This is bread baking at its most basic, and is hopefully the start of a great journey for me.
The ingredients list is very small, so it’s really going to be all around mastering the basic techniques of bread preparation and cooking.
I’m following James Morton’s stages below:
According to James, accurate weighing isn’t critical to bread baking. This is a massive relief compared to pastry and cake baking where it’s imperative! His advice is to always err on the side of wet dough rather than dry – his adage is “wetter is better”.
Again, a simple step that just means bringing all ingredients together in a bowl and using your hands to create a ball that can be then turned out onto a floured surface.
This is where it starts getting important. As I mentioned last week, gluten development is key to bread preparation because it gives the dough structure, strength and malleability.
Kneading helps the gluten form and turn the dough from a thick tearable mass to an elastic, stretchy blob that can be shaped and manipulated.
There are several types of kneading techniques out there, but seriously it’s about getting your hands in there and moving the dough around.
Kneading a basic loaf like this one takes around 8-10 minutes and you’ll be able to see that it’s done because it will be shiny, smooth and springy.
The windowpane test is used often to tell if bread is kneaded enough. You simply need to take a small ball of dough, let it rest on your hand for a second and then try to stretch it out with your fingers. If you can create a translucent sheet without the dough tearing, you’re ready to go.
Sounds easy, but knowing how long to let bread prove is another tricky thing. The first prove should take around an hour and your dough should double in size. This is a very vague rule of thumb, and something that I think will come with experience.
Before your second prove, you need to “knock back” the rested dough and then cut and form it into your desired shape.
The dough will be very springy by now, so easy to move and manipulate. For this simple loaf, I’ve created a “boule” which is French for ball. There are so many shapes out there to choose from and I’ll have a crack at them over time but to start off I’m going simple.
I also made two smaller loaves with this recipe, but you can easily do one mega loaf if you are feeding a lot of people.
Time for the second prove, which should take less time – around 40 minutes for this loaf. Cover your shaped dough with cling film sprayed with a bit of oil to stop it sticking.
You should also now have you bread placed on a baking tray covered with a light dusting of flour.
Right, I stuffed up a bit with this one! Apparently you can get a tool called a “lame” which is essentially a razor stuck onto a stick, but I tried to get the same effect with a sharp knife. Apparently my knives need sharpening!!
Scoring helps to control the rise of the bread so that you don’t get air bubbles bursting all over the place. Also, as the bread rises in the oven it guides it where to grow.
Finally! My only tip here is to place a large baking tray across the bottom of your oven and then throw in a small amount of water just before you close the door on your bread. This will help create steam which in turn creates a crunchy crust.
Simple white loaf
500g strong bread flour
7g packet of dry yeast
350ml tepid water
In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients – keep your salt on one side of the bowl and the yeast on the other.
Add the water, a third at a time and stir to combine. Once you have a ball of dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.
Knead the dough for 8-10 minutes or until smooth and shiny.
Place in a clean, lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Leave to prove until it has doubled in size.
Knock the dough back and lightly knead again. Shape into two rounds and place on a floured baking tray. Cover with oiled cling film and leave to prove until it has doubled in size again.
Place into oven pre-heated at 200C and bake for 25-40 minutes.
Test it is baked through by knock the bottom of the bread – you should hear a hollow sound.