This is, quite frankly, the best bread ever. People always talk about bread making as therapy, all that kneading to get your tension out and then sitting back and relaxing while the yeast does its thing and the smell of freshly baked bread floats round your home. However, producing a decent home-made loaf that’s sufficiently chewy and crusty to pass as real bread is something that has always eluded me. This one was it. What it wasn’t was a therapeutic job. Bread-making is hard work.
The recipe is a Paul Hollywood one and, true to form, is reliable. It’s full of useful extra tips which really make a difference. Didn’t stop me cursing his name at at least two vital points. It starts with strong white bread flour, a packet of yeast, salt, oil and cold water. He is fairly adamant here that warm water is unnecessary. The recipe does call for what seems like quite a lot of salt, 10g, but go with it. It doesn’t taste salty but more bready. It also helps strengthen the gluten.
Then knead, on an oiled surface rather than floured, so that the dough doesn’t absorb excess flour. Unfortunately I am little and weedy, so kneading with any sort of oomph behind it is tricky (I have to stand on tiptoes to get any sort of height above the counter for a start). Plus the dough is quite sticky at this point and keeps absorbing all the oil as you knead. This was my first sweary point. Stick with it. When you’ve had enough stick it an oiled bowl and cover with cling film.
Go for a long walk (quite literally in my case). Three hours later it looks like THIS! It even did the thing where the cling film balloons up.
Now knock it back. This makes me sad. Three hours of work knocked out. But it makes the bread rise more evenly so must be done. Shaping was the final bit. This is not as easy as it looks on TV and made me swear again. It needs to be tucked under quite firmly for the loaf to holds its shape since it’s not in a tin. Mine sort of spread as it was left to prove for another hour and a half (have a nap, watch the football). Before it went in the oven a sprinkling of water and dusting of flour finished it off. As instructed, I also left a preheated tin in the bottom which is filled with water to create steam in the oven.
Then, with the smell of warm bread wafting round the kitchen, it all seemed worth it. It came out of the oven with a beautiful crust, was light and fluffy inside with the right amount of chew. Even with the rather elongated slices it made delicious sandwiches.
It lasted till Thursday, when the supermarket bread buns we had to go back to seemed sweet and soggy in comparison. The last heel of the bread made some delicious croutons baked in the oven at 180C for 15 minutes with some parmesan sprinked over. These topped off a butter bean soup nicely.
So although it took a whole day, homemade bread is indescribably nicer than shop bought. Make sure you do exactly as Paul Hollywood says at all points, stay zen and maybe work on your biceps.