Having tried to make bread once years ago, and ending up with something hard and tasteless, I gave up and decided that bread making was probably not one of my strengths.
However, recently I was browsing the flour section of the local supermarket (as you do), and looking at all the types of bread flour, I decided to forget my previous failure and try again. Picking up the cheapest own-brand white flour, I saw it had a simple recipe on the side which looked pretty fool-proof. So hurriedly throwing it into my shopping basket, along with a small tin of dried active yeast, I made my way to the check out.
I’d assumed that a recipe on the side of this would be as simple as could be in order to allow idiots like myself some instant easy gratification. Out with the measuring jugs, scales, butter, oil, sugar, mixing bowls and board to work on, I spent about 45 minutes working painstakingly through the recipe, getting flour everywhere – adding more water, then more flour, kneading away, but in the end a satisfying shaped and tasting loaf came out of the oven and was pronounced “Okay” by the nearest and dearest.
Well now that I’d had the taste of success, I was keen to replicate it, so a couple of days later (after the first loaf was finished), I repeated the whole process again. Another success! I was certainly on a roll here, and the family could look forward to a future of home-made bread.
Except that I’d now run out of flour. Back to the supermarket and feeling more adventurous this time, a wholemeal flour bag found its way in to the basket as well.
The recipe on the on the wholemeal bag was quite easy to follow, and a somewhat heavier loaf duly appeared from the oven.
Now it was time to get a bit more creative – this time I made the loaf with white flour, and added a mixture of sunflower and pumpkin seeds into it. This was judged very acceptable by the family.
Next loaf – calamity. Getting the bag of white flour down, I measured out the amount I had, and discovered that I only had half the amount I needed. Grabbing the wholemeal I made up the required quantity of flour and continued as before. Hmmm – this produced a great loaf (as my in-house critics judged), and a visiting friend asked my wife where she’d bought it from.
A chance encounter with pizza dough (I was assigned pizza making duties one evening) made me consider a few changes to the bread making recipe by using oil instead of butter.
As I made various loaves I tried a few different things to see how things could be changed.
The first was to see if I really needed to brush the dough with oil whilst it proved (proving is the process of letting the yeast do its job and making the dough rise). I discovered this wasn’t necessary. I also tried different types of sugar. The recipes all appeared to assume white sugar – I tried soft brown sugar in both the dough and when preparing the yeast. I replaced butter with olive oil and good quality rapeseed (canola) oil.
I also experimented with adding different ingredients: dried fruit and cinnamon, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh herbs from the garden (both whole and chopped) and using ordinary plain white flour. I also tried flour from different own-brand manufacturers.
I wanted to get a recipe that was never-fail, quick and easy and one that could be used as a base for trying different flavours.
The recipe I now use is about as basic as it gets, but it produces a good plain loaf that can be used for sandwiches and toasting. It also seems pretty forgiving with regards to quantities also. I know how full to fill my mixing bowl, so I don’t need to weigh quantities exactly. It’s happy with both brown and white sugar and butter or oil can be used. It’s also quite quick to make (although the time taken for the dough to rise is something that can’t be rushed )
Before I go to the recipe, one final word about the yeast. I’ve only used the dry active yeast that needs to be prepared. Since yeast is the key to good bread, I like the reassurance that the yeast is active before adding it. By making the yeast up first, you can see it is ready to go. Thinking back to my failure, i think I had either used out of date or badly stored yeast.
So, on to my easy recipe in my next post