For a long while every time I tried to make bread I would slave away for hours, kneading it, knocking it back, leaving it to rise only to be left with something resembling somewhere between a brick a door wedge.
This always seemed a little unjust to me, fair enough if you whip up some cupcakes in 20 mins and they tun out duff nothing much lost; but if you have lovingly slaved for hours over a simple loaf of bread shouldn’t you be rewarded with deliciousness?
Something was obviously going wrong but with bread there are 101 things it could be; the yeast, the temperature of the water, too much salt, too much flour, too much water. So I did what any self respecting home baker would do, scoured every recipe book I had and googled a lot to figure out what was going wrong and how to make it right.
So here it is… lots and lots of trial and error has resulted in this totally fool proof bread recipe. Having perfected it I have found just about any excuse to make my own bread, toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, dinner rolls for well dinner. You get the idea!
Before we start there is one super important thing to get right the yeast.
Yeast comes in a number of forms and how you can use each is very different. Dried yeast needs to be activated before it can be used, you’ll have to add this stuff to some water and wait for bubbles to form yadda yadda yaddaa (to much like hard work for me) before anything useful will come from it. There’s also fresh yeast, kinda hard to find these days and unless you are an artisan baker also worth steering clear of.
The good stuff (or at least the stuff that is going to have you churning out batch after batch of perfect bread with ease) is easy yeast or easy blend dried yeast. This can be thrown straight in with your flour, no messing about. Don’t grab the wrong stuff at the store as it will leave you a very unhappy bunny.
I did say this was going to be “bread made easy” so I also make use of my handy dandy Kenwood Chef stand mixer to knead my dough (I’m sure a KitchenAid could probably handle it too). Nothing much is different if you want to do this by hand aside from the fact you probably need to stretch and warm up before kneading commences, can’t be having any baking related sports injuries now can we.
Finally don’t be put off by how long the whole process is, once the dough is mixed and kneaded (20 mins max) you are only needed for about 2 mins every hour, it looks after itself otherwise.
Easy White Bread Recipe (Makes about 8 dinner rolls or 1 large loaf)
2 Cups Strong White Bread Flour
1 Teaspoon easy blend dried yeast
1 Tablespoon Clear Honey
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1 1/2 Cups Water
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1. The dried ingredients
In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in your favourite large mixing bowl if you are a brave soul about to do this ye olde fashioned way) add the flour and yeast and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds to distribute the yeast evenly.
Next add the salt and mix on low speed again to combine. I think it’s important to do these separately as yeast and salt are not best pals.
2. The wet stuff
Measure out about a cup and a half of warm water into a jug.
OK I’ll admit here is where we get ourselves into a little difficulty. Notice how vague “about” and “warm” make my previous statement. The amount of water you will actually need will depend on the exact flour you have, the humidity in the air, the temperature of the room, how hard your water is, the day of the week (maybe not that last one). Fear not because I have pictures later to show EXACTLY what we need to see.
On the “warm” front we are really looking for baby’s bottle kinda temperature. I usually half fill my jug with cold water then slowly add hot water from a kettle until it feels about right. It should be noticeably warm when you pop your finger in but definitely not hot (about 35ºC (95ºF) if you have a thermometer handy).
Add to the jug of water a tablespoon of honey and stir to dissolve nicely. Finally add the tablespoon of olive oil. This will float on the surface. This doesn’t matter too much as we want it all in the flour in a minute anyway.
3. Lets mix it all up
With the dough hook fitted, turn the mixer on low and slowly pour in about a cup of the water. This will form a soupy mess in the middle of the bowl that gradually grabs more and more of the dry flour from the sides ad it mixes.
Once a dough starts to form speed the mixer up to just below medium speed. Slowly add more water a tablespoon at a time until a sloppy dough forms.
4. Knead Me
Turn the mixer up to medium, or higher if you dare… mine has a habit of wandering around the counter top if it’s up too high which I’m pretty sure the manufacturer would not recommend so neither shall I.
If all is well and we have got the right balance of water and flour in our mix the dough should look a little like this (my camera skills are slightly lacking when it comes to high speed dough photography but hopefully you get the jist)::
If the mix is too sloppy and not pulling together even slightly add a little more flour a tablespoon at a time until you reach this stage, although be careful too much flour = heavy brick of bread. If things are a little to dry and you have a lump of dough rumbling around the bowl not really sticking to much just dampen the bowl slightly with literally a drop of water at a time.
If all is well knead the dough for a good 10 minutes to stretch all the gluten and activate all that bread magic.
5. Time to rest
When time’s up turn off the mixer get rid of the dough hook and place the dough in a ball into a large lightly greased bowl (that sounds remarkably easy but if you have done things right your dough will be so sticky that things might get a little sticky here, a quick flour of your hands can help a fair bit).
Lightly grease the top of your dough (pan spray is amazing for this kinda stuff) and tightly seal the bowl with cling film.
Now it’s time to find somewhere nice and warm for your dough to live. I recently discovered my oven has a handy dandy warming setting I can leave it to live but anywhere slightly above normal room temperature is good.
Leave the dough to sit for about an hour at this stage.
6. Knock it back
After working so hard to get the dough to rise it’s time to knock all that air out again. Seems a little harsh I know, but you don’t want bread with golf ball sized holes in it so kinda important.
Uncover the dough and really squish out all of the air. Form into a ball again and cover up with cling film once more.
Leave to rise for another hour.
7. Decision time
At this stage you can knock back the dough and leave to rise again if you have the time . This will make your bread that little bit more tasty and impressive at the end, but if you actually have to get on and do something with your day, it is very much safe to proceed.
Now you need to decide what you want your bread to look like. This recipe is pretty versatile and can happily turn itself into a batch of rolls, a tin sandwich loaf, a more rustic pan free loaf or if you are feeling all artsy and ambitious something plaited and decorative.
Whatever you decide now is time to shape the dough. Cut up or shape the dough as required on a lightly floured surface and place on a lightly greased baking tray or in a loaf tin. This recipe will happily make 8 rolls or a decent sized loaf.
Make sure if making rolls you spread things out as they will keep growing and combine if too close (unless this is what you want… you’re the boss).
Lightly grease the tops of your dough creations and lightly cover with cling film to stop them drying out (dry dough doesn’t rise so well).
Leave for another half hour to rest (the dough obviously, you can rest in a little while).
Preheat your oven to 200°C (390 F) and bake for about 20 minutes for rolls, probably a little longer (extra 5-10 mins) for a large loaf.
It is always worth moving things around half way to ensure everything is coloured nice and evenly, I like to rotate all my tins though 180° as the oven tends to have hot and cold spots.
When the bread is done it should be evenly coloured and sound hollow to the touch (Helpful Hint: hit yourself on the head… if the noise is the same as when you tap the bread it’s done! 😀 ).
If you are happy with the colour on the top of a large loaf and it’s still sounding a bit heavy on the botton just turn it upside down and leave to bake for another 5 mins to finish up without browning the top any further.
Remove from the oven, pop on a cooling rack for a little while and enjoy.