The smell of freshly baked bread is one loved by many. There is something about it that is downright comforting as well as it holding the anticipation of one of the most simple but delicious meals. Warm bread with butter melting into it, either on it’s own or topped with your favourite filling (for me, I can’t decide between home made jam, peanut butter or a good mature cheddar). Take your tedious complicated culinary creations and give me freshly made bread, warm from the oven, any day. But unless you live next door to a bakery, the only way to create this meal yourself is to bake your own bread. For years I shied away from making bread. My attempts were few and far between, united only by them all being complete failures. Bread seemed to be just out of my reach. It seemed so simple but I just couldn’t grasp the subtle nuances required to produce a well risen, delicious bread rather than a hard, shrunken rock-like slab of bread.
But in the last few years, I have discovered both a white and seeded brown bread recipe that work every time. Both were discovered entirely by chance. The white recipe was actually in one of the kids books and we only tried it to satisfy their requests to do so. Imagine my surprise when the kitchen filled with that most satisfying of aromas and from the oven came three perfect white loaves. The brown recipe was actually deliberately sourced as I found it on the side of a packet of bread flour but I was similarly surprised when it was a success (brown bread seems the harder of the breads for some reason, I’m sure Paul Hollywood could tell us why).
The key to success though I think, comes down to two reasons. The first is taking your time to knead your bread. It might seem tedious but kneading your bread for 15 or even 20 minutes makes all the difference to simply mixing the ingredients together. It’s got something to do with forming gluten strands (I think) but I just know that patience is the key. After a while you get into a rhythm and if anything, it’s quite a therapeutic way to spend some time. Secondly, is the temperature of the dough whilst it’s rising. Having been cursed with exceptionally cold kitchens over the years I tend to actually put the oven on whilst I’m kneading, then turn it off and put the dough in with the door open when it comes to the proving period. I’m sure seasoned bread makers out there will be horrified by this method but it works for me! Nonetheless, making sure your dough is warm enough will make or break your attempts at bread.
The whole process is admittedly, quite lengthy (you could probably walk to your local shop and buy a loaf in the time it takes) but I think it is worth it. There is something intentional about baking bread that I love, something that feels very nurturing and helps you to pause a little. You just can’t rush it. We spend so much of our time madly dashing from one thing to another, trying to fit in more than we probably should. Baking bread is a great way to remind ourselves to slow down and put all our attention and energy into one task. It is a task that benefits us through the making and waiting as well as getting to eat the glorious end result. Why not have a go at making your own loaf this week? You won’t regret it, I promise!