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Proper White Farmhouse Bread

Sometimes things don’t go as planned in the kitchen and this was the case when I recently tried my hand at bread making. I’d been inspired after doing a bread making workshop ran by the fantastic Maitreya Social in Bristol who had themselves learnt from the bread master Richard Bertinet. The bake off was held at the Cock and Bull festival in the deepest darkest west country on a Sunday morning, a time when my brain was rather addled from copious amounts of cider the night before…In the workshop we’d made a white loaf, and I remembered how the dough was wonderfully wet and soft. Remembering as much as I could, for my first attempt I decided to make a malted wheatgrain loaf using just over 50% white flour and malted wheatgrain flour for the remainder. When it came out it wasn’t quite as expected. It’s possible that I’d been so hungover that I’d remembered the quantities wrong. It’s probable that using flour with a best before date in 2006, and yeast which went off in 2008 wasn’t the best idea. And it’s certain that weighing the ingredients out wrong didn’t help. Whatever it was, my dense dense loaf was far from worthy of critical acclaim and not the success that I’d hoped for.

However, the thing about making bread is that it’s super fun. Even if it goes badly as mine did, you’ll still want to do it again. Minimal ingredients are needed, no fancy kitchen equipment is required, and best of all you get to get your hands dirty playing with the dough. You get to beat it up a bit, slap it about, and make a big old mess in the kitchen. How could I not want to try again!? Fortunately my second attempt went a lot better and it turns out that it’s actually really simple and easy to do. The crust was crisp, the inside soft and spongy, and the smell was out of this world. This recipe works a treat so next time you’re sat at home bored, its raining and you want something delicious to eat, you simply can’t go wrong with some homemade bread.

White Farmhouse Bread

Makes 2 small loaves.

700g strong white bread flour

14g salt

7g dried yeast sachet

490ml tepid water.

Method

1. Mix the flour and salt in a big bowl.

2. Whisk the yeast into the tepid water and pour it into the flour.

3. Mix it all together by stirring around the edges. This will pull the wet and dry ingredients together. Once well mixed pour it out on to a clean worktop and knead it. I’ve recently started kneading the way that Bertinet does which you can watch here. Essentially you slide your hands under the dough with your palms up until your thumbs meet on the top. Lift the dough, and then flick your wrists to slap the bottom down on the worktop (palms now facing down) before turning your palms back toward the sky and in the process, stretching the top of the dough over the bottom bit which you’ve slapped down. It’s really satisfying as you slap it down, and after a few minutes the dough will change slightly, looking a little shiny and subtly different to when you started.

Sticky yet smooth and shiny looking. This is what it will look like when it’s ready.

Once you get to this stage put it in a big bowl, cover with clingfilm to stop it drying out, and leave to rise somewhere warm for 2-3 hours. Alternatively, you can let it rise overnight which should bring out a more yeasty flavour – simply put it in the fridge to cool it down and slow the yeast and then continue the next day.

4. Once it’s risen up, pour it onto a very lightly floured worktop and cut it in half if you’ve got small loaf tins like me or keep it whole if you want a beast. Flatten it out slightly by prodding it with your fingers but don’t make it too thin – we’re not after a pizza here. Then take the top and bottom and fold them over into the middle and squeeze together. Then repeat with the other ends. The aim is to stretch the underside to get it nice and smooth – this will be the crust – so keep folding corners in until it’s nice and smooth.

5. Put it in a pre greased (butter or olive oil) loaf tin smooth side up, dash it with flour, and let it rise up again until it’s nicely filled the tin (30mins – 1hour). If you want to slash the top, do so just before it goes in the oven and not while it’s proving.

6. Whack the oven up to maximum (around 250°C) and when it’s hot put in the loaf and throw  a handful of ice cubes into the bottom of the oven. This helps create steam which will help it to cook better and will give a better crust. Cook it for 5 minutes or so at 250° before turning it down to 220°C and baking for between 30-45 minutes. It’s worth taking it out of the tin with 5 or 10 minutes to go to help the crust develop nicely.  You’ll know it’s done when it sounds hollow when I tap that ass.

7.  Let it rest! With the smell of warm bread wafting around you’ll suddenly be everyone’s best friend, the opposite sex will be throwing themselves at you and you’ll find that it’s pretty much impossible to not start devouring it straight away. But you’ve got to wait!If you tuck in straight away it will be cakey as the moisture won’t have spread evenly throughout the loaf so wait it out. Assuming that you’re a stronger person than me, hang on for 45 minutes and it will be perfect.

8. Devour with unhealthy amounts of butter.

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