“Bread is the king of the table and all else is merely the court that surrounds the king. The countries are the soup, the meat, the vegetables, the salad but bread is king.” Louis Bromfield
When the beginner baker opens fancy bread baking books he/she is likely to see beautiful, intriguing breads featured right in the neighborhood of instruction-full recipes that will almost definitely scare the confused beginner for – probably – a life long . The process of starting looks, indeed, daunting. However, it is easier than one thinks. Really anyone can learn to bake a delicious loaf of bread. All one needs is a list of ingredients that can be counted on one hand, spiced with a bit of confidence and a gentle push towards the kitchen.
One does need to start with a basic white bread recipe though, getting used to the bread making process by making several loaves of the same type of bread, using the same recipe. When a comfortable, off by heart stage is reached with all the steps, one can move on to try new techniques and recipes, such as brown bread.
Basic white bread recipe
500 g white wheat flour
30 g fresh yeast
350 ml water/ or 320 ml water and 40 ml olive oil
10 g salt
Yeast resting and dough mixing
Place half of the flour in a bowl, taking care not to have the salt and yeast touching. Add 200 ml oz of water (and oil if used).Mix the ingredients together thoroughly and let it set for 20 minutes. Gradually add the remaining water, flour and salt, until all the flour leaves the side of the bowl and there is a soft, rough dough.
Kneading and dough resting
Pour a little oil onto a clean work surface. Sit the dough on the oil and begin to knead. Do this for 5-10 minutes, or until the dough becomes smooth and silky. Once the correct consistency is achieved (springs back when pushed), place the dough into a clean, oiled bowl. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place until tripled in size.
Shaping and rising
Once risen, place the dough onto a floured surface. Knock the dough back by folding it in on itself repeatedly until dough is smooth. To shape it, flatten the dough into a rectangle. With the long side facing towards the working hands fold each end into the middle then roll like a Swiss roll so the top is smooth with a seam along the base. Very gently roll and place on a tray lined with parchment paper, cover and leave to prove for 1 hour at room temperature, or until doubled in size.
When risen lightly spray with water and dust with a fine corn meal. Make three diagonal slashes using a sharp knife across the top. Bake for 25 minutes in a preheated the oven to (220 degrees Celsius) that has a baking tray filled with water on the bottom shelf. After 25 minutes lower the oven heat to and bake for a further 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.
Many different flavours can be added to this recipe: chorizo sausages (featured), garlic and seeds (featured), olives, herbs, nuts…the limit is only the imagination. The hours spent trying, the given up leisure sacrificed for baking, the nights up instead of nights out all worth it, however: being able to make bread really is a skill for life…
“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.” – Robert Browning