I don't know about any of you but I for one hate buying bread. I know how simple it is to make so it just seems wrong to purchase it. Standard sliced pans seem too fluffy and insubstantial since I started making my own and I balk at the prices for artisan breads - what I'd pay for a single loaf I could buy the ingredients and make 4 or 5 myself! Plus who can resist the smell of freshly baked bread, or the seemly magic process of watching the dough rise? That's the best part about making bread yourself, you're not just getting the end product but the whole experience. It brings back memories in such a rush too, sitting in either of my grandmother's kitchens, watching the bread some out of the oven, smothering the still-warm slices in butter and home-made jam and then running outside to eat it in the sunshine, shooing away curious bees attracted by the sweet, warm stickiness. Try putting that in a wrapper!
Nothing can evoke memories in quite the same way that scents can. The smell of coconuts will always remind me of holidays in the sun, and of sunburn! Orange blossom always brings me back to the time I spent in Toronto, though I have no idea where that connection was made. Fresh lemons remind me of my Mum making us pancakes for breakfast, tomatoes remind me of one of my aunts and the greenhouse she had in her former home in Dublin. Scent connects us to our past, to moments shared and experiences we'd almost forgotten.
A final word on this dough before I dive into the recipe; it can be used for almost any variation. The standard dough, sans wheat bran and seeds, makes a lovely white bread. Just leave them out and follow the rest of the recipe as it is. It also makes lovely pizza dough, simply roll it out and cover it in the toppings of your choice after the first proving, then pop it in the oven. It makes insanely good toast with a slightly sticky, chewy texture. Sliced and covered in peanut butter and chopped banana it is the super quick anytime of day snack (honestly, try it - peanut butter and jelly be-damned!). I've made it with beer today but you can use water too, I often do and it's just as good. It can also be used as the base for fougasse (basically a french style focaccia). Anyway, on with the recipe!
Makes: 1 large round loaf
500g/14oz strong white bread flour (plus extra for dusting)
300ml/ 1.25 cups hand-hot water/beer/milk
1 handful of wheat bran
1 generous handful mixed seeds of your choice (I've used sesame, sunflower, linseed and pumpkin)
7g sachet easy-blend yeast (available in most supermarkets) or 15g fresh yeast
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar (or honey)
2 tbsp olive oil
- Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl, there's no need to sift it. For the dried yeast you can just pour it in too. The fresh yeast needs to be crumbled in and rubbed into the flour a little (like you would if making pastry or a crumble). Add the wheat bran, salt and sugar (or honey) now too.
- To get your hand-hot liquid I find that it's best to take about one-third of the overall liquid and boil it, then add the cold two-thirds. This ensures it's warm without being too hot (it needs to be warm enough the activate the yeast but not so hot that it actually kills it!). Add the oil to the liquid and give it a quick stir.
- Make a well in the centre of your dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid and oil mix in one go. Mix quickly using your hand (or a wooden fork) to make a soft, sticky dough. Make sure you wipe the dough around the bowl to pick up any loose flour.
- Sprinkle a clean work surface with flour and turn our the dough onto it. Knead the dough by stretching it away from you, and then folding it in half toward you before stretching it away again. Give it a quarter turn and repeat. You'll get into a rhythm after a minute and it's a great way for working out any stress or frustrations!
- After a few minutes make a little pocket in the dough and pour your choice of seeds in here. Continue kneading for a few more minutes until you have a nice scattering of seeds throughout and the dough is smooth.
- Put the dough back in the mixing bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rest for an hour. The dough has risen enough when it has doubled in size and springs back when you press it gently with your finger. This is the first proving.
- Tip the dough onto a floured surface once more and knead gently for a few seconds to remove air bubbles (knock it back as it's called). Shape into a round and place on a non-stick baking sheet. Make 3 or 4 slashes across the top with a sharp knife. Cover once more and rise for 30 minutes (this is the second proving). While it rises preheat your oven to 240C/475F/Gas Mark 9. Bake for 30-35 minutes until browned and crisp (you'll know it done if you tap the bottom of the loaf and it sounds hollow).
- Cool on a wire rack. This bread should keep for 2-3 days but honestly, it's normally all gone by the next morning in this house!