November 28, 2008

Beautiful, easy bread

Apart from reading a lot of recipes, one of the things I've been doing recently is teaching myself how to make bread. I always thought that bread making was a mystery best left to earth mothers and retired people, but I'm learning that it doesn't have to be that way. Bread dough is pretty forgiving and will wait while you go to work, sleep, or get on with your life.

And my goodness, fresh bread tastes amazing.

Here's the recipe I used for the bread that I whipped up in my early-morning insanity. Making the initial dough took approximately as long as it took the stove-top coffee to boil: ie less than two minutes. Then I kneaded it and left it while I went to do some sewing.

But before I give you the recipe I want to explain where this bread-making thing came from. It wasn't a bolt from the blue: the urge to make bread arrived in a package in the post, neatly wrapped up inside a cookbook sent to us by one of Mr. Tacc's oldest friends, Xanthe Clay.

She wrote the book herself -- this clever woman has published several cookbooks over the years, and can be found writing a weekly gig at the Telegraph or cooking up a storm in quick ten-minute videos online or for your ipod. Isn't it nice to have clever friends who give you inspiration?

Here's a variation on 'Quick-fix Bread' from Xanthe Clay's 'Recipes to Know by Heart'

(note: the directions below are my interpretation, not a quote from the book! But credit for the recipe goes to Xanthe for her wonderful idea and morale-raising, inspired suggestions)

Wholewheat and honey bread

1 lb flour, which I made up of roughly 4/5ths white flour and 1/5th wholemeal flour
1 tsp salt
1 sachet instant yeast (7g)
1/2 pint warm water
1 large spoon of honey

  • Weigh out the flour until you have 1 lb (or use a 1lb bag). Tip it into a large bowl with the yeast and salt. Measure the water and pour it into the centre. Drop in your spoonful of honey. Stir until a doughy ball forms.
  • On a clean surface, sprinkle a handful of flour, plonk your dough in the centre and start kneading. DON'T skimp on this step! I count to 300 kneads before I consider stopping. Yes, 300.
  • Pop it in another large bowl (a clean one, I oil mine with a drop of olive oil), cover with clingfilm and go about your day. (*Busy folks:* at this point you could put it in the fridge to rise very slowly all day while you are at work, or all night if you do this the night before you want the bread. Take it out and let it warm up to room temperature , 20 mins or so, before you do this next step:)
  • When the dough has doubled in size from your original ball (1-2 hours or 8-9 hours in the fridge) knead it again for 30 seconds or so. Turn on the oven when you do this: 200 degrees.
  • Lightly oil a loaf pan, or a flat baking sheet. Dust with polenta or flour to prevent your loaf from sticking. Drop your loaf into the tin or make a nice round blob in the middle of your baking tray. Cover it with a clean tea towel and wander off again. Half an hour or so should do it, but again, cooler temperatures make slower rising.
  • When your bread has doubled again and your oven is good and hot, pop it in. You can brush the top with egg wash (but I don't usually bother). I get a lovely golden crispy crust on it anyway, and I don't need it to be shiny.
  • Cook for about 25-30 minutes (closer to 30 in my oven).
When your bread is ready, it will sound hollow when you tap it (flip it out of the pan, balance it on your mittened hand, tap and listen). Does it go 'tock-tock' when you tap, like an empty cardboard box? If yes, it's done. If you hear bubbling and steam, it's not.

Now just try not to eat four slices with butter. Go on. Makes amazing toast the second and third day, and I'm planning to make some summer pudding based on my MasterClass recipe tomorrow, when it will be at the perfect two-day-old stage. Sandwiches from this bread are truly divine.

Options: Leave out the whole wheat and just use a pound of plain or strong flour (both work). Leave out the honey if you want. Add raisins or currants if you like. Dust with cornflour or press seeds into the top. It's entirely up to you! You can make a double batch, but I did that in two bowls because I wasn't sure I had one that was big enough!

1 comment:

Hoppo Bumpo said...

I really LOVE homemade bread. Needless to say, I probably love it because its not something I do very often. I will have to give this recipe a go, as all the boys in this house really love honey.

I didn't know you could prove dough in the fridge though - that's a good tip. I use my microwave - I heat a cup of water in it for a couple of minutes, then when its all warm and humid, I stick the dough in (taking care not to accidentally microwave it of course!).