Basic dough

If you’ve never baked bread before then start with this basic recipe. Once you’ve learned how to do a good white bread the world is your bread bowl.

Put 500 grams of strong white flour into a large mixing bowl and stir the flour with your hands to make sure  that there are no lumps or bumps in it.

Stir in 1.5 teaspoons of salt and then stir this through with your hands. If you add salt at the same time as yeast it kills the yeast and  then you don’t get bread but you do get a disaster.

Stir in a teaspoon of sugar with 2 teaspoons of easy bake yeast (simple to use and no work, hard or otherwise, when using it) and mix that in with your hands also.

Get the water ready by combining 200 millilitres of hot water and 100 millilitres of  cold water and mix in a tablespoon of vegetable oil. By personal preference I use walnut oil. Make a well in the flour mix and pour the water and oil into it. Stir quite roughly with a wooden spoon until it starts to form and when it looks raggy stop mixing and leave it alone for 10 minutes or so. Leaving it a little while gives the flour and the water time to combine before the real kneading begins. Flour varies from bag to bag when it comes to absorbing water and leaving it a little while evens up the playing field a little.

Tip the whole lot out on to a work surface or a wooden chopping board. I have a board that I use for nothing but kneading bread so it doesn’t pick up smells and flavours from anything else I may have used it for.

Knead the raggy messy for 10 minutes until it looks smooth and elastic. Kneading is basically stretch the dough so push it outward and then back inwards on itself. I use the heel of my hand but you may find it easier to do it another way. I play music as I do that as it helps to get into a good rhythm and makes the kneading easier. I have found that You’re The Best Thing by the Style Council works for me but, no doubt, you’ll find your own magic tune.

To tell whether it’s ready form it into a ball by cupping it in your hands on the board and press a finger into it on the side of the ball. If it’s ready to prove the dent comes out slowly. Other people use the window test which involves taking a small piece of dough and then stretching it to see if you can see light through it without it breaking. I hate making the stretchy thing so I prod.

Oil a loaf tin thoroughly. I use my fingers to this as they get in all the corners. It’s messy but if you want to bake good bread then you have to get messy. Shape your dough lightly so that it will fit in the tin but it doesn’t have to touch the edges or be long enough to fill it as it expands.

Leave in a warm place covered by lightly oiled cling film for 45 minutes and when you look at it you will see that it has doubled in size. Don’t be tempted to let it get any bigger because over proved bread isn’t a good thing.

While you’re shaping the dough for the tin preheat the oven to 230 C/gas mark 8. Bake for 15 minutes then turn down the heat to 200 C/gas mark 6 and bake for a further 15 minutes. If you are using a fan oven then 210 C and 190 C are temperatures that you need to use. The loaf will sound hollow when rapped with knuckles on the underside if it cooked.

Cool on a wire tray and then indulge yourself!