This week’s post is inspired by “The Great British Bake Off”. For those of you not in the UK, I’ll explain Bake Off, which I believe is the #1 show in the country (I’ll have my fact checker verify that one). It’s definitely our family favorite, and really the only British show we watch (yes, after 3 years, we still haven’t assimilated to British TV…nothing against it, just that we don’t watch a ton and only get four channels and one of them incessantly plays Friends reruns.)
The Bake Off is a competition between British home cooks. Each week there’s a different topic with three challenges. Watching dough kneaded, custards whipped and frosting piped has never been more fun…and always makes us hungry!! Last week was bread week and after all the beautiful, mouth-watering quick breads, baguettes, bread sculptures, I vowed to make a loaf of my own so we’d have something to nibble while watching this week’s show.
There’s many weekly bread bakers out there and I’m not one of them. However after a while I get the urge to make a loaf and remember how easy and fun it is. Plus kneading is so therapeutic – and the smell of baking bread is…oh my!
If you’ve never made bread before, don’t fret. This is a really good, basic recipe used by my daughter’s class last year. If a bunch of 11 year olds can do it, so can you! First, it uses regular flour – no special bread flour necessary. Secondly, it uses pantry ingredients. Who doesn’t have flour, sugar, salt and water on-hand? Many of you have a stash of yeast, but if not, buy a tin or packets to keep on-hand. The yeast I used in the batch for this post was getting a bit old – the dough didn’t rise as much as usual. However I still got respectable results. Thirdly, it makes two loaves – one for eating now, one for freezing.
Bake yourself a loaf and enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures – a slice of warm, crusty bread slathered with butter.
Basic Bread Recipe (makes 2 loaves)
Note: I like using all-purpose (plain) flour as that’s what most people typically have on-hand, but feel free to try different flours. You can swap whole wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour; you can also swap bread flour for the all-purpose flour. With either of those substitutions, you’ll need to add a bit more water.
8 cups (2.25 lbs or 1 kg) plain, all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon dried yeast
1 tablespoon salt
2 1/2 cups (625 ml) warm/tepid water
Pile the flour onto a clean surface and make a large well in the center. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, yeast and salt. Pour about half of the water into the well then stir the sugar, yeast and salt into the water a bit.
Slowly, using a fork, bring in the flour from the inside of the well. (You don’t want to break the walls of the well or the water will go everywhere. However if water does leak, don’t freak out. Plug the leak and try to get any escaped water and flour back into the pile of flour.) Continue to bring the flour in to the center until you get a porridge/oatmeal-like consistency.
Add the remaining water. Continue to mix with a fork, bringing in most of the flour. Dough should become less sticky. Flour your hands and pat and push the dough together with all the remaining flour. (Certain flours need a little more or less flour, so feel free to adjust.)
Now it’s time to knead. With a bit of elbow grease, simply push, fold, slap and roll the dough around, over and over, for about 5 minutes, until you have a silky and elastic dough.
Flour the top of your dough. Put it in a bowl that’s about double the size of the dough, cover with cling film, and allow it to prove for about a half an hour until about doubled in size, ideally in a warm, moist, draught-free place (I put in the closet with our boiler). This will improve the flavor and texture of your dough and it’s always exciting to know that the old yeast has kicked into action.
Once the dough has doubled in size, knock the air out for 30 seconds by bashing it and squashing it. Separate dough in half and shape into two separate, rectangular loaves. Place on a lightly floured baking tray and allow to prove a second time for 30 minutes to an hour until it has nearly doubled in size once more. This is the most important part, as the second prove will give it the air that finally ends up being cooked into your bread, giving you the really light, soft texture that we all love in fresh bread. So remember, don’t fiddle with it, just let it do its thing.
Preheat oven to 350°F / 175°C. Place trays into the preheated oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until cooked and golden brown. You can tell if it’s cooked by tapping its bottom – if it sounds hollow, it’s done. When done place on a rack to cool for at least a few minutes. Bread will stay at room temperature for about 3-4 days. If you want it to last longer, store in the refrigerator, though it does tend to dry out the bread.
Bread can be frozen (I typically eat one loaf right away and freeze the second loaf). Wrap loaf in cling film them place in a zipper freezer bag, carefully removing any air, then place in the freezer. When you are ready to eat the frozen bread, take the bread out and allow it to thaw completely before unwrapping. This will allow the loaf to reabsorb any of the moisture that’s migrated out to the wrapping. Let the bread come to room temperature, then pop in the oven for 5-10 minutes at 350°F / 175°C for a warm revitalized loaf.
Adapted from Jamie Oliver