Baking bread is often spoken of as an art form that few can master, except well-trained chefs and the best home cooks.
And while certain kinds of bread certainly benefit from experience and training, basic bread recipes are amongst the simplest things to make in the world of cooking.
There’s no real “knack” to making bread: it simply requires practice, patience, a warm corner and an enthusiastic pair of hands. If you’re a budding new bread baker, here are a few basic recipes to get you started.
A basic white bloomer
A white bloomer is a very simple loaf and the perfect starting point if you’ve never made bread before. Start with 500g of strong white flour in a large bowl. Mix in a sachet of fast-action dried yeast and a teaspoon of salt; at this stage you can add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil or rapeseed oil, to help keep the bread moist. Then, stir in around 300ml of warm water and mix until you have a rough-looking ball of dough. Always start with a measuring jug of around 270ml and then add more if necessary – this way, you avoid adding too much water.
Tip the dough out onto a floured surface and knead the bread until it forms a soft and smooth ball, which usually takes around five minutes. “Kneading” sounds difficult, but you’re simply massaging and stretching the dough. Once you’ve found your own rhythm, kneading can be very therapeutic. This BBC video sheds some light on how to knead dough.
Once your dough has been kneaded, place it in a bowl and cover with some lightly oiled cling film. Leave it in a warm place to rise until it’s doubled in size. This is the proving stage, which can vary from 45 minutes to a few hours. You can also leave the dough to prove overnight in the fridge; it just takes a bit longer if the temperature is low.
Then, gently punch your dough to knock the air out of it – shape it in to a round or oblong loaf and cut a slit into the top. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 220°C (Gas Mark 7) for around 30 to 40 minutes. It’s done when you hear a hollow sound when the bottom of the loaf is tapped.
If you’re struggling to follow the recipe, this video from BBC Good Food is a great step-by-step illustration of what’s required.
Making soda bread
From start to finish, a white bloomer loaf can take just a couple of hours. But if even that’s too long to wait, soda bread offers you an even easier ride. Start with 350g of plain flour. Add half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and the same amount of salt, and mix together. Now, add a carton of buttermilk, which usually comes in 284ml portions in major supermarkets. Lightly knead the dough into a round shape and cut a cross at the top with a knife. Place this on a baking sheet and bake at 200C (Gas Mark 6) for around 30 to 40 minutes.
Soda bread is great simply served with butter and jam, and it’s easy to tweak it to suit your preferences too. For instance, you can use a mixture of plain and wholemeal flour to make a healthier loaf, or as suggested by this good soda bread recipe, throw in handful of pumpkin and sunflower seeds to add texture.
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