There is something magical about transforming basic ingredients into something so tactile and yummy.
Everybody has their favourite way to knead the dough into an optimum texture, and favourite ingredients to spice up their loaves. With so much room for experimentation, I find myself tweaking every time, just to see what will happen.
This recipe is an easy starting point for you to establish your own classic.
Simple Bread Recipe
Combine ingredients, let rise, bake for half an hour at 210°C. That’s it. Really!
2 tsp salt
1 tsp fast-acting yeast
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsp olive oil
AND NOW FOR THE
Activate the yeast in a couple teaspoons of warm (not hot!) water and a teaspoon of sugar. Give the yeast several minutes to get nice and bubbly.
Toss the flour and salt in a bowl that is twice as large as you think you need. Add the oil, water, and yeast. Cut, fold, blend, and otherwise moosh it all together. I like to use a plastic scraper for this, but you might prefer bare hands or a strong mixer set on slow.
Add flour or water until you get a nice stiff consistency. Most dough is a little sticky at this stage, though it should come away from your hands and mixing bowl cleanly. When it forms into a nice cohesive ball, dust with flour and knead it until you are exhausted.
Continue to liberally dust your dough with more flour as you knead. This step is as much art as science, but I assure you it’s almost impossible to screw up. Your bread might end up a bit heavy, or a bit moist, but it will still be delicious.
Ball up your dough, oil it lightly, and leave it in a covered bowl to rise for as long as you can stand it. A minimum of thirty minutes is fine, but you can leave it a couple hours or even put it in the refrigerator overnight if you like. There are recipes that skip this step, or add baking soda for in-the-oven-rising.
When your dough has risen to roughly twice its original size, shape your dough how you like. Roll it into little buns, press it into a loaf pan, or simply ball it and drop it onto a cookie sheet. Dress it with a dusting of flour, baste it with oil, or sprinkle some rock salt and spices on there if you want to be fancy. Let it rise a little bit before you bake, time permitting. It will rise more in the oven.
Set your oven to 210°C/fan or 400°F or thereabouts. Everybody has their favourite temperature. I have baked as low as 150°C in my convection toaster oven. Bake for 20-30 mins depending on oven temperature and size of your loaves.
Pro Tip: when you first take your bread out of the oven and are tempted to dive in right away, please remember that the temperature inside the loaf is the same as the temperature inside your oven. Be patient!
Fun Ingredients to Try:
Once you are comfortable with the process, try dressing up your bread!
- sprinkle with coarse salt, pepper, or other spices, or roll in dried herb blends such as rosemary and thyme;
- add olives, garlic, bacon, jalapeño peppers, oats, grains, nuts, or raisins right into dough for added flavour and texture;
- mixes of fancier oils and water, soup stock, and even the left over water from boiled potatoes can be substituted for part of the water in the recipe.
It is pretty cool how far you can go. I hope you have fun with this!
ONE LAST THING…
What Is the Deal With Kneading?
The secret to really great bread is in the kneading. Everyone has a favourite method of folding and stretching, but the objective is the same. Kneading allows gluten to form in long chains which gives the bread structure. There is a whole physics and chemistry thing going on. All you need to know is that roughly ten minutes of flattening and folding is sufficient.
- flatten the dough (imagine you are forming a pizza crust);
- fold it in half or quarters;
- dust your dough with more flour as you proceed. It should ball up well and hold together without sticking to your fingers.
Your bread is ready when it feels silky and springs back when you poke it.
Alternatively, glutens will form if you simply allow your dough to sit overnight. It is still a good idea to work your dough a couple minutes before and after you leave it to sit.