How to Bake Bread Easily
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Homemade bread tastes heavenly and is easy to make.
Many people believe that baking bread is difficult and frequently goes wrong, that it is time consuming and hard work. Nowadays people even buy machines to do it for them. How many of you have a bread machine languishing a cupboard? Our house is the same.
So before I give you a recipe, let’s explode a few myths.
Myth One: Bread making is difficult and frequently goes wrong.
As a kid, I had a book in which two cats baked bread that kept on rising when it went into the oven. It burst the oven door, flowed through the kitchen and out into the garden.
I can tell you with all honesty that has never happened to me – but then I’ve never let my cats bake bread.
I’ve made brown bread, French bread (with unbleached white flour), and I’ve made rolls and bagels. And I’ve thrown none of it away.
My husband and his bread machine have made – um – bread, because bread machines aren’t actually all that versatile, and you certainly couldn’t fit a French loaf into one. We’ve thrown probably about a third of the machine-made bread away because it hasn’t risen properly. I have no idea if this is representative of the population as a whole, and I imagine the bakers in Tesco and Wal-Mart probably don’t knead their dough by hand, but in our family at least baking by hand wins hands down.
Myth Two: Bread making is time consuming and hard work.
While it is true that bread needs about 10 - 15 minutes of kneading, most f the time involved in bread making it is sitting quietly in a corner, leaving you time to read a book! With modern fast acting yeast you only need to leave it to rise once.
And kneading does not mean pummelling as most people imagine. Watch the video below to see how to do it.
Kneading dough on YouTube
Myth Three: it takes years to master the techniques required bake really good bread.
Picture this scene: a mother and two little children in a kitchen. All are kneading dough, and after it has risen they shape it into rings. The mother pops the rings into a pan of boiling water for a few minutes and afterwards the kids arrange the rings on a baking tray. Some are beautiful rounds, some oddly shaped, but they all go into the oven. When bagels are ready the kids eagerly eat the food they have made.
This was my kids’ introduction to bread. The bagels weren't perfect, but my girls remember that day with pleasure and they still enjoy baking. In particular they both find it soothing if they don’t feel well. My twelve year old gets the urge to bake muffins or cookies, but for her thirteen year-old sister it’s kneading dough that does the trick, and she made the bread in the photographs shown here. They had no idea that baking bread was supposed to be difficult or shrouded in mystique and so they developed confidence that they could bake, and that the results don’t need to be perfect.
Sorbitan Allergy Alert
The easiest way to start baking bread is to use instant yeast. However, many of these yeasts contain sorbitan, a corn derivative to which some people are allergic. If you are allergic to corn or sorbitan, then buy regular yeast instead. Even with regular yeast it’s possible to get good results easily if you add some vitamin C to the yeast. But be careful because many brands of vitamin C contain sorbitan or maize starch! In the UK, Higher Nature sells effervescent vitamin C tablets with no artificial additives. After checking the ingredient lists of scores of vitamin C products available on Amazon.com I recommend you buy a pure ascorbic acid or vitamin C powder, as almost all others contain artificial ingredients or ingredients made from corn.
To make bread with regular yeast and Vitamin C, add these to the warm water and allow to dissolve before adding the liquid to the flour. You will need 25 grams/1 oz of yeast and small pinch of vitamin C powder for this recipe.
The Key to Successful Bread Making
My kids discovered the key to successful bread making: have confidence that it will work out, and don’t worry if the results aren’t perfect. The worst that can happen is your bread might be a bit too firm, but as I’ll explain in the recipe you can tell if that’s likely to happen before you put the bread in the oven and you can take steps to remedy it.
If a three-year-old can knead dough, so can you! So let’s bake bread.
A note about flour and sugar.
The bread in these photos was made with malted grain flour, which doesn’t seem to exist outside the UK. As a substitute I suggest half wholegrain flour and half unbleached white.
As you get more used to bread making you can omit the sugar as Vitamin C will activate the yeast for you, but when starting out it’s probably best to use a little sugar.
Dried yeast quantity
A note about yeast.
This recipe uses a sachet of yeast that contains 7 grams; this is equivalent to a dessertspoonful – see the photo on the right. As with everything in this recipe, don’t worry about getting it exact!
If you would prefer to use fresh yeast or if you are allergic to corn, read the allergy alert information in the blue box above.
Ingredients for Bread
600 grams/1 lb 5 oz of bread flour (half wholemeal/ half unbleached)
A sachet of easy bake, quick or fast-action yeast.
A teaspoon of salt
One teaspoon of sugar
15 grams/half an ounce of soft butter
15 ml/one tablespoon of vegetable oil
400 ml/ 14 fluid oz of warm water – to get the right temperature use roughly one third of boiling water to two-thirds cold.
Recipe steps in pictures
Preparing your dough:
Sieve the flour into a bowl.
Add the salt and sugar.
Rub the butter into the flour, or if you prefer to use oil, just stir it in.
Prepare the warm water and add to the flour. Mix well to a soft dough.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is stretchy. To knead dough you push it down and fold the top over, then turn it a quarter turn and repeat the process. (If you are unfamiliar with kneading then watch the video.)
When your dough is stretchy, as in the photo below, it is ready to “prove” or rise.
A loaf of bread
Raising and cooking your dough
Shape the dough however you’d like – you can do it “freehand” as in these photos, or place it into a large loaf tin.
Cover with a slightly dampened tea towel and leave it in a warm place for around 45 minutes. If you have one, an airing cupboard is an ideal place to prove bread, but any warm place will do, such as a warm windowsill or near a radiator, cooker or stove. If it has doubled in size, it’s ready.
Don’t panic if it hasn’t risen as you’d hoped, it doesn’t mean you’ve got it wrong, just that it needs to prove a little longer. The time it takes to rise will depend on the surrounding temperature. I’ve read a recipe that suggests it’s possible for dough to rise overnight in the fridge, but I can’t vouch for this.
When your bread has risen nicely it’s time to bake it. Do this at 230°c/450°F/210° fan oven/Gas Mark 8 for 30 minutes until the bread is nicely browned as in the photograph.
Try to wait for a few minutes before tearing into it, but if you can’t manage that, know that you’re not alone!