My first loaf of bread came from a Paul Hollywood recipe in 2012. It came out looking like a doorstop and was heavy and the crumb was dense. But I was happy i'd made bread and it tasted ok. I'm sure this is how a lot of people start out. It was only through reading different recipe books and experimenting with recipes, that I learnt quite quickly that the only ingredients you need in bread, is a good quality strong bread flour, yeast, salt and water. No butter, not too much salt, no need for oil and more water! The key to a good loaf of bread is hydration...temperature and time.
500g Strong White bread flour. I use Charlecote Mill, natural white strong bread flour.
1 tspn Salt
10g Fresh yeast - dissolved in 20ml water / 7g or a sachet of dried yeast added straight into the flour
Up to 320ml of tepid water (Will need more if you are using wholemeal or wholegrains as they absorb more water)
Mix the salt in to the flour
If using fresh yeast dissolve in a small bowl with 20ml tepid water.
If using dry yeast simply sprinkle it in to the flour bowl. You will need to include the total amount of water in the recipe for this method 340ml.
Add 250ml of the water to start and then continue adding slowly until all of the water has been used up.
Keep mixing thoroughly until well combined.
If your dough seems to feel like it needs more water you can add more. If you are using wholemeal this is a thirstier grain so will require additional water. If your dough seems too wet, allow it to rest for up to 5 mins in the bowl. When your dough is well combined and feels and looks like wet porridge pour your dough out on to the counter and knead for approx 10 mins or until your dough springs back using the *spring test method* Leave to prove in a lightly oiled bowl for 90 minutes, covered in a clean tea towel, beeswax or cling film. When your dough has proved (doubled in size), lightly flour the work bench and tip your dough out on to the counter and shape into your boule. To do this you need to create a tightness in the dough that helps to shape it. Bring the top part of your dough into the middle, followed by the right side, the bottom half and then the left side. Then pull the dough parcel over so the seam sits at the bottom of the boule. To give the dough oven spring you need to create a tightness in the dough. Rotate the dough, using the work bench as an anchor and then pull towards you by an inch or so. repeat until the dough is tight and smooth. Check out the bite size shaping tutorial here and subscribe to the Youtube Channel!
Then place it in a well floured banneton to prove once again for 30 - 45 mins. If you do not have a banneton you can line a mixing bowl with a tea towel and flour with either a mix of wholemeal and white flour or brown rice flour. You are looking for the dough to have increased in volume. If you push down gently it should spring back gently.
In the meantime pre heat a dutch oven (DO) up to 250 degrees. (Heavy based casserole dish). If you don’t have one of these simply pre heat your oven with a tray in, to warm. If your oven does not get to that temperature then heat it up to its maximum. Bread needs heat to cook through so as long as its up to 220 degrees you should get a fully baked loaf.
Once your dough has proved, lightly flour the top (which will then become your base) and tip it gently into the hot DO. Or baking tray. Score your dough on the top. This helps the dough to cook but it also allows the dough to expand whilst it cooks. If you are using the DO bake for twenty mins with the lid on and reduce to 220 for the last ten fifteen minutes. If using a tray simply tip your dough onto the warm tray and bake for up to 30 mins. When the bread is baked to your colour liking, place the hot loaf out onto a a cooling rack for about 2 hours.
You can pre make the dough by leaving it to slow prove in the fridge over night. A fridge between 5-8 degrees is ideal.
Place in a lightly oiled bowl overnight in the refrigerator. By doing this the fermentation process is slowed down. The overall effect of this added natural process elevates the loaf to a longer fermented loaf, with enhanced flavour, better developed crumb inside and an overall better quality loaf. In the morning take out your dough and allow to come to room temperature. Allow to come to room temperature, then shape into the boule for the banneton or bowl and set to prove for 30 mins. Depending on the temperature of your dough and baking environment will depend on how long it takes for your dough to come to room temperature. You are looking for the dough to be room temperature to the touch before shaping and for it to come to increase to about 50% volume again before baking.
*Shape your kneaded dough into a boule shape. and push your index finger down on the dough. If the dough springs back it is ready to prove.*