One loaf recipe for basic white bread is all you need to find out what this home baking is all about. And you might never go back to Hovis.
A bit basic
What is THIS doing here? you might ask. Is THIS the appropriate company for the San Francisco style sourdough or for Borodinsky rye bread? Why, after feeding starters and perfecting the stretch and fold for years, am I turning towards the general direction of Hovis sliced?
And my answer is: why not?
Joking aside, this is a fabulous starting point for those not awfully well versed into the secrets of dough hydration and oven springs. That’s one reason: this is an easy and relatively quick bread and it might encourage someone shy to embrace bread making.
The other reason, closely entwined with the first, is that this is still miles and eons better than any commercially produced bread: in the sense of taste and nutritional value both.
There’s a third, tiny reason which I’m not embarrassed to bring forth: some people are not that fond of sourdough, wholemeal, seeds and chewy crumb. They like it plain and basic. And that’s absolutely fair enough in my books: each to their own.
My bread bible
So all of the above made me reach for my very first bread bible, Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters.
It is a fantastically educational and useful book, a precursor to all the sourdough gurus from YouTube and elsewhere.
I have to say there is little I have learned about bread making since I first dove into Bread Matters, apart from a variety of specific recipes. The principles, the ‘all you need to know’ is all there.
Because, obviously, Andrew tells you how to start and how to make a plain, basic, white loaf. Which this pretty much is.
The plain white dough
There is nothing more to a loaf of bread than flour, water, salt and yeast – be it baker’s or naturally occurring.
Anything more than that on the label, apart from enhancements such as seeds, malt, whole grains etc., tells you that it’s a fake industrial bread, fermented in about 30 seconds and with a nutritional value of probably -10.
It will be laden with salt, sugar and all kinds of preservatives and additives. Stay well clear of it.
This dough has a teaspoon of sugar added but that’s just a tiny token of yeast-encouragement. Other than that it’s flour, water, salt and yeast, and not a lot of the last.
If you have a standing mixer, mix the dough in it but it is perfectly easy to knead by hand. Even when I use a mixer, I still turn the dough out when it has come together, and give it five minutes of hand work. Handling dough is just enormously satisfying.
So after the mixing and kneading, all by hand or with some assistance from the appliance, cover the bowl and leave the dough for a couple of hours in a warm place to proof. It won’t be spectacular as there is very little yeast in it but the longer fermentation always equals better flavour.
Next time, old dough
After proofing, turn it out onto a work surface with barely a dusting of flour on it. At this point you can decide to cut off a piece of the dough and reserve it for the next loaf, thus making a wonderful cycle of ‘old dough’ bread making.
Old dough is usually referred to in sourdough baking, but it also works in the simplest, yeast breads. It adds excellent flavour to an otherwise unexceptional loaf, because this small chunk has had time to ferment and develop a more mature taste.
For this, cut off about 150g of the dough, place it in a small tub and keep it in the fridge for up to 10 days and in the freezer for longer than that, defrosting completely before using.
And for your next old dough loaf, the ingredients will be:
150g old dough
Here you will mix the ingredients for 5 minutes without the old dough, then knead it in and continue as below.
Shaping and baking
The point of shaping is to tighten the outside surface so it creates a sort of shell for the air expansion inside. In simple terms: the lovely bubbles in the crumb and a smooth, crusty crust.
In order to do that, you have to keep folding it.
Because it is going to be a sandwich loaf, we’re working with a rolled up log which needs to be flattened and folded lengthwise.
Then repeat the exercise in the opposite direction to form a thicker log with taut outside surface. Roll it in some seeds if you like and drop into a buttered tin, seam side down.
The rise will last about an hour this time, before the loaf goes into very hot oven for thirty or forty minutes, reducing the temperature after the first ten minutes.
When it’s browned and crusty to your liking, remove it from the oven and the tin, and wait anxiously for it to cool down a little, before sampling.
More easy bread recipes
Flash loaf - quick bread ready in two hours. Quick and easy wholemeal bread recipe, and the bread keeps well thanks to grated raw potatoes in its contents.
Lazy bread recipe - the easiest bread, next to no effort involved. This lazy bread ferments over 18 hours for flavour but it’s a no-knead, no-shape lazy loaf.
No knead bread recipe based on Jim Lahey's original concept. A very easy bread recipe, unfailingly successful especially if you have a Dutch oven (a cast iron casserole dish).