I truly believe that there is no better scent to fill the kitchen than that of a freshly baked loaf of bread. It therefore makes perfect sense to me that the inaugural recipe on my blog should be a recipe for a basic white loaf. Simple, classic, and utterly delicious; I believe every baker should attempt bread at least once… Well, more like three or four times. The first loaf is almost never perfect!
It takes time to get a feel for the dough, to understand what a well-kneaded bread feels like; or whether the hydration is right. It can be tempting to load everything in a stand mixer and let the machine take the strain, but bread is a lesson in itself. Do it by hand and you will get a perfect understanding of what it should feel like (as well as a good work-out). You need to have a conversation with your loaf, really understand how it works… and then, one you’ve perfected it, you can use a stand mixer. I mean, this blog isn’t called The Dough Hook for nothing!
Bread recipes can be daunting things—they’re almost scientific. Hydration. Proving. Autolyse (I mean, what is that?!) What I would really like to do, and what I hope I have done, is write a bread recipe that is accessible to every home baker. It will be in-depth but I will walk you through each stage in detail. I hope you enjoy it!
Classic White Loaf
- 500 g strong white flour
- 7 g salt
- 7 g instant yeast
- 330 g tepid water
- Flavourless oil such as sunflower
- Weigh out your flour in a large mixing bowl. Next, add the salt to one side of the bowl, and the yeast to the other. It is very important not to let the salt and the yeast touch at this stage; this will retard the effectiveness of the yeast.
- Mix the dry ingredients together with your hands ensuring everything is fully combined before making a well in the centre.
- Next pour most of the water into the dry ingredients and mix with by hand; your hand should be in a claw-like position with your fingers spaced evenly apart (a bit like if you were holding an apple upside down). Add the remaining water if you need it, otherwise discard. It is important to remember that the amount of water needed can very each time you bake so you will need to feel the dough and adjust accordingly—it all comes down to the absorbency of the flour and the external environment it’s in. You want your dough to be wet but not so wet that it’s basically flour soup. It should be sticky; if it comes off your hands easily, it’s probably too dry.
- Once you’ve mixed your dough, it’s time to let it rest for a bit. This is called the ‘autolyse’ step. Autolyse is basically a stage where you let the flour absorb the water to become fully hydrated and to bring out the gluten before kneading: half an hour should be sufficient for a simple loaf.
Kneading and proving
- Next, it’s time to start kneading. You’ll want to knead the dough until a noticeable change has occurred. It should no longer be sticky but rather it should be smooth; the dough should resist the kneading. If you press a finger into it, the dough should spring back slightly (although not necessary all the way). Under-kneading is one of the biggest mistakes people make—it’s better to knead for 5 minutes more than 5 minutes less. (Just think of your arms and how toned they’ll be!) As a rough guide, you should knead for about 20 minutes.
- Smooth the dough into a ball by placing both hands on top of it and pulling down and under (as if you were going to pick it up from the bottom.) Turn 90° and do the same; repeat this ‘tuck and turn’ movement until the top is smooth and a nice round ball is formed.
- Place your dough into an oiled bowl and cover with a damp tea towel (or, as I do, a plastic shower cap such as the ones you might pick up from a hotel stay).
- Leave to prove in an airing cupboard, a draught-free part of the kitchen; or, if you oven had a proving setting or a low temperature, say 50°or below, in there for at least an hour (anything up to about 4 hours is great.)
Shaping your loaf
- Now it’s time to shape your loaf. Firstly, do not knock the air out of your dough; be careful with it. For this recipe, I’m using a 2 lb. loaf tin but you could free form it (rounding it into a ball like you did before we set it aside to prove). To shape a loaf for a tin, tuck one edge of the slightly flattened dough into the middle and then do the same for the opposite edge, folding it on top of the edge you’ve already folded in. Give it a bit of a roll to stick the seams together then drop it into your tin with a bit of force—you want to make sure there are no air-pockets underneath it.
- Leave to prove again for another hour, preheating the oven to 200°c after 30 minutes.
- Once proven, place the tin in the oven on the middle shelf to bake. At this point, I usually chuck a couple of ice cubes into the bottom of the oven to create steam—this will help the dough to rise enough before the beautiful crust is formed.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when knocked on the bottom (be careful… it’s hot!)
- Cool on a wire cooling rack and slice as needed. I find it’s best to leave it a day before you start to use it. That way, you’ll get a perfect crust and you’ll find it slices so much better!
And that’s it! As I said at the beginning, your first couple of attempts may not be perfect but persevere. It’s worth the effort!