the more fancy breads. Summer is usually the time I can happily make a stromboli which is a bread stuffed with ham and cheese. Really the kind of bread you would have to share with a thick tomato sauce to dip it into from a pasta dish, or even a tomato salad strewn with salad leaves. Or a focaccia speared with rosemary, flecked with seasalt, annointed with olive oil. My favourite is Carta di Musica which translates as music paper. From these I love making the thinnest pizzas which are ideal in hot weather as they are so light. Paired with a salad and some fruit for desert, you really don’t want anything heavier.
However, at the risk of disappointing you, I’ll give you my basic bread mix which, if you’re not particularly expert in making bread this is a good, all round, versatile dough that can be turned into a decent loaf of bread:
500g Strong white flour
2 tsp (10mg) fast action yeast
1½ tsp (7.5ml) free flowing salt (I use iodised salt as there isn’t enough in our diets)
3 tsp (15mgs) sugar
300ml cold water
Many bakers espouse the importance of hand mixing and kneading the bread, which should be followed as it gives you a good idea of how the dough is supposed to feel at each stage. However as you become more familiar with the process of making dough for bread, you can opt to mix it in a stand mixer which will give as good results as mixing by hand. In either case I would put all the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl, ensuring the yeast, sugar and salt are kept separate from each other as the salt will kill the yeast and the sugar will feed it.
Once all the dry ingredients have been measured into the mixing bowl mix them all together ensuring they are evenly spread through the flour. Place the mixing bowl on the stand mixer, attach the dough hook, turn on and slowly add the cold water allowing it to become absorbed in the mixture before adding any more in. When the dough comes away clean from the bowl you can stop the mixer, turn it out onto the bench, having added a little vegetable or olive oil (about 2 tablespoons or 60mls), and then kneading the dough until all the oil is incorporated for at least 10 minutes). At the kneading stage this simple dough can have herbs or oats added to it, you can add seeds of your choice, sunflower, linseeds, poppyseed are a few suggestions where you can transform a plain dough into something more. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with clingfilm or 2 tea towels (clean) for 2 hours to rise. Then after this the dough needs to have the air knocked out of it and shaped either into a loaf or rolls. After kneading you will need to do something called “chafing” which is basically shaping your dough into a ball by gently stroking in a tucking under motion for a few minutes. This gives the class bread dough shape. You can leave it as that shape or gently rock it so it assumes a log shape and place it into a greased bread tin and leave for 1 hour to rise.
If you like you can line it with greaseproof paper or I use a silicone all-in-one nonstick loaf tin liner from Jane Asher, which can be used in small or large loaf tins. Whichever shape you choose to bake your loaf I strongly recommend you use a silicone liner as it gives a better finish and ensures your loaf won’t get stuck to the tin or tray, even so-called non stick ones have had my early attempts wedged fast to them. If you gently wipe it with a damp cloth after use and roll it up, it will be your best friend in baking. Place your bread in the middle shelf in the oven at gas mark 6, fan oven 1800C for 50 minutes. When ready your loaf it should sound hollow, it if doesn’t put it back for another 5-10 minutes. Turn your loaf out onto a baking tray and allow to cool before slicing. I know this is the hardest part of making bread, but really is worthwhile. Smacznego.