This week I baked my first loaf. I know. I tell everyone I bake my own bread, but the truth is that my Panasonic does it. It’s hard to imagine how I got to this great age, call myself a foodie and have never kneaded. Jill asked me to make bread so I chose ‘How to Make a Perfect White Loaf’ from The Great British Bake Off. I have to admit to some trepidation. The first attempt failed miserably, on account of using old yeast. No amount of peeping under the damp cloth and cursing was going to rise the dough. First lesson learned. I chucked the lot in the bin and started again. This time it worked, and I baked my first loaf. Good news: if I can do it, so can you. Bad news: my cred as a foodie is probably shot to hell. Oh well.
Makes 2 medium loaves
700g strong white bread flour
2 tsp sea salt flakes, crushed
1 x 7g sachet fast-action dried yeast or 15g fresh yeast
About 450g warm water
Put the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the dried yeast. Mix well then make a well in the centre.
Pour the warm water into the well. If using fresh yeast, mix it with the water then add to the flour.
Mix the flour into the water to make a soft but not sticky dough. If there are dry crumbs or the dough feels stiff and dry, work in a little more water; if it feels sticky and starts to stick to your fingers, work in a little more flour.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured worktop and knead thoroughly for TEN MINUTES. To knead, first stretch the ball of dough away from you by holding one end down with your hand and using the other hand to pull and stretch out the dough.
Gather the dough together back into a ball. Give it a quarter turn and repeat the stretching and gathering-back movements. As the dough is kneaded it will gradually change its texture and appearance and will start to feel pliable yet firm and look silky and smooth.
Return the ball of dough to the bowl and cover with clingfilm or a damp tea towel. Leave to rise til doubled in size – an hour in a warm kitchen, two hours at normal room temperature, three hours in my cold, draughty, damp hovel or overnight in the fridge.
Punch down the risen dough with your knuckles to deflate it. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead gently for a minute or so. Divide into equal halves and shape into a ball. Roll each ball around til very smooth and set it on a sheet on non-stick baking paper. Dust with flour. Cover with the damp cloth again. Leave to rise til doubled in size – around an hour.
Preheat the oven to 230°/450°/gas 8. Put one or two baking sheets in the oven (you might fit them both on one, but they will spread a bit) and put a roasting tin in the bottom of the oven.
Uncover the loaves and sprinkle with a little more flour then slash the top of each with a sharp knife. Transfer them, on the paper, to the hot sheet(s) and put in the oven. Pour a cup of cold water into the roasting tin to produce a burst of steam, and bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the sheets if needed to bake evenly, then reduce the temperature to 200°/400°/gas 6 and bake for a further 15 or 20 minutes or until a good golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when you tap them underneath. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
Stand back, admire and wonder why the hell you’ve never done it before. And know that you’ll never buy supermarket bread ever again.