Wednesday, 30 July 2014

All good bread starts with a good basic bread recipe

One of my favourite gadgets in my kitchen (and I have a few) is my bread machine! I've had it for years now and it's definitely seen better days but it still turns out lovely loaves time and time again with very little effort. I use it nearly every week and, even though it's not the most stylish contraption in my kitchen and it makes a weird clanking sound when it mixes, I'm loathe to replace it until it has given up the ghost completely. Even when I'm feeling a bit creative, I'll put it on the 'dough' setting so I can shape it into rolls, batons or anything else I fancy and the finished result is always fantastic.

Let's be clear though - man had been making bread for millennia before bread machines came along so a machine is obviously not an absolute necessity. For me, the real secrets to making good bread are a good basic recipe, lots of kneading (by hand or machine) and a warm place to rise (which for me is the airing cupboard). Over the years I've tried lots of different recipes with varying degrees of success but the one I've detailed below I have found to be the most reliable that always turns out light, fluffy bread.

I used this recipe to make the Parmesan, tomato and basil rolls pictured and have explained how to vary the basic recipe in my notes.

Basic White Bread Recipe

Notes: To make Parmesan, tomato and basil rolls add 50g of grated Parmesan cheese to the ingredients at the start then add 40g chopped sundried tomatoes and 2 tsp chopped basil at the kneading stage - knead these ingredients into the bread well to ensure they are evenly dispersed throughout the dough. Other than that, just follow the recipe and timings below.
If using a machine, there may be a setting to add 'extras' - this should be selected to ensure that it adds the tomatoes and basil at the right point to prevent them from becoming chopped too small by the machine.

When using a machine always check the consistency of the bread during the early stages of kneading. If the dough is too dry add water 1tbsp at a time; if the dough is too wet add more flour 1tbsp at a time.

Makes 1 medium loaf approx 750g (1½ lb) or 8 bread rolls.

475g strong white flour
1tsp caster sugar
1½ tsp salt
1½ tsp fast action dried yeast
2tbsp oil
250ml warm (not hot) water


If using a bread machine:
1. Add the water, oil, sugar and salt to the tin of the bread machine.

2. Spoon in the flour and sprinkle the yeast on top. 

3. Set the machine according to the size of the loaf, start the machine and allow the programme to run. If you plan to shape the dough by hand and finish it off in the oven, set the machine to 'dough' and when the programme has finished continue from stage 3 below.

If making the dough by hand:
1. Put the flour into a bowl and stir in the sugar, salt and yeast. Gradually mix in enough of the warm water until it forms a soft dough.

2. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead well for at least 5 minutes - the dough should be smooth and stretchy. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with a clean tea towel or oiled cling film and leave in a warm place for approx 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in size. 

3. Turn the well-risen dough out onto a floured surface and knead gently until smooth. At this stage either place into an oiled loaf tin or shape into rolls, batons etc and place on an oiled baking sheet. Cover with lightly oiled cling film and allow rise in a warm place for a further 30 minutes.

4. Bake whole loaves in a preheated oven at  200°C / 400°F / Gas Mark 6 for 35 minutes. The loaf can be covered with foil after 20 minutes to prevent it from burning if necessary. For rolls, reduce the cooking time to 10-15 minutes.

5. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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