When exactly did bread get so expensive? I mean seriously – one of the most basic of foods and you have to pay tooth and nail for a decent loaf. What erks me more is that when you look at the ingredients it has more additives than a packet of skittles. I could rant on for an age about the state of our food industry; and by ‘our’ I mean global not national. We’ve gotten ourselves into such a mess that we even have to sweeten and bleach our daily bread to make it more pleasing to the eye and more palatable to our now completely distorted taste buds. It is time to get back to basics and what better place to start than with bread.
Every country has its own equivalent. The French have their baguette, the Mexican’s have their tortilla and those from my part of the world have their loaf. Of course you can get all sorts of loaves now. Wholegrain, multiseed, half and half (this one kills me!) but when I think about my childhood in Ireland I remember a dense slice of white – a ‘Pan’ if you will. Yes, even in Ireland we have dozens of different types of bread that may be more readily associated with the Green Isle, for example: soda bread (no-one makes it better than your Granny and my Granny happens to make a pretty mean one), potato bread (to accompany that Ulster Fry you enjoy so much at the weekend) but on a regular weekday it’s all about that white slice smothered (and if you’re Irish you’ll know what I mean) in real butter (another travesty that has gone the way of folklore because some people think margarine is healthier!).
No longer will I stand to consume bread that has as much nutritional value as a Big Mac. Look, I was terrified, no, make that petrified the first time I embarked on my first bread dough. How could I make bread as perfect as a baker who has years of training and experience? But when I tapped the bottom of that loaf and heard that hollow sound, it was as if angels were singing in my ears “Halleluia”! Once you wrap your lips around that first bite of densely complex comfort food, you’ll never want to go back to the synthetic tosh masquerading as wholesome goodness sitting on the supermarket shelf. This recipe is too easy to ignore – none of that usual faffing you have with bread dough. No fussing about with yeast. It’s as simple as bunging it a bowl, resting it for a little while (you could unload the dishwasher and sweep the floor in the time) and popping it in the oven for mere minutes. Easy as 1, 2, 3… or is it a, b, c? No excuses now, off you go, your kitchen beckons!
675g (1 1/2 lb) strong white flour (pref. organic and unbleached)
2 tsps salt
1 sachet dried yeast
2 tbsp oil (I used canola) or 25g (1oz) butter (softened)
450ml (15 fl oz) hand-hot water
flour (for dusting) or beaten egg (to glaze)
In a large bowl mix the flour, salt and yeast. Measure the water into a measuring jug and add oil – if you are using butter rub it into the flour.
Pour half the liquid into the bowl and mix quickly to form a ball. Add the rest of the water gradually. Once you’ve formed a rough ball stop adding the water. If it becomes too wet add more flour although it should be a little sticky. Flour a surface and turn out the dough.
Knead the dough for around 5mins until it is smooth, elastic and no longer sticky.
Grease a 1kg (2lb) loaf tin – a standard size one basically. Press out the dough to the length of the tin and then stretch it to three times the width – it should be pretty malleable. Fold the long sides to the middle, turn over so the join is underneath and drop into the loaf tin. You can tuck the dough in if it doesn’t go in perfectly. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise for an hour until doubled in size. You know it’s ready when the dough springs back to the touch.
Pre-heat oven to 220 degrees celsius/ 425 degrees farhenheit/Gas mark 7. Dust the loaf with flour for a soft crust or brush with a beaten egg for a shiny one.
Bake for 30-35mins until golden. Turn out the loaf when warm – it should sound hollow when tapped. If it doesn’t return it to the oven, out of its tin, for a few minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
This recipe is adapted from the 2002 edition of Food and Drink.