I love the idea of having freshly made bread but hate making it. It is so messy and it sticks to your fingers and the kitchen cupboards etc etc.
Here is a recipe for an easy bread dough that isn’t perfect by any means but is very little hassle and makes nice tasting bread.
The secret really is to reduce the water. I know that the stickier the dough the better the bread is but sticky dough is massive pain to work with unless you shove it in a mixer. I am ignoring bread machines as that is cheating.
- 500g STRONG flour (white or a mix of wholemeal and white)
- 300ml warm water (just run the tap for a bit)
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp dried active yeast
- slug of olive oil
First thing to do is to activate the yeast. You want to buy the one in the yellow tin not the green tin. Alternatively you can use fresh yeast if you can get hold of it. Stir the sugar and the yeast into the warm water and leave it while you measure the other ingredients.
Measure the flour into a large bowl. You can use any mix you like. I used 50:50 wholemeal and white but this is quite wholemealy. Even 100g of wholemeal will make the bread look like brown not white. Now is the time to add any extra, dry ingredients (see Pimp My Bread below). I added some mixed seeds to this recipe. Also stir in the salt. I find 1tsp a bit too salty but you might not notice it.
By now the water your yeast was in should have turned cloudy and smell of yeasty goodness.
Time to mix everything together. Slosh a glug of olive oil into the flour. This is supposed to make the bread last longer. Don’t know if that is true or not. The add around 2/3rds of the water. Don’t add it all!!! it is too risky.
Give it all a stir together. The red scraper in the photo is excellent for this. They are dirt cheap on Amazon. You should now find the bread is stuck together but with some flour at the bottom. Add a very small amount of water and try mix all this flour in. This is the dangerous part; even the tiniest bit too much water will make it go all sticky and super annoying. Sometimes even dipping your fingers in the water and using them is enough to get the dough to stick.
Hopefully the dough will form into a ball without being super sticky. If it is slightly sticky and annoying don’t worry as this will go away with kneading. If you mess up and put too much water in the dough will stick to your hands and worktop and this will be sad. Chuck it back in the bowl and grab a handful of flour and rub it between your fingers over the bowl. This will get the dough off your fingers. Mix the dough and hopefully it will be drier. I find that 1/2 tsp of too much water seems to equal about 50g of extra flour to fix it!
Once the dough is all stuck together you can knead it a bit. The recipes say 20 minutes but that is madness. I do it until I get fed up which feels like ages but is usually around 2 minutes. You want the dough to have a chewing gum consistency. Once this is done put a little bit of olive oil in the bowl and rub it around the edges then add the dough and cover with cling film.
Put the dough in a warm place like an airing cupboard or room that gets a bit of sun and leave it for around an hour until it looks like it has doubled in size. This is the first proving.
Once the bread is looking a lot bigger scrape it out of the bowl and bash it a bit to knock the air out. This is to stop the loaf having a massive air pocket in it which filling will fall through. If it hasn’t risen much then leave it a bit longer or find somewhere warmer for it. Don’t think about putting it in a really low oven as it won’t work and it will go all crispy.
You can now oil your loaf tin and stick the dough in there and squish it down a bit.
A good loaf tin is hard to find. They seem to be measured in weight of finished loaf e.g. 1lb, 2lb, 900g. This isn’t very helpful. You want a tin as wide and tall as possible rather than long and thin or you won’t get enough surface area to make a decent sandwich. For some reason mine say George Wilkinson on the bottom. If you don’t have a loaf tin you can use a square cake tin with more dough mix or make bread rolls/teacakes/barmcakes etc by breaking the dough up into balls and putting them on an oiled baking tray.
Once the bread is in its final container leave it for another hour or so to rise again. This is the second prove. There is no need to cover it this time. You want the bread to rise above the loaf tin but not so much that it falls over the edges and makes a T-shaped loaf. If in doubt err on the side of caution as it will rise a bit more when it goes in the oven. If you put the tin in the airing cupboard don’t forget it as it is very difficult to pick raw dough out of towels/immersion heater lagging.
Preheat the oven to around 210C fan or 220C normal and shove the loaf in for around 35 minutes. If you are making bread rolls only do 20 minutes. Don’t worry about overcooking the loaf. You can’t overcook bread, the crust just burns but the insides will be fine so if you are worried cook it a bit longer. You don’t want it under-cooked.
When finished tip it out onto a cooling rack. If it doesn’t come out the tin it is because you didn’t oil it. You can now tap the bottom and see if you think it is hollow. Without a solid loaf of bread to compare it to this is not a lot of help. The bread will be much easier to slice if you let it go cold first.
That’s it. It might take a couple of attempts to get it perfect but this recipe makes a reasonable loaf of bread with minimal effort. You will find it to be quite dense. This is because the dough wasn’t sticky enough and you didn’t knead it for 20 minutes!
Pimp My Bread
The best thing about making your own bread is you can add your own weird and wonderful ingredients. This is what makes it better than buying from a bakery. You can put anything you like in the bread really, the photos above are of a wholemeal loaf with mixed seeds in. The main thing to remember is to put dry ingredients in at the start but “wetter” ingredients like cheese in at the second prove stage. If you put cheese in at the start it goes really weird and yeasty.
Add 1tbsp of sugar, 1tbsp of mixed spice and a load of mixed dried fruit to the flour mix. Morrisons make the best dried fruit mix. Their luxury one is cheap and has pineapple etc in it.
Add some smoked paprika or curry powder to the flour mix and add a load of cheese at the second prove stage not at the start.
Very White Bread
Use all white flour and replace some or all of the water with warm milk. Just blast it in the microwave for a minute to warm it up.
Weird Shaped Bread
Once the dough is made you can make it into any shape you like before cooking. This is good to do with kids. You can spell your name in letters or plait the bread together. This looks really impressive even though it is dead easy to do. Just keep an eye on the cooking times as thin dough can overcook.