To me, bread is France, France is bread, and thinking about bread could even make me feel a tad homesick actually. Getting nice freshly baked bread seems like such a fuss in North-London, whereas going to the bakery for a baguette was just part of my daily routine when I lived in France. I love everything about fresh bread: the smell, the crunchy crust, the soft, warm middle, and the endless possibilities of what to eat with it… A piece of square bread is good for the occasional toasted sandwich, but there is nothing like nice, crusty bread to mop up gravy, for butter and honey on toast or for a sandwich that feels like a treat. Oh gosh, I could live on baguette and smelly French cheese… Sorry, digression… Focus, Mel, focus! To go back to the subject matter, I did attempt making bread once when I was a teenager, and after kneading for what felt like hours, the loaf did not rise, then did not cook properly and I ended up with a charred, inedible lump of dough. My bread-making enthusiasm went straight to the bin with that loaf!
Since then, I had never thought of making my own bread again, until I stumbled upon a post on Janet’s blog, “Simply so Good”. The recipe only included 3 ingredients and tap water, a promise you would not have to knead and an unbelievably easy process. I was really sceptical… It really looked too easy to be true, but I decided to have a go.
What was the worst thing that could happen? We would not have yummy bread that night? Well, I had not had any since I had last gone to France so I thought having a go would not hurt, and it was so simple my four-year-old boy made the dough all by himself. I just had to supervise and give it a last stir.
It worked! The bread turned out just like it was supposed to! I have been making bread a couple of times a week ever since, after I adapted the recipe slightly to make it work for us. I have also been taking yummy loaves in pretty tea towels as presents when going to my friends’ for lunch.
Right, time to move on to serious business: how to make this delicious bread. Here is what you will need:
2 cups (300g) plain flour, 1 cup (150g) self-raising flour ½ tsp (1g) yeast (“easy bake” or “fast action”) 1 ½ tsp (10g) salt 1 ½ cups (350 ml) water
First, get your ingredients together, and mix all the dry stuff in a large bowl with a spatula (I normally use a 2L bowl).
Add the water, and mix for a couple of minutes with your spatula.
I know, it looks like a little mount of gooey matter, and that is just the way it is supposed to look.
Cover your bowl with cling film and leave to rise in a warm (not hot) place for 12 to 24 hours. I normally get the dough ready around 9 p.m. and cook the bread either at 12 p.m. for lunch the next day or around 6 p.m. for dinner.
When you are ready to cook your bread, preheat your oven to gas mark 8 (230 degrees Celsius / 450 degrees Fahrenheit). Using your spatula, drop the sticky dough on a heavily floured work surface (when I have people coming over and want to keep my kitchen clean, I use baking paper which I can throw away with the leftover flour). Shape the dough in a sort of ball and roll it in the flour so it gets covered all around.
Place your cooking dish (I use my cast iron Le Creuset casserole dish with the lid on or a loaf tin with foil on top) in the oven to warm for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, make sure the dough is nicely covered in flour all around and plop it in your chosen cooking dish (no grease needed, just put some flour in the bottom of your dish if you are worried the bread might stick). Cook for 30 minutes with the lid (or foil) on, and a further 15 minutes uncovered, and ta-da! You have delicious home-made bread…
Now good luck to resist the temptation to eat it as it is on your cooling rack…
Alternatives: I really like a seeded loaf, and would normally add anything I have in the cupboard without measuring, from poppy seeds to sesame seeds, sunflower seeds to pumpkin seeds. Today I put two teaspoons each of poppy seeds and sesame seeds in my bread mix. I sometimes add a couple of tablespoons of pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. I also think half a cup of walnuts makes bread that goes amazingly well with goat’s cheese. You can add anything you fancy to flavour your bread, from seeds to nuts to raisins to cheese to herbs. Just mix it with the flour, salt and yeast before adding the water.
If you use a loaf tin rather than a cast iron casserole dish, you will only need plain flour and your bread will raise beautifully.