Delicious half-and-half bread
For the past month or so, I’ve got really into making bread from scratch. I know, I’m about a year behind the curve on this, everyone started making sourdough the minute they were on furlough – but I’ve been working solidly since lockdown began, and also the thought of having a jar of “starter” you have to feed, freaks me out a bit.
I was always under the impression that bread was hard to make, and in the beginning, I did have a couple of failures. There was the “greasy loaf” – a result of oiling the mixing bowl, the clingfilm, the loaf tin… and the “flat bread” – the loaf that spread out to be wide instead of tall. However odd these early bread attempts were, though, they were still delicious. Which has brought me to the conclusion that if you follow the same basic rules, it’s pretty difficult to mess up bread.
At the start, I used individual bread packs, for example a sundried tomato and cheese bread, or a wholemeal, or a “sourdough” that somehow didn’t use a starter (that was the flat bread). These just required 25g of butter, and warm water to activate the yeast. Bang it all in a mixing bowl, follow the instructions on the bag, and voila! Bread! However my last few loaves have been a bit more freeform, just following a simple recipe. Today’s loaf was my favourite so far, which is why I’m writing it up here. It’s also completely vegan!
- 250g strong white bread flour
- 250g Allisons Country Grain bread flour
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 sachet yeast
- roughly 375ml warm water
To start, put the kettle on and make a cup of tea. It’s important to have something at the end of this to quench your thirst, and you can use the warm (not hot!) water to activate your yeast. Pour roughly 1/3rd of your warm water into a little cup (I have a ramekin that I use for measuring each time, it’a about 250ml, and I fill it halfway). Make sure the water is warm enough for you to put your finger in and feel comfortable, definitely not hot, or you’ll kill the yeast. Pour the sachet in and give it a stir with a teaspoon, until everything is mostly mixed together.
Combine all the other ingredients in a big bowl with a spoon. Wait 5 mins or so to let the yeast activate (once a froth has appeared, you’re good to go. Stirring can help), then pour the yeast water into the bowl and mix up as much as you can, with the spoon. Now, pour the rest of the warm water into the bowl and combine until you have a ball of dough. If your dough doesn’t come together well, add a tiny bit more water, but don’t make it sticky or wet – err on the side of dryness, as the kneading will bring it all together anyway.
Sprinkle some flour on your countertop, and tip the dough out onto the surface. Knead for 10 mins, until the dough feels smoother and stretchy. This will feel like hard work compared to all-white bread dough, but it’s so worth it. Think of someone you dislike, or count reps like you’re at the gym. After 10 minutes, put the dough ball back into the bowl, and cover with a sheet of oiled clingfilm. I’ve found the easiest way to oil clingfilm is to tear off a big sheet and use spray oil to cover one side.
Leave the dough in a warm place (I have a snake in a vivarium, and the area above her heat lamp gets very warm, so I put the bowl there) for about an hour, maybe a bit more, until the dough has doubled in size. If it’s trying to escape the bowl, you’re onto a winner. While the bread is rising, oil a loaf tin (you can use more olive oil on some kitchen roll). Peel the dough gently out of the bowl and knock it back (gently knead and fold it on the surface to knock some of the air out, no more than 5 times really). Shape the dough gently into a log shape and tuck the edges under, then put it in the loaf tin. Put the oiled clingfilm back over the loaf tin, and return it to the warm place for another hour.
While you are waiting, preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. Once the dough has risen and is straining against the clingfilm (it’s a good thing you oiled it, otherwise it’s murder to peel off), remove the clingfilm and pop it in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Your loaf is ready when you can easily remove it from the tin (hold it with oven gloves and give it a little jiggle), and when tapped, the bottom sounds hollow. Leave it to cool on a wire rack, and make sure it’s completely cool before you store it (I use paper recycling bags). Slice, spread with something delicious, and enjoy!