There’s something very gratifying and almost therapeutic about making your own bread. The rhythm of kneading 500g of dough and the sense of achievement when the humble sloppy mess of floury ingredients come together to form a soft smooth mound, not dissimilar to my daughter’s chubby cheeks when she was a toddler. The satisfaction comes a close second to the achievement of getting the same aforementioned toddler to sleep after a four hour screaming session.
Having used a bread maker for many years for convenience, occasionally I switch to the more traditional method of bread making and use some muscle in an attempt to make the perfect loaf, and hopefully diminish my bingo wings in the process. My endeavours have been mainly successful (the bread making, unfortunately not the reduction of the bingo wings), but the end result never seems to have the wow factor of a shop bought crusty loaf.
I have searched foodie websites and many recipe books, of which I have a slight obsession but that’s another story, for the perfect white loaf recipe, and this week I think I’ve found it, or at least my harshest critic, my husband believes I have! This recipe is taken from April’s Good Food magazine – another obsession of mine.
Olive Oil Bread by Mary Cadogan
7g sachet easy-blend yeast or 15g fresh yeast
500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
Tip the flour into a mixing bowl. For easy-blend dried yeast, stir this into the flour. For fresh yeast, crumble it and rub into the flour as you would with butter when making pastry. Add the salt and sugar.
Boil the kettle and measure 100ml into a jug. Top up with cold water to the 300ml mark. Test the temperature with your finger – it should feel perfectly hand-hot. Add the oil.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid all at once. Mix quickly using your hands or a wooden fork to make a soft and slightly sticky dough. Wipe the dough around the bowl to pick up any loose flour.
Sprinkle the work surface with flour and tip out the dough. Knead by stretching it away from you, then folding it in half towards you and pushing it away with the heel of your hand. Give it a quarter turn and repeat, developing a rhythm.
When the dough is smooth, put it back into the mixing bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rest for 1 hr (no need to find a warm place). The dough is ready when it springs back when you press it with your finger.
Tip dough onto a floured surface, knead to remove air bubbles. Shape into a round, place on an oiled baking sheet and slash top with sharp knife. Cover and rise for 30 mins. Heat oven to 240C/220C fan/gas 8. Bake for 30-35 mins until browned and crisp.
The loaf was well risen with a beautiful golden brown crispy crust. Inside was soft and airy like a sponge. Perfect. Homemade bread never stays fresh as one would hope, so I tend to cool the loaf, slice it and freeze it so a couple of slices can be taken out when required and the loaf stays fresh. This loaf disappeared. It has been used for marmite on toast dripping in butter, stilton and caramelised onion relish sandwiches and for mopping up the juices from a bowl of moules we had during the week. I am salivating just thinking about it. Alas, not a crumb has passed my lips – for I have a wheat intolerance! Sods law may be justifiable term here.
The smell of freshly baked bread is up there for me with cut grass, rain after a dry spell, frying bacon and new books (I told you I have an obsession). Cooking is my passion and is one of the ways I show my family and friends that I love them. I am a feeder, and there’s something very maternal about providing home made bread for your loved ones. So I am off to bake another loaf and maybe lose a couple of millimetres of bingo wing – I live in hope!