Friday, 9 March 2012

White Bread: The Directors Cut

I've been on somewhat of a bread odyssey recently, trying out different methods for various loaves. After a lot of tinkering and testing I think I've finally come up with a recipe that I'm really happy with. Now I'm not saying this will make the quintessential white loaf and in fact more experience bread bakers may well scoff at some of my slightly unusual methods. All I can say is I'm really happy with the fluffy and flavoursome bread this recipe creates and I'll be sticking with it for the foreseeable future! I make two stick loaves with this, but it's a great all rounder. You just need to adjust the baking time.

Right, so let's get started! I use fresh yeast for this recipe, which I managed to get in a nearby bread bakery. It costs literally pence, a real bargain (24p for enough for half a dozen loaves) and I keep it in one of my fridge compartments until needed.

The evening before I needed my loaves I placed 15g of fresh yeast in a large bowl with 200ml of warm water and 1tsp of sugar. I stirred it around with one of those little mini whisks until the yeast dissolved, then added 100g of very strong white bread flour and did the same until I was left with a creamy consistency. I covered with a dry tea towel and left overnight.

The next morning I measured out 220g of very strong white bread flour. I added 200g of the flour to my yeast mixture with 1/2tsp salt, keeping 20g of the flour aside. I mixed it with a wooden spoon, then when it came together, tipped it out onto a clean surface dusted with 10g of the flour left over and started kneading. My kneading technique is pretty basic and just involves pulling the dough away from my body, folding it back on itself, turning slightly and repeating. I did this for about 8 minutes, using the last 10g of flour if the dough got too sticky. By this time the dough had become smooth and elastic so I then formed it into a ball, dusted it all over with flour and placed it back into my mixing bowl. Finally, with my kneading arm aching, I covered with a damp tea towel and placed in a warm place.

After about 2 hours the dough had doubled in size, so I brought it back into the kitchen. I measured out 1/2tbsp of olive oil and spread it over my surface, then tipped out my dough onto it. I pressed the dough down with my fingers then gave it a brief final knead, treating the dough like a clock face and bringing the edges into the middle at each of the numbers. I then split the dough in half and rolled it out into two thin stick shapes about 30cm long. Finally I laid them back on my greased surface, sliced the top a few times with a sharp knife and covered again with my damp tea towel.

After 40 minutes I dusted a flat baking tray with some flour. I carefully lifted my two sticks off of the surface, placed onto the tray (The oil should stop the dough sticking) and gave the top of each a final light dusting of flour. I then placed into the centre of a cold oven and turned it up to 240C/475F/Gas 9. I know it sounds bonkers but it just seems to work for me this way. After about 20 minutes, the bread had a nice even colour so I removed it from the oven. To finish, I wrapped one of the loaves in a damp tea towel for 15 minutes as my niece and nephew wanted to try it and they prefer a soft crust!

Bread done!

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