Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Recipe: An Easy White Bread Loaf Anyone Can Bake

I am aware that I was very lucky growing up. I was lucky that my parents worked hard so I could be given so many advantages that gave me such a great start in life, and every day I'm discovering new things, big and small that I have my parents to thank for. It was only when I started university in London and I observed the people around me attempting (being the operative word) to feed themselves did I realise how lucky I was to be brought up with such a great attitude to food; what I was putting in my mouth and how to prepare it. While it may seem to lots of people, especially my friends who have seen me pull together layer cakes and dinner parties by myself that I am a very good cook, I have had my fair share of mistakes. The one that comes to the forefront of my mind, and I'm pretty sure has just popped into my Mothers head as she reads this was the instance when I was quite young and my Mother had left me alone for the first time to make my favourite chocolate ganache cake. She ended up having to save the cake mixture by pressing it through a very fine sieve with a dessert spoon. I'm not sure I have attempted that recipe since.
However, in spite of all the mistakes I have made and have learned from, I am pretty confident in the kitchen and it is my Mother I have to thank for this; not just my attitude towards food but for letting me watch and help her cook and bake from a very young age and making sure I knew how to feed myself properly, a long time before I became addicted to food blogs, to be found sitting curled up in bed most evenings with a cookbook or interested in how a dish has been put together in London or Los Angeles' latest 'it' restaurant. So, what does all of this have to do with a simple loaf of bread? Well, this blog post is really my attempt at channeling Paul Hollywood in pointing out that while baking bread may intimidate a lot of people, it is in fact really easy and with the right instructions anyone can manage. Bread has never intimidated me, because I understand how it is made. I thought it was only fair that I pass that knowledge onto you.
DSC_1546 The recipe I bake from is actually a Paul Hollywood bake from his book Paul Hollywood's Bread, and I like it because you do it by hand. However, when I run through the recipe in my head I pull some technique from Lorraine Pascal's loaf that you bake in a food processor from her book Baking Made Easy, so this is really a technique hybrid with Paul's ingredient list. You'll notice this loaf is plaited; that is all me. I'll explain about why I think plaiting loaves is actually the best way forward for beginner bread makers in a moment.

  • 500g (1lb 2oz) Strong White Bread Flour
  • 7g Sachet Instant Yeast (I like Allison's, or Trader Joe's own brand in the USA)
  • 10g (1/4 oz) Salt
  • 320ml (11 1/2 oz) Cold Water
  • 40ml (1 1/2 floz) Olive Oil (I use Extra Virgin)

Weigh out the flour in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle, and measure out the salt on the far right of the bowl, and your yeast on the far left. Make sure they do not touch each other while they are dry ingredients. Measure the olive oil into the well, and follow with about 300ml of water. With a fork mix the ingredients together to form a dough, then switch to your hands to bring it all together in a rough ball. You can add the rest of the water only if you need to to keep all the mixture together as one.

Lightly oil a clean work surface with a dash more of olive oil. Turn the dough out of the bowl and knead for about 8 to 10 minutes until the dough is smooth, has a bit of resistance and is completely uniform. All successful kneading techniques have the same basics, but obviously each person does it a little differently I like to press the heel of my palm to the bottom of the dough lump, push down hard and push the dough away from me until it rolls over, repeating, alternating which hand and therefore the angle I use. You can watch Paul Hollywood do it here.

With a little bit more olive oil, oil the inside of a large, clean bowl and place your dough inside. Cover with cling film (kitchen wrap) and set aside for 1-2 hours, until the dough has at least doubled, but preferably tripled in size. Contrary to most instructions, you don't have to leave your dough in a warm place if you don't have somewhere suitable, but it does help speed up the process.

Once the dough has risen, you should be able to press a finger into it with gentle but still firm pressure and see the dough bounce back. Turn it out onto a well floured surface. 'Knock the dough back' (bread making term!) by repeating the kneading technique I described, but with a much gentler hand. You should have ben putting your strength into it on the first knead. Do this until the dough is just smooth again, but be sure not to over do it. The air should be knocked out of it too.

Now you need to shape your loaf. The original recipe from Paul Hollywood states thus: 'To shape into the bloomer, flatten the dough into a rectangle. With the long side facing you fold each end into the middle then roll like a Swiss roll so that you have a smooth top with a seam along the base. Very gently roll with the heel of your hands.' However, I find this to be a bit of a nightmare. It may seem like the harder thing to do, but I think plaiting a loaf has so much more benefit for a beginner  and it looks pretty and is so much more satisfying to make; so much so that practically every since loaf I turn out has this shape these days.

Divide your dough into three equal lumps. A sharp knife will help you do this. On a well floured surface roll out each lump into a long sausage about 3/4 of an inch in width. This will be difficult because of the gluten and resistance in the dough. I find rolling it out as much as I can and then swinging it gently in the air helps a lot. Try and make the three sausages even. Pinch all three together at the top and braid together in a basic plait. Tuck each end under each other. You should have a very small plaited loaf in front of you; it will at least double in size during the second proof and the oven.

Transfer to a non-stick baking tray and cover with a clean tea cloth. Allow to proof for an hour. This is where I find the plait great for beginners  with a bloomer it can be hard to judge how much the dough has expanded at this stage, but you can easily see the strands of the plait swelling up and becoming more loaf life as the time passes. Heat the oven to 220 degrees/ 425 fahrenheit.

When the bread is just about to go in the oven fill a deep baking tray with water and place on the bottom of the oven. This create steam while cooking and helps give you a nice crusty crust. Bake your loaf for 25 minutes in the middle of the oven. Turn the temperature down to 200 degrees/ 400 fahrenheit and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven. To tell if it is cooked through, pick it up with a tea towel (it will be too hot to hold otherwise!) and tap the bottom with your knuckles. It should sound hollow. Allow to cool completely before slicing.

So, what to do with your freshly baked loaf of bread? As you can see above I do enjoy it with lashings of French raspberry jam, but it is also great in sandwiches or with soups, as an accompaniment to my Marinated Mozzarella or as a base for a delicious brunch of Green Eggs & Ham. When I am getting to the end of a loaf I like to make 'Eggy Bread' for breakfast, which is essentially French Toast without any sweetness (seasoned egg and milk mixture, fried in vegetable or olive oil) served with Heinz Tomato Ketchup; the breakfast of my childhood! 

For those of you who've already turned out a loaf or two in their lives, whose recipe do you swear by? For those first timers among you, I'd love to hear about how your first forays into bread making go - it is really simple, I promise! 


  1. You make it sound so simple! Bread is the only thing I ever really have trouble with in the kitchen, and I just don't know why! It always rises and stuff, but it never has as good a flavour as I want it too, and doesn't get a good crust. Might make it my project over the summer, to learn how to make a really delicious loaf of bread! Will definitely give your recipe a go! :)


  2. This is literally the same recipe I use - Paul Hollywood's recipes are the best! I hadn't tried plaiting though... it looks so pretty, I'll be doing that next time for sure!

  3. I love fluffy white bread! We don't tend to bake loafs like these where I live but I might try that recipe :)

  4. This looks delicious! I have a breadmaker with a dough setting so I tend to just chuck in all the ingredients and then make tear and share bread!

    Maria xxx

  5. Oh yum, freshly baked bread is the best! The only bread I've ever baked is this one: http://simplysogood.blogspot.com.au/2010/03/crusty-bread.html because it's such an easy recipe

  6. this looks awesome (and sounds delicious)! I love baking, and its always nice to have a few simple recipes under your belt

  7. That looks divine, and you are right - so stupidly easy! I'll have to try that recipe, thanks for sharing!

  8. What sort of bread do you bake where you come from?

  9. He's amazing, right? This recipe is from the book, but I pulled it off the internet - the actual book is waiting for me at my parents house where I had my Amazon order delivered to; I can't wait to start baking other breads from it!

  10. Well, the water in the tray will help with the crust; to help it along you can also spray the loaf with water and sprinkle it with flor before putting it in the oven. As for the taste, what have your issues been?

    Good luck!

  11. Most of the time we mix white flour with wholewheat flour. There is also a lot of rye, malt and whole grain bread! :)

  12. The plait in the loaf looks lovely! is there anything better than home cooked bread?

  13. This sounds fabulous, and looks divine...love the plaiting...xv

  14. Hey there, I haven't made bread before so I'm just scouring for recipes. Most recipes call for adding the yeast to warm water? Will it still work?!

  15. Yes this still will work as this is with easy yeast. The warm water thing is not actually necessary as it is only for active breads or bread where you use this yeast but you are enriching. This will still work - good luck, and let me know how you get on!