There's way too much bad bread out there. Even here in North London it's difficult to find a decent loaf without having to search out decent delis, specialist bakers or markets. And, when you do, you have to spend a pretty penny. For a number of years I've used my trusty Morphy Richards breadmaking machine to improve the quality of our bread, but I've always yearned for the satisfaction of being a proper home baker.
I've had a few attempts, but I think the yeast may have been lurking in the cupboard for too long and the results were leaden. So, this year, I have restocked the larder and plan to give home baking the time and respect it deserves. Bread is a fundamental foodstuff that humans have been making for thousands of years. It really can't be that difficult, can it?
No it isn't! What's more, thanks to the Internet, you quickly realise how many keen home bakers are out there, many offering tips, recipes and support. As a regular reader of the Guardian, I'm often drawn to Dan Lepard's recipes and, emboldened by having successfully made his Black Forest Ham Rolls (published 22 January 2011), I was ready to move on to bread proper. Last week I keyed his name into Google, along with the word 'spelt' as I've had a bag of spelt flour which has been languishing in the cupboard for too long. I came across a wonderful Anglo-Spanish blog, The Winter Guest, and an adaptation of a recipe from Lepard's book The Handmade Loaf. (I have ordered a copy, of course.) I followed Miriam's clear instructions, using a half quantity of wholemeal spelt, but my kneading is more in line with the Lepard approach – three short kneads of about 15 seconds with 10 minutes between them, followed by 30 minutes' resting time. I baked this for the first time last Friday – and was delighted that my loaf looked just like Miriam's. As the loaf went down so well (and so quickly) over the weekend, I baked a double quantity yesterday.
I'm just warming up, though, using commercial yeast. The next step is to get much more hardcore and move on to sourdough bread...
Dan Lepard's simple milk loaf (double quantity)
500g strong white flour
500g all-purpose flour
700g whole milk at room temperature
40g golden or maple syrup (like Miriam I used maple)
3 teaspoons fresh yeast (like Miriam I used dried fast-action yeast – 2 sachets or 15g)
2 1/2 teaspoons good sea salt
In a large bowl mix together all the ingredients. Remove the dough from the bowl and give it a light knead on a floured surface. Return it to the bowl, cover with a slightly damp tea cloth and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
Take out of the bowl and continue kneading on an oiled (or floured) surface for 15 seconds. Wipe out the bowl and lightly oil it.
Return the dough to the bowl, cover and leave for 10 minutes.
Repeat this process twice. Then leave the dough to rise in an oiled bowl, covered. In the picture above, you can see how the yeast has already started working – the dough has become silky textured and pliable.
After about an hour, the dough will have risen considerably (see above), remove from the bowl and punch out the air, giving it a good bash about.
Butter and lightly flour two 2lb loaf tins. Divide the dough into four balls and place two in each tin.
Cover the tins with the damp cloth and leave in a warm place to prove for a second time until almost doubled in size.
Brush the loaves with some milk and bake at 210°C for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 180°C and bake for another 20 minutes.
Can you see that the longer, narrower tin worked much better than the other which is better suited to loaf cakes. My preferred tin (below left) is La Forme Kaiser 2lb tin, 25cm x 11cm. The other is by Anolon and is 23cm x 13cm.