There is something special about a freshly baked loaf of bread and I find it fascinating that just the process of adding water, salt, sugar and yeast to flour can produce such amazing results.
This basic bread recipe can be used to make buns, as a pizza base if you like a more leavened pizza, and for focaccia. Experiment and change it by adding raisins or seeds (cumin, fennel, sesame, poppy) when you knock it back.
You can double the ingredients if you want to make more. If you have a machine with a dough hook you can use it here to save yourself the job of kneading!
The basic recipe
7g active dried yeast, or 14g fresh yeast
Note: If using dried yeast, mix together the yeast and sugar in 3 tablespoons of warm water. Leave for 15 minutes until it starts to foam. (Fresh yeast can be crumbled directly into the flour.)
Step 1: Put the flour on a bench and make a well in the middle.
Step 2: Gradually pour the yeast mix and water into the well.
Step 3: Use your fingers to incorporate the wet with the dry. Make sure the water does not "breach" the sides of the well. Mix well.
Step 4: Start kneading by pushing the dough away from you with the heel of your hand. You have to be vigorous with this action.
Step 5: Roll and pull back towards you and repeat. This will take around 10 minutes. Move the bread slightly every time you push out so that you gradually incorporate the flour on the bench. If the dough is too damp, you can add a little flour.
Step 6: With your fingers, take a small piece of dough and pull it apart to see the development of the strands of gluten. If you can see through the dough and it does not tear, the gluten has developed and the bread can rest to rise. Keep kneading until it reaches this stage.
Some reasons why breads fail
- Old or stale yeast
- Not enough yeast
- Dough is too dry – needs more liquid
- Dough is too wet
- Rising time is too short or room is too cold
- Not enough yeast
- Needs more kneading
- Too much salt or sugar
- Too much/too little liquid
- Over-proved and dough collapses
- Holes – not knocked back properly and air holes remain
- Course texture – too much liquid, over-proved
- Wrinkles form on the skin means dough over-proved
Cracked crust (oven-spring)
- Oven too cool
- Dough not slashed
- Dough not covered during proving
- When the oven is too cool, the bread is pale, dry and hard
- When the oven is too hot, the crust is dark and burnt