A few years ago, I got into bread making in a pretty big way. At one point I was making 3-4 loaves a week! When I became pregnant my kitchen activity was severely curtailed. From about 5 months into my pregnancy I was struggling with really bad pelvic girdle pain, so standing in the kitchen baking was the last thing I felt like doing.
I did really miss baking bread though, and I’m hoping to get back into it this year.
Making your own bread has so many benefits. Here are just a few:
1. Kneading dough is such a great stress reliever. Admittedly, most of the time I use my stand mixer to do the hard work – but I always like to do a little kneading by hand. It brilliant for releasing any pent up anxieties. I like to listen to the radio or an interesting podcast (my new favourite weekly podcast is from food blogger Cate in the kitchen – check it out if you haven’t already – it’s always such a great listen) while I’m kneading – I find it pretty relaxing.
2. No nasties. I’m not going to pretend I don’t buy sliced bread on a weekly basis – I have 2 hungry teenagers to feed! But when you bake your own bread, at least you know exactly what is in it. No additives to make it last longer and you can control how much salt goes in, if you’re worried about that kind of thing. You could also use half wholemeal flour or add seeds, herbs or nuts. The options are pretty endless.
3. Fresh, just out of the oven warm bread with lots of salted butter is one of the best things in the world ever. Fact.
4. It’s much easier than you think.
If you’ve never baked your own bread but are worried it won’t turn out right, please don’t be scared – just give it a try. My first loaf was inedible – it was as hard as a brick! I didn’t let that put me off though – I was determined to produce a decent loaf that wouldn’t result in a broken tooth if you tried to bite into it.
The only thing I would say you need when making your own bread is patience. Sometimes the dough will take a bit longer to rise than a recipe states – when I first started baking, I used to wrongly think that was an indication that there was something wrong with the recipe. Sometimes it takes an hour, sometimes two, other times 2 1/2 hours. One thing to remember though is you can absolutely pop the dough in the fridge for a slower rise – it won’t kill it! Some people actually think doing this improves the texture of the finished loaf.
I’m delighted to say this loaf is anything but brick like – the crumb is soft, fluffy and is perfect for sandwiches. It also makes pretty amazing toast.
Soft white sandwich loaf
You will need:
One 900g (2lb) deep loaf tin, greased
500g strong white flour
1 7g sachet fast action yeast
7g table salt
1 tbsp honey
Place the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl and mix well.
Place the milk, honey and butter in a saucepan and melt over a medium heat, stirring to melt the butter. Try not to let the mixture get too hot – you don’t want it to come to the boil. When the butter has melted, remove from the heat. If the mixture is too hot it may kill the yeast, so if necessary set it aside to cool down for a few minutes.
Pour the lukewarm milk, melted butter and honey mixture into the flour, then mix with your hands or the mixer on low speed until you have a soft dough. If dry crumbs remain on the bottom, you might need to add a little more milk – a tablespoon at a time. Knead the dough by hand for about 10 minutes or about 5 minutes in a stand mixer, until the dough is very smooth, shiny and pliable. Return the dough to the bowl, cover and leave to rise for around 1-2 hours or until doubled in size.
Punch down the dough to deflate (also very satisfying!) then turn it out onto a lightly floured worktop. Knead the dough lightly, then press it out to an even rectangle roughly 26 x 30cm.
Roll up the dough tightly from one short end, like a Swiss roll, pinching the dough together as you roll. What you want to end up with is the dough in a sausage shape that will fit the length of your tin. Pinch the seam together (this will be the bottom of your loaf) then tuck the ends under and place the loaf in the tin.
Not perfect by any means, but just to give you an idea of the shape you’re looking for!
There are quick YouTube tutorials that show you how to do this if you’re like me and need the visual – I’m hoping to make some video tutorials in the coming months so watch this space!
Leave to rise at room temperature for about an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
When you’re almost ready to bake the bread, preheat the oven to 200C/180F/Gas 4. Dust with flour, slash your loaf with a very sharp knife/razor if you like and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown and makes a hollow noise when you tap the bottom.
Turn out the loaf onto a wire rackand leave to cool for a while before slicing, if you can resist!