The promise of real bread made at home without the hard miles of kneading may seem too good to be true – however, all you need is time and a large basin on your side.
Throughout the year, I teach bread making in all it’s various, glorious forms. From herb studded focaccias to stern, seeded ryes. Real bread in all its guises is my thing. However, like a chef sinking into her sofa at the end of a very long shift, balancing a swift supper of a plain omelet and a glass of wine upon her knee, the thing I make the most at home is the very simplest of bread.
The biggest demand this humble loaf makes of the baker is time. It works best for me on a Sunday when I’m catching up and preparing for the week ahead. I can drop into the kitchen perhaps three or four times over the course of the day and give the dough a quick fold, before replacing it’s sleepy cover and setting it back on the counter. The appeal of a slow dough is that the flavours have time to develop. And it’s not just the flavour. With time on its side, the gluten strands slowly swell with the moisture of the mix and build in strength of their own accord. The folding technique helps the process on its way but really it is time which is the key player in this process.
To make the most of this laid-back bread, I like to make three or four loaves at a time. A large basin or Tupperware tubs fits the bill grandly. Working on a formula of 500g bread flour – I sometimes mix it up with what I have in store, such as polenta or spelt flour but always staying within my 500g remit – to 350g water, 10g salt and a 7g sachet of instant yeast per loaf, I mix it all up using a wet hand in my basin and loosely cover with a clean tea towel. It is a honest to goodness as simple as that. I’ll leave the basin on my kitchen counter for up to eight hours, depending on my schedule. I don’t specifically place it in a warm place, as I would for a regular loaf because this is a slow dough and we don’t want the yeast to bolt. Through the day, drop by the dough and give it a turn. Using a wet hand, gently lift up a corner of dough and fold it into the centre of the mix. Turn your basin a quarter turn and repeat the folding action. Complete four folds in total so that the mix is folded in on itself, much like a yeasty envelope. Replace the covering tea towel to prevent cold drafts as the dough nestles in.
When you’re ready, and remember – this is a loaf very much to suit you – portion out your dough into 850g pieces, have a large oiled bread tin to hand and shape your dough, before dropping it into the tin, ready for it’s final proof whilst the oven heats up. Heat your oven as hot as it will go and after 30 minutes, when the loaves have increased in volume, slash the tops with a sharp knife and load them into the oven. I then drop the temperature down to 180c and bake for 40 minutes. To check if the loaf is cooked, gently tip out the tin and ‘knock’ on the base – if it sounds hollow, it’s baked. If it sounds dull, return it to the oven for another five to 10 minutes.
Flexible with the minimum of fuss, this is a loaf for a rainy day at home. Real bread, real lives – make it work for you.