Looks good, doesn't it? It was delicious. So good, in fact, I made the very same loaf twice in one week and actually wrote down my recipe! Normally I just wing it, but the French Guy told me this was the loaf of loafs and a few of my Facebook friends requested the details, so here goes...
3C Bread Flour
3/4C Plain Flour
1/4 C Whole Meal Bread Flour
1 Packet Active Dry Yeast
1 TBSP Sea Salt (or slightly less, ground)
1 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil (or so)
2C Very warm water (approximately)
1. In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients, then add the oil. I use a fork, though some say a wooden spoon is best for bread dough.
2. Stir in the water slowly, mixing and shaping into a ball with your fork (you can dig straight in with your hands if you prefer).
3. Once all of the flour is combined, ditch the fork and turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface (I use a large plastic cutting board). Knead the dough for 5 to 10 minutes, adding pinches of flour as necessary, until you have a relatively silky ball of dough.
*** If you've never done this before, relax and enjoy the process. Remove rings first! Resist the urge to add too much flour - it will get less sticky as you go along. Also, I find that adding a touch more oil mid-way through the kneading process helps keep it moist (which makes for better bread) while reducing the sticky-factor.
4. Return your ball of dough to the bowl and cover with a damp kitchen towel or cling film (that's what I use). Leave to rise for 1 to 2 hours in a warm (not hot), draft-free place until the dough has at least doubled in size.
5. Knock out the air (that means to gently push down the dough with your fist). Knead it again for 2 to 3 minutes.
6. Lightly oil your baking pan (don't use your good olive oil unless it's all you have - vegetable or sunflower oil is fine for this; you just don't want your bread to stick) and shape the dough into your preferred bread shape.
***For this loaf, I did a standard bread loaf shape because I was going to use it for school lunch sandwiches. I used the same recipe for a pizza dough and that was delicious too (you just roll it out in place of step 7 below and you have enough for 1 pizza and bread-sticks, too!)!
7. Flour and Score: Lightly dust the loaf with flour and then slash a very sharp knife through the dough in your preferred pattern. Not too deep - just a few centimeters will do. Leave it to rise for another 30 minutes or just until your oven is good and hot; your choice.
Now, for the cooking. My oven tends to burn everything! Knowing how your oven cooks things is important here, so you may not need to do exactly what I do, but here's what I do:
8. Preheat the oven to 200°C/375°F using the Fan option if you have one. If you don't have a fan oven, preheat it to 210°C/400°F instead.
9. Pop your baby (I mean the loaf) into the center of the oven, ensuring there is enough room between racks for your bread to double in size.
10. After 5 minutes, reduce your heat back down to 200°C/375°F and/or switch the setting to side-heat. Cook for a total of 40 minutes.
*** At the 20-minute mark, I pop a piece of foil over my loaf so that it the outside doesn't burn and the inside can fully cook. You may not need to do this - know your oven!
11. Take a few sniffs. Oh, there's nothing like the smell of baking bread!
12. When the time is up, remove your bread. It should move easily, or at least with little effort on your part to move it, on the baking sheet. If it is still really stuck, pop it back in for 5 - 10 more minutes. Turn it on it's side and knock on the bottom of the loaf. If it is soft, put it back in for another 10 minutes. If it sounds hollow and is quite firm, it's done!
13. Leave it to rest for 30m to an hour if you can resist tearing into it right away. It will finish cooking during this period, so do try to leave it alone! ;)
Now, this whole thing sounds long and complicated, but when you put it together it is really very quick and easy. I do the first steps in the early afternoon and knock it back down just before I leave to pick-up my kids from school (if you're a work-outside-of-the-home person, try it on your day off! It's good stress-relief!). Sometimes I even let it fully rise once more in the bowl and only shape it once I'm home, leaving it to rise again while the oven preheats.
Baking bread is a creative process; an art more than a science. This is a very basic loaf. Once you've done it a few times you can experiment with your own combination of ingredients, shapes and sizes. It's fun and tastes better than anything you've ever bought from the store!! It's very nearly as satisfying as carrying and giving birth to a child. Really.
Give it a go and tell me how it turned out!!! Baking bread rocks!!!