There is something quite satisfying about making your own bread. The ingredients are simple and few and the smell of baking that permeates the kitchen is hard to beat. You can also use this mixture to make soft dinner rolls or a poppy seed plait (see Variations).
Step by Step - Rustic Loaf
- 500g Waitrose Very Strong Canadian White Flour for Bread and Pasta Making, plus a little extra, for sprinkling
- 1 tsp salt
- 25g butter, diced or 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp Allinson Easy Bake Yeast
- Place the flour in a large mixing bowl and add the salt and the butter. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until there are no large lumps of butter left.
- Stir the yeast into the flour mixture until it is evenly combined. Stir in 300ml of hand-hot water. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture, pour in the water and mix quickly to form a soft dough - a large wooden spoon or fork is ideal for this.
- Use your hands to draw the mixture into a ball, wiping the dough around the bowl to pick up any leftover flour. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface.
- Knead the dough for 15 minutes by stretching the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, then folding it towards you. Give the dough a quarter turn each time, developing a rocking rhythm. Sprinkle a little more flour on the work surface as necessary. Knead until the dough no longer feels sticky and is smooth, silky and elastic. Shape into a ball, folding the outside of the dough into the centre, turning as you go.
- Place onto a baking sheet and dust generously with flour. Pour a little oil into a pedal or swing bin liner and rub the bag between your hands until the inside is coated in oil. Slide the baking sheet and dough loosely into the bag and tuck the ends under. Leave in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size. This will take around 1-1½ hours. Remove the dough from the bag and use a sharp knife to cut a shallow criss-cross pattern into the surface.
- Place the baking sheet in a cold oven, leaving plenty of room above it for the loaf to rise. Set the oven to 220 C, gas mark 7. Bake the loaf for 30-35 minutes until it is golden brown. Then tap the bottom of the loaf with your knuckles - when it is cooked it will sound hollow. If it doesn't sound hollow, return it to the oven for 5 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and leave for at least 15 minutes.
Always use strong bread flour for making bread. It has a higher gluten content than ordinary plain flour, which gives the dough elasticity and helps your loaf to rise well.
Do not be tempted to cut back on the kneading process - this stretches the dough and develops the gluten in the flour, which gives you a lighter textured loaf.
Always add fast-action dried yeast to the flour, not to the liquid.
The bread is put into a cold oven as this provides the dough with a final prove, and as a result you will get a lighter texture.
Do not worry if your loaf does not look the same as the one we have pictured - it will still taste good!
Bread freezes well. Simply wrap it tightly in foil or a freezer bag, excluding as much air as possible, and freeze for up to one month.
Make the dough to the end of step 4. Divide into 12 equal-sized pieces and shape each piece into a ball. Place a little apart on an oiled baking sheet. Continue from step 5, brushing the tops of the rolls with beaten egg just before baking for a shiny glaze. Bake the rolls for 15-18 minutes until golden.
Poppy seed plait
Make the dough up to the end of step 3. Divide into three equal-sized pieces, then roll each piece into a 30cm long sausage. Pinch the three pieces of dough together at one end. Plait them together, then pinch the other end to seal. Place the plait on an oiled baking sheet and continue from step 5, brushing the top of the plait with a little beaten egg and sprinkling with poppy seeds before baking. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden.
Large baking sheet
Large mixing bowl
Large wooden spoon or fork
Small sharp knife
Pedal or swing bin liner
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This recipe was first published in September 2003.