How to make bread? Here’s a long overdue Friday food story to share a basic recipe which produces good tasty loaves. But first a confession:
I have never watched a single episode of Bake Off and probably never will. Since Chanel 4 snaffled 12 million viewers with their first episode of the show they bought from the BBC, I’m obviously in the minority.
As luck has it, I started writing this blogpost before I discovered this is the Great British Bake Off #breadweek (don’t forget the hashtag!). Baking and breaking bread, is an essential part of daily life. Sharing food, having fun and learning from each other is the reason Leith Open Space became involved in World Kitchen in Leith in the first place. Why make cooking into yet another high-stakes competitive game?
Kneading the dough, watching it grow, is one of those simple pleasures that brings some sense of order whatever else is happening beyond the kitchen.
So, daily bread. It’s a basic food in most cultures and through the World Kitchen in Leith it’s fascinating to learn how it varies. Leavened or unleavened, bread comes almost magically from flour and water. (On other pages you can find Meena making mouth-melting chapattis and Mridu producing the lightest and fluffiest of puris.)
There are many good bread books (some of them on my kitchen shelves) but I have learned by trial and error over many years. My first breakthrough was watching a friend, Ursula, who showed how simple it can be.
At that stage I didn’t have any sophisticated cooking equipment, not even a baking bowl, and our kitchen was as cold as a fridge. So Urse cleaned out the (fairly new) plastic washing-up bowl, tipped in the flour and worked up a dough (‘You can feel when it is stretchy and ready to rise’). Then she patiently left it until it had doubled in size. In our hostile kitchen, high in the Pentlands, it took hours.
As a result I discovered that dough is endlessly reworkable – if you run out of time to bake it the same day you can stick the dough in the fridge overnight. It produces a very tasty loaf.
Right then. Here’s the recipe, a variation on the excellent version provided by Nigel Slater in his book Appetite. You can adapt it according to what flour there is in the cupboard. Quantities are enough for two loaves, one big loaf or a mix of pizza bases and rolls.
Flour – 1 kilo (I often use a combination of wholewheat, spelt and strong white flour)
Dried yeast – one tablespoon (or sachet)
Salt – 20g (roughly one tablespoon)
Sugar – 1 tablespoon (optional)
Glug of oil (optional)
Water – about 700ml (24 fluid ounces)
Weigh flour (or flours), sieve or lightly whisk with fork to remove lumps. Add yeast, salt and sugar. Make a well to add lukewarm water and oil.
Knead until dough feels nicely stretchy (if too wet, add more flour, if too dry add more water). Cover bowl with cling film or clean towel.
Leave to double in size – generally takes an hour or so but can take longer depending on how warm it is inside and outside your kitchen.
Knock it back (a good satisfying punch) and knead again.
Shape into loaf, or loaves as required. Leave to rise again – until the dough rises above the tin – that can take between 30-60 mins depending on temperature.
Bake in hot oven (220C or Gas 7) for around 40 mins. It sounds hollow when it is done. (It helps not to forget to take it out of the oven – I have produced some very black loaves!).
Reading that again, perhaps it sounds hard work. It really isn’t. (Today it it took no longer than writing this blogpost!) But it does take practice, patience and a fair amount of gas or electricity. Maybe there’s scope for local bread making groups – and communal ovens? Not so much Bake Off as Bake In the community? After all, this is just one method. Please feel free to share yours!
A footnote and another confession: this product contains gluten! It’s a great thing that there is now such a wide range of excellent gluten-free breads and cakes but – unless you suffer from a condition which makes gluten a dangerous substance – there’s nothing evil in the many delicious and nutritious foods made with good wheat rye, spelt and barley.
On a recent visit to Paris I saw a sign outside a corner café, with ‘Free Gluten’ chalked in big letters above the day’s menu – judging from the dishes that wasn’t what they meant at all, but I like the idea of a new movement; liberate the sticky proteins.