I don’t want to brag, but I made my own bread last night, and am insufferably smug about it.
I even loitered in the work kitchen, so that I could announce my achievement to stunned workmates. Stunned, because, clearly this is the best fifth bread-making attempt any of them have ever seen. I don’t want to make you feel inadequate, by posting photos here, but trust me, these are two of the most beautiful loaves you have ever seen in your lives. Pleasingly brown and textured (wholemeal flour really is better for you, you know) with the perfect squishy centre.
I wasn’t always this spectacularly good at making bread. My first few attempts were heavy lumps of concrete-like flour, much like the average home-breadmaker turns out. The fourth was burnt even though I ate it and pretended like that was intentional (“tastes like crackers and soot. Delicious soot.”) But this loaf? Clearly all one needs to be truly fantastic at making bread is a lot of practice, about an hour and a half of enthusiastic kneeding, and to be naturally talented. Like myself.
Oh… Sorry, did I say I don’t want to brag? How silly. I meant the other one: I do want to brag. A lot. Because breadmaking is hard and I did it in a kitchen the size of a postage stamp, without a breadmaker.
If one happened to be wanting to try their hand at becoming as spectacularly good at baking as myself, give the following a go:
Empty two cups of fine plain flour into a big bowl, along with a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of sugar, and two tablespoons of dry quick rise-type yeast (don’t be skimping on the yeast, mortals) Mix this dry stuff together, add 2 tablespoons of oil, 3/4 cup cold water, and 3/4 cup of boiling water. Give it a good mix until you have a splodgy paste. Splodgy seems like an ambiguous term now, but when your mixture reaches that stage, it will suddenly seem quite clear that this texture could be called nothing but splodgy. Leave it sitting somewhere warm for 2-3 minutes.
Now add another two cups of flour, and give it a good mix.
Now for the kneeding. LOTS of kneeding. I spent maybe an hour kneeding, and used maybe another cup of flour, so that it wouldn’t stick to my bench. roughly 15 mins in I didn’t need to add any more flour, because the dough was holding itself together without sticking all over me or the bench.
Once you’ve finished kneading, and done a proper job of it, the dough will feel bouncy and if you push a thumb mark in it will bounce back, or try grabbing a pinch of the dough from the side of the ball, and it will stretch rather than snap. If your dough does neither of these things you either skimped on the yeast, or you skimped on the kneeding – probably the second one. Don’t be thinking you can get away with less kneading, because your bread totally knows. And so do I – we’re both disappointed in you.
Leave your dough to rise in a big bowl, with a light coat of oil, and plastic wrap on the top of the bowl. I left mine for about an hour, in a nice warm spot (under a heat lamp actually, because it was cold last night.)
When you come back to your dough it should have doubled in size. Turn your oven on now to heat up, on bake. Now back to the dough! We’re multitasking- whee! Punch it down, give it another knead – maybe 5-10 minutes this time. Then shape it for cooking. I cut my dough in half, and then made two long baguettes by stretching it out, and folding it lengthways in half, just like I saw in a french baking show once. I’m not sure if it made a difference, but it made me feel awesome, because I practiced all the french words I know at the same time: oui, voila, c’est tout, menage a trois!
Then you leave the dough in its warm spot, with its plastic wrap cover, for another 10-15 mins maybe. Then throw your awesome baguettes into the REALLY HOT oven, which you will now turn down to 210 degrees celsius. I cooked my baguettes on 210 for 20-30 minutes. I don’t really know how long it took, because I pulled them out when they were nice light brown, and sounded nice and hollow when I tapped them on their bases.