Fresh bread is one of the pure joys of living: the delicious smell of it baking, fresh bread out of the oven, the temptation of tearing a chunk off the loaf before it has even had a chance to cool down.
Riding home in the car from a supermarket, or even a bakery with a warm, new loaf in a brownish paper bag, you have to have an iron will to get home with that loaf intact, especially with kids in the car with you too.
Baking bread at home can be enjoyable if you are not under stress. It is a task that kids can help with, kneading alongside you. When you form the loaves, you can section off some dough to make their cute shaped rolls, which they can take to college or school boastfully in their lunch boxes the next day. Then you get to fill your home with the scent of baking bread, making it feel warm and embracing on even the most miserable winter days.
Bread-making machines where you fill in the ingredients and it spits out a quickly baked loaf a few hours later are a blessing to those with no time to bake for themselves – you get the satisfaction of waking up to the fragrance of bread wafting through the home, without any of the labor to produce it. If you have time though, baking bread is not hard. It can be a meditating, relaxing experience. As your hands knead the dough, you can let your brain wander and feel the connection with all the women and men who have gone about this regular task over the centuries.
If you have never attempted to make bread before, try this easy recipe for a plain white loaf. Nothing fancy, just straightforward, delightful white bread with far more texture and chew than shop bread could ever have.
White Bread Recipe
- 2.2lbs/1kg white bread flour
- 4 ½ tsp./15g instant yeast
- 1 Tbsp. salt
- 700ml/ or 3 cups of water
- It would help if you had a big mixing bowl or heap the flour onto a clear surface and make a pond for the water. I use a bowl, mix the salt and flour, make a well for the yeast, and then pour the water in, slowly mixing with a knife.
- Once it has come together into a dough, tip it out onto a clean surface and knead for 15 minutes, spraying on more flour as you go when it gets too gluey.
- Knead by holding the dough with left hand and pulling it away with the other’s heel, fold it back on itself, and duplicate. It will start off lumpy and sticky and gradually become flat.
- After 15 minutes, it should feel light and rise up again if you dent it with your finger. Please put it in the bowl, cover with a clean cloth or a plastic bag, and leave in a hot place away from draughts for about two hours till it has doubled in size.
- If you are in the pits of winter and no warm places are accessible, it will still rise, just taking longer. Go by the change in size rather than the length of time it needs.
- Beat the dough down – squashing all the air out of it again – then shape it into two loaves, which can be long, round, sculptural or plaited! Please put the loaves onto a lightly oiled or floured baking tray. Leave to rise again for an hour, covering with a cloth or plastic bag, then bake at 400F for 40 minutes. The bread is ready when it sounds hollow as you knock on the bottom of the loaf.
Carefully place your bread on a wire rack and try not to scoff the lot while it is still warm, or else it’ll get spoiled.
Once you’ve had a few tries with this recipe and proved yourself you could bake, you can leap into trying out other yeast loaves of bread. The process is the same for most of them. The only risk is that your children won’t let you stop once you start baking your bread!