I first started making bread over 10 years ago with the help of a breadmaker machine. Although these are very good nowadays, I gave mine away recently in favour of doing things by hand. Machine made bread comes in one standard shape which isn't ideal and there's definitely some truth in the idea that kneading dough and getting involved in the loaf of bread you're making can be quite therapeutic and relaxing. It's also a really good way to be lazy whilst feeling productive - even whilst you're sitting doing nothing, the thought that a time consuming loaf of bread is proving away in the kitchen is quite pleasing.
I've made various types of bread over the years with varying degrees of success. I like the recipe detailed below because it's quick and easy and makes a small / medium sized loaf of bread which is ideal for 1-2 people (or for 1-2 days). Freshly baked bread doesn't keep as well as shop-bought bread (which is a good thing, it means we haven't used all those preservatives or overloaded our bread with sugars and oils in order to make it last longer).
Small White Bread Loaf
- 75ml of water
- 1/2 teaspoon of fast action dried yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon of sugar
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- around 120g of strong white bread flour
In a large bowl, combine the water, dried yeast and sugar. Mix lightly and set aside for 5 minutes.
Add the olive oil, salt and bread flour. Mix well with a spoon until a dough begins to form. Empty the dough onto a floured surface and knead well for 3-4 minutes, adding a little extra flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking. At this point, effort will directly equal reward and so if you can stand to knead the dough for an extra few minutes, your finished loaf will be even better. 3-4 minutes is fine though, as a minimum.
Once the dough is smooth, form into a ball. Add a touch of oil back into the mixing bowl, add the dough and cover with cling-film or a wet cloth. Set aside for around 2 hours.
Empty the dough back on to a floured work surface and knock back the dough. Basically, this means punching all of the air back out of the dough and kneading once again for 2-3 minutes.
Lightly flour a baking tray. Shape the dough as desired and place onto the baking tray. Cover again with oiled cling-film and set aside in a warm place for 45 - 60 minutes, or until risen.
Preheat the oven on Gas Mark 6 / 200C / 400F. Remove the clingfilm from the dough and, if desired, slash the top of the loaf with a very sharp knife. This will add texture to the finished crust. Sprinkle a little bread flour over the top of the loaf before baking if desired.
Place the tray into the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
Reduce the heat to Gas Mark 4 / 180C / 350F and continue to bake the loaf for a further 30 minutes.
Remove the baked bread from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
Slice and serve, perhaps with this basic vegetable soup recipe.