Although my family's not religious, at home Sundays are a kind of sacred thing, and we take them very seriously. Depending on the weather, we'll go for a long walk with the dogs, have either a pub lunch out or a roast dinner at home, Mum will generally bake something chocolately and delicious, and then we inevitably end up watching a film by the fire in the evening. It's totally idyllic, totally relaxing, and totally my favourite day of the week. It's a quieter day - a day for eating and nature and afternoon naps, which are maybe my 3 favourite things in the universe.
Even though I'm at university now & have so few class hours that most days are basically Sundays, once the actual day rolls around I always switch into Sunday mode. I become even less likely to do work than I already am, I feel just a tiny bit sleepier than I ordinarily might, and I become filled with this insatiable desire to make the whole house smell like food. This past Sunday the sky was blue & the air was crisp, so I took myself for a lonesome little stroll down by the river & phoned home to chat to my Mum for a bit. I love this time of year, where the leaves are starting to turn and fall, and the thought of wearing anything other than cardigans and jumpers becomes suddenly unthinkable. It made me want to bake something seasonal, like an apple crumble or a pumpkin pie or something like that, but in the end I decided to try my hand at something that's always terrified me. Bread.
Obviously bread itself doesn't terrify me, because there are few joys in life greater than that of toast with butter & jam, but baking it? With like, kneading and proving and other words that I only just found out were real? Um, no. Far too much bother. And I am a hobbit not particularly interested in bother. But, like most other human beings, I've been obsessed with Great British Bake Off recently, & it's made me realise how truly ridiculous it is that I think of myself as someone vaguely adept at baking, yet cannot bake bread. So, I found the easiest looking recipe that the BBC had to offer, and got to work.
The result: oh my goodness. Obviously I've eaten freshly baked bread before in my life, but there's something even better about freshly baked bread that you've made yourself. I genuinely may never buy bread from shops again, because this was so cheap & so easy and honestly, the stuff in shops doesn't even compare. The crust was perfectly crunchy without being chewy, the inside was deliciously soft, and it took every ounce of self restraint I had not eat the entire loaf in one go. In fact, it barely lasted till Tuesday. If you've never made bread before, I seriously urge you to give it a go.
To make one medium sized loaf, you will need:
- 500g bread flour - I used strong wholewheat, but you could granary or white or whatever you'd like!
- 1 7g sachet of fast action dried yeast.
- 1 teaspoon of salt.
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
- 1 tablespoons of clear runny honey.
1. Begin by tipping your flour, yeast & salt into a large bowl. You don't have to sift any of the ingredients, just mix it all together with your hands.
2. In a separate bowl/jug, stir 300ml lukewarm water together with the oil & the honey. The water should be hot to the touch, but not so hot you can't stick your hand in.
3. Stir the water, oil & honey mixture into the dry ingredients to make a soft dough.
4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead thoroughly, for about 5-10 minutes. If you're not sure how to knead, you can either a) ask a grandmother or elderly relative of some kind who I guarantee will tell you at length, or b) youtube it. Either is fine, and either will do a far better job of explaining it than I ever could.
5. Once the dough no longer feels particularly sticky, you've kneaded it enough. At this stage, oil your loaf tin and put the dough into the tin, pressing it in evenly.
6. Place the tin into a large plastic bag, and leave it to rise. Obviously the warmer the place the better, but don't worry about sticking it next to a radiator and wrapping it up in blankets or anything like that - the warmest room in the house should be fine. Leave the radiator and blankets for you. Winter is coming!
7. Leave to rise for about an hour or so. Mine ended up taking about an hour and 15 minutes until I could press it with a finger and the dough wouldn't immediately spring back. Also, this is the point where you - like me - should be exclaiming excitedly to your housemates about how "It's risen! This is magic! Oh my god!".
8. About fifteen minutes before your dough is sufficiently proved, preheat the oven to about 200 degrees c/180 for a fan oven.
9. With a knife, make several slashes in the top of your loaf & place it into the oven.
9. Now comes the part where you, like every Great British Baker across the land, kneel anxiously in front of your oven - because I found the actual baking of the bread far harder than kneading or proving or anything like that. My oven is a serious trooper and I unfortunately placed the loaf a little too high up, so after about 20 minutes the top of my loaf was a pretty dark shade of brown. But it was all fine, and baking is a process of trial & error so for a first attempt I was happy. I just moved it a few shelves down in the oven and turned the heat down to about 175. In the end, my bread took about 40 minutes to cook - but if you are smart enough to place the bread not right next to the grill, and if you're familiar with how your oven likes to behave (new oven man, it's such a hassle), then it should take you about 30-35 minutes.
10. Every bread recipe I've ever read gives the frustratingly vague instruction that the bread is done once it "sounds hollow". Does anybody out there know what "hollow bread" is supposed to sound like??? In fact, in the above picture that is the precise question I'm googling - hence my frowny face. Perhaps this is the sort of knowledge that will come after a few bakes, or perhaps you have a secret you're willing to share? After tipping it out onto a cooling rack me and my housemates crowded around and spent a good 5 minutes knocking at the base, before concluding that, yeah, that was probably what hollow bread sounded like. Just to double check, I inserted in a thermometer into the centre and it read 180 - which is the precise temperature at which most bread loaves are cooked.
11. Leave to cook on a wire rack for about half an hour or so - but don't wait too long, because if freshly baked bread straight from the oven is wrong, then, well, I don't want to be right.