I used to struggle with baking bread at home. It took me a while to realize what I was doing wrong. Then, around two years ago, I had a eureka moment – it just worked for me and everything clicked into place. I haven’t stopped baking bread since, which is a mixed blessing – I love making fresh bread, and it tastes wonderful, but it doesn’t really agree with me, or my waistline too well.
I’ve tried lots of recipes in search of the perfect loaf, and I now have about five or six recipes that I love to make, depending on the occasion. My conclusions are that the simplest recipes are the best – I don’t think that bread benefits particularly from added milk, vinegar or being brushed with egg yolk before being baked. I like to keep things simple.
One of my go-to recipes is this very simple white loaf. Using boiled water in the oven to create steam makes the crust extra crunchy. Finding a really warm place for the dough to rise is important in making successful bread. I struggle to find somewhere warm enough at home – the airing cupboard is just not warm enough and the temperatures vary significantly at different times of day.
Kneading your bread well is a stage not to be rushed – make sure you take as long as the recipe suggests. And if you’re feeling lazy, as I often am, I just use my Kitchen Aid with the dough hook on.
A good quality non-stick loaf tin is a great investment for baking. This one is a recent addition to my kit, made by Le Creuset. I also have a new Cuisinart rapid boil kettle, from Steamer Trading which I am really enjoying using. I cannot resist a look in their shops, as they have branches in Bournemouth and Tetbury, where I spend a lot of my time. I can never walk out of there empty handed!
Steam crust white loaf
Makes 1 large loaf
400g strong white bread flour, plus extra for sprinkling
5g quick action dried yeast (I always use Doves Farm)
1 tsp salt
245ml warm water (I never use water from the hot tap as it is not fresh drinking water. I mix hot water from a recently boiled kettle with cold fresh water in a measuring jug to achieve body-temperature warm water).
Place the flour, yeast and salt into a large bowl (or Kitchen Aid in my case!) and mix together.
Add the water and mix well. Knead for 5 minutes.
Cover the bowl with cling film and place in a warm spot for 2 hours until doubled in size.
Knead the dough for a further 5 minutes and placed into a greased 900g loaf tin. Cover with oiled cling film and place in a warm spot for a further hour.
Preheat the oven to 220C. Boil the kettle and find a large roasting tin.
Once the bread has risen for a second time, sprinkle with flour. Fill the roasting tin half full with freshly boiled water. Place in the bottom of your oven and place the loaf on a higher shelf.
Bake for 25–30 minutes. Remove the loaf from the oven and place it on a wire rack immediately to cool before serving.