So here we are at the nitty gritty. My basic recipe. It looks awfully long, doesn't it, and therefore complicated? It isn't. It is one of the simplest processes ever but easier to show than explain. Explaining can take so many words.
Ingredients to make one loaf to bake in a llb loaf tin
200g strong flour
half tsp easy bake yeast - the kind for bread makers
half tsp salt
half tsp sugar
half tbsp heaped dried milk powder
a sploosh of oil or a dollop of butter
water as below but go with how your dough feels. If it feels too dry, add a bit more. Too wet isn't a problem as it all sorts out in the kneading and, as Diane said in a comment, wetter is better! I find the amounts below are just right for the flour I use.
- if the loaf is all white flour, add 125mls
- if the loaf is all wholemeal, add 140mls
- if the loaf is half and half, add 135mls
Mixing the ingredients
Everyone has their own kneading technique and rhythm but basically it is stretch and fold, stretch and fold, over and over again, until the dough is elastic and very pliable.
This video clip on youtube is more or less what I do.
I knead for between eight to ten minutes and you can be very energetic about it if you want. Work out frustrations and angers - the bread won't mind!
Measure in the flour and then the other ingredients, keeping the yeast and the salt separate at first and finishing with the water.
Briefly mix on 4 to 5 for a few seconds to bring it all together.
Using the knead function, knead for around ten minutes. It can be a bit rocky so take care that it doesn't move to the edge of your working surface. I sometimes wedge some towels round to absorb the movement.
When finished, tip out onto a floured or oiled surface.
Then, for both methods:
Shape the dough into a round by pulling up the sides into the middle and turning several times, turning over and 'rolling' around the side with your hands.
Place the dough in a bowl that has room for at least twice the amount (because it will rise), smear over a bit of oil, cover the bowl with oiled cling film* and leave it to rise. If you have a warm place and are going to be around, fine, but you can slow down the rise by placing the bowl somewhere cooler.
Don't hang around waiting, it will take its own time. Go and do something else. Watched dough just laughs at you!
* I drop a little bit of oil on the cling film and spread it over with my hands. It stops the dough sticking to the cling film but it also makes my hands feel great after working with the dough which can draw moisture out of your hands.
Knocking back and shaping
When the dough is roughly twice the size it's time for the next stage.
Prepare your loaf tin - I use greaseproof liners after several tragedies when I had to bash the loaf to pieces to get it out of the tin (OK, maybe slight exaggeration here). You can get them from Lakeland, Amazon and in a local pound shop (I can anyway)
Tip the dough back onto the oiled or floured surface, reserving your cling film, and knock it back - literally knock it back. It will deflate immediately - that's what you want to happen!
Then start shaping. Basically, you are creating the shape you want by flattening and folding but not kneading. I flatten with the heel of my hand or my knuckles into a rectangle, then roll both ends into the middle. Turn and repeat, then pinch the dough together where it meets in the middle. That is the underneath of the loaf. Sometimes I shape several times before it feels 'right'.
Turn it over and place it in your prepared loaf tin.
If you are free forming, make the shape you want by folding over again and again to create a 'tension' on the surface and place on your prepared baking tray.
Sprinkle a little flour over the loaf and cover it gently (not tightly) with the oiled cling film (oily side down, of course).
Then leave it to prove - in other words, to prove to you that the yeast is still working. I let it rise to nearly twice the size.
Again, don't watch - go and do something else - ironing, read a book, whatever.
About half an hour in I turn on the oven to as high as it will go.
Last stage! Place the loaf in the middle of the oven, immediately turn the oven down to 200 (180 fan) and bake the loaf for half an hour-ish.
Take it out of the tin, using a tea towel or oven glove and tap the bottom. It should sound hollow. If it doesn't, pop it back into the oven (straight on the shelf will be fine) and bake it for another five minutes before checking again.
(I turn the oven off and let it bake for longer in the residual heat).
It is terribly tempting to hack into the loaf at that moment - -it looks wonderful, the house smells fantastic, you NEED some NOW!!
Don't. Just don't. It needs time to cool and 'settle'. If you hack into it straight away, it won't slice properly and the crumb won't be right either. Give it about half an hour on a cooling tray and then you can slice it, slather on butter and revel in it! It is worth the wait, believe me.
The loaf can be kept fresh in a poly bag but wait until it is completely cool or the condensation will spoil the crust by making it go soggy.
That's it. How I make my bread.
I do use other recipes at times but the one I have described is the one I know off by heart, the one that always works for me, the one that everyone likes.
When I was working I would make several loaves on Saturday or Sunday morning. Now I am making bread for a few people I bake their bread on Monday mornings to take to them early afternoon, as soon as the loaves are cold and can be bagged. As I do so, I also do other housework because I am there, have to be around so it gets done. Another bonus for me!
If you try this, do reply and let me know how it all goes. I'm not an expert, I've just shared what I do because the results are worth sharing. Go on - have a go!