While the world takes a necessary step back, self-electing to or being required to spend more time at home now is a good time to get into baking. Not only because of all that, but while the shelves empty and supply chains work to catch up, it may be easier to find raw ingredients and make your own.
By starting to bake or improving your existing knowledge, you get so much back: new skills, ability to feed yourself and others, make enough to share with the community perhaps, ensuring what you eat is wholesome and nutritious (or a welcome but balanced treat) and to fill a gap in your store cupboard yourself.
I am going to post some back to basic recipes and include some alterations that you can think about to change the recipe yourself. This will help you make use of what you have, reduce waste and create variety. Where I can, I will supplement with videos – and there are three that accompany this post: kneading, knocking back and shaping.
For all of these back to basics recipes, I’m going to use the simplest equipment where possible as those who are starting probably won’t have the stand mixers, food processors etc. However, I will indicate where you can cut time by using this equipment if you have it.
First up, the simplest bread.
At the bottom of the recipe are a few ideas how to add different things to your bread – mainly so that you can use up what you have in the house to ensure you’re not wasting food and at the same time learn to make changes in flavour and shape to your loaf provide variety
If you don’t have any yeast – try my recipe for bacon and shallot soda bread. You only need bicarbonate of soda rather than dried yeast. This recipe says wholemeal spelt, but you can completely substitute this for strong white bread flour.
- Makes one medium-sized loaf.
- Leaving the mix for 10 minutes before you start kneading will give you a head start and make kneading easier, as the gluten will start forming during this ‘autolyse’ process.
- To learn more about yeast and the bread rising process, please read my post on how yeast works
- Large bowl
- Scraper – a flexible or metal bench scraper is a very useful bread tool. If you don’t have one a large knife for cutting and a flexible spatula for the bowl will suffice
- Baking stone or a large, thick baking sheet
- Linen tea towel
- A banneton
- Flat (no lip) baking tray or ‘peel’ (baker’s shovel)
- Water sprayer
- Extra strong white bread flour – 400g
- Water – 280ml (only just tepid)
- Oil (rapeseed or non-virgin olive oil – see note below) – 1 tablespoon
- Fine salt 1 teaspoon
- Fast action dried yeast – 1 teaspoon
- Extra flour for dusting and cleaning hands
Note: I’ve suggested not using extra virgin olive oil here because it is expensive and is best saved for dressings etc, but you can use it if you want. Also, both these are mildly flavoured but not totally devoid of flavour. Ultimately, use what you have in your cupboard.
- Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl – I prefer to use a table knife for this process, though you may like to use fingers, a flexible dough scraper or a dough hook on your machine
- It will look like a very rough, sticky mess. It’s supposed to
- Cover it with the clean tea towel
- Leave it for ten minutes
- Tip out on to a clean surface and use your dough scraper or fingers to get all of the residue out. Have your extra flour and scraper handy
- Knead the dough until the surface becomes silky and smooth – this will be about 10 – 12 minutes:
- Kneading: lightly hold on to the dough with one hand, placing the heel of your other hand on the opposite side of the dough (furthest away from you) and pushing it away from you to stretch it. Roll it back up, turn it and knead again. Swap hands if you get tired
- If – and only if – the dough is far to sticky to work with, dust a little flour on to the table. Otherwise you should persevere with kneading the dough without adding any more flour (this actually will change the ratio of flour to liquid and other ingredients so it’s best not to dust if you can)
- It should eventually start to come together without the flour and you can use your scraper from time to time to ensure all the dough is getting kneaded by scraping along the surface
- When the dough starts to come together, dust the bowl with flour to prevent it sticking (if you have not managed to take the dough out without leaving a lot behind, you may want to use a clean bowl)
- Roll the dough up into a dome shape and place in the floured bowl (no matter which way up yet)
- Cover the bowl either with the tea towel/cloth or cling film (or if you have one, a cheapo shower cap is ace for this)
- Leave to rise somewhere that isn’t cold until the dough looks like it’s about twice the height it was before. This could be anywhere from 50 minutes to three hours depending on how cold a space you have
- Lightly flour the counter you’ll be working on
- Tip out the risen dough gently into the middle of the flour on the counter and press down gently with your finger tips or your knuckles (I prefer this) all over to ‘knock back’ the dough (this is the term for popping the large air bubbles that have built up). Don’t be too vigorous – a lot of issues with bread are when the knocking back is too fierce: just enough to break the largest bubbles
- Fold the dough over on itself from one side to the middle, rotate it, and repeat all the way round
- Pinch the loose edges together in the middle to get them to ‘stick’
- You’re aiming to make the dome (on the underside) of the loaf tense and smooth without tearing it. By folding over towards the centre you create a tension in the surface of the loaf – it should look smooth and taut – add a few more tucks in if you think it needs it
- The result should be a circle or an oval – either shape is pleasing for a loaf
- Liberally flour your tea towel (or prepare your banneton with enough flour)
- Place the shaped dough with the seam side down in the middle of the cloth. Push the sides of the cloth up to gather it around the sides of the bread in order to support the shape and stop the bread spreading (though if you have successfully given the surface of the loaf enough tension it should hold, but this will still help)
- [If using a banneton, place in with the seam side facing upwards]
- Leave for the second proof – roughly an hour depending on the temperature. It will be ready when and it springs back into shape if you press it gently with the pad of a finger
- Just before your loaf looks ready, start to heat your oven to 220C fan (230C conventional oven)
- Dust your baking tray or stone with a little flour and pop it in the bottom of your oven. Make sure your oven shelves are far apart or your loaf will hit them as it rises!
- When the bread and the oven are ready, carefully scoop up the loaf with your peel or thin baking sheet [or tip out from the banneton to this sheet]
- [At this point you can slash the loaf if you want with a clean craft knife or baker’s grignette. I’d suggest if you’re nervous about slashing but do want to try, then just make a giant X score or a # shape (as in the image at the top of this page) – this will help you understand how the bread grows and rises in the oven. You’ll see the movement and rise, so you can try something more adventurous next time]
- Transfer the loaf to the oven and onto the baking stone/tray
- Mist the oven or pour a little water into a small tray at the bottom of the oven
- Shut the door and set the timer for 10 minutes
- After 10 minutes, turn the temperature down to 190C fan (200C conventional oven) and bake for another 25 minutes
- The bread should be nicely dark (though not burnt) where the slashes or cracks have occurred
- Test the loaf’s ‘doneness’ by tapping the bottom of it – it should sound hollow
- Leave to cool on a wire rack or something else that will allow airflow to the bottom of the loaf or the evaporated moisture that comes off a new loaf will gather and cause a soggy bottom (yes, this problem isn’t just confined to pastry!)
Some ideas how to change up your loaf, make it more interesting and use up what you have in the house
Replace all or part of the 280g water with other liquids. Try:
- Beer (up to 100% replacement)
- Cider or apple juice (up to 100% replacement)
- Milk (up to 100% replacement)
- Veg juices (usually best about 30-50% replacement, but can be up to 100%)
- Fruit juices (usually best to about 30-50% replacement)
Add in extra ingredients at the second kneading/knock back stage:
- Cheese and onion (fry the onion off) – a handful of each
- Tomatoes, especially cherry. Remove the pips and juice so you’re not making the bread too watery
- Nuts, a handful of nuts makes excellent bread. Be careful to remove all the shell (to save your teeth). Great source of added protein
- Chopped up cooked meats, such as salame, ham, bacon, leftover pulled pork
- A tablespoon of pesto
- Whatever cheeses you have left, even a mix – chop into small cubes so they oozed and melt rather than grate
Add in ingredients during the mixing stage (smaller ingredients are easier to incorporate at this stage):
- Seeds. Just about any edible seeds go great in bread or use a mix of seeds. Instead of adding them here you can also roll your bread in them after shaping to get a seeded crust
- Herbs – any that you like or have available. Basil, rosemary, parsley, chives, oregano, fennel are all particularly good
- Different salts – try adding a salt mix instead of plain salt (see both my salt mixes posts: flavoured salts part one and flavoured salts part two to make your own)
- Butter or oil – this makes the bread a little more elastic and a bit richer. For this size loaf add up to 15g butter or 1 1/2 tablespoons oil
- Rolled oats (porridge oats), malted wheat or spelt flakes
- A spoonful of marmite, honey, bovril etc is awesome in a loaf
Change some of your flour. Some flour types requires a different ratio of other ingredients (more/less water, additional proteins and gluten) so steer clear of total replacement until you’ve read up or practiced with part substitutions.
I’d suggest ideally replace 100-200g of the strong white bread flour with one of the following if you have it:
Making your bread look ‘nicer’…
If you want, once you’ve made a simple round loaf or two, you can start to experiment with making it look different.
- Simple plait – after the knocking back stage, divide the dough into three equal parts. Roll these into log shapes and do a simple plait
- Scoring – once the loaf is shaped and about to go into the oven, try slashing a pattern in it (I know I’ve mentioned a cross above). Simple ideas are some criss-cross hatches, or three deep slashes. See my post on 9 top tips on artful bread scoring to increase your repertoire
- Cover the top of the loaf – roll the loaf in some seeds or spray the top with a little water after shaping and sprinkle on some poppy seeds, linseeds, flax seeds, extra rock salt and pepper, chopped dried seaweed, herbs etc or
- ‘Paint’ the top of your loaf with diluted marmite, vegemite or bovril for a tastier, darker crust
- See my post on different bread shapes – you might like to try some of the simpler ones to start with or challenge yourself to some of the very complex (there’s one of my videos on there showing a complex plait)
- Make it into rolls. Don’t change the recipe, but after knocking back divide the dough into 6, 8 or 9 pieces (depending how small you want your rolls) and shape each piece of dough into a ball. Place these balls of dough about 2 cm apart, so they just touch when they rise in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes less – so 25 minutes in total (instead of 35). Still do the same technique with the oven, that is bake on high for 10 minutes before turning down.
Try the next-step-up recipes. Some of my other bread recipes which move on from a simple loaf include:
Or look up all my bread recipes