Bread. Could it be just the best food? Remember those conversations with your best friend at school, or cuddled up late at night trying to discover everything about someone special. Did you ever ask this question? If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be? Well my answer would be bread.Not sliced, processed, factory bread. Oh no. I mean real, freshly baked bread. Crusty white loaves, crispy baguettes, ciabatta, focaccia, naan, chewy bagels. Smothered in butter, dipped in oil and balsamic vinegar, eaten warm straight from the oven. I think it’s the only food in the world I would never tire of eating. It’s my hangover cure, my comfort food and my favourite treat to have out for dinner.
I love baking bread too, the tactile warmth of kneading the bread, the magic and alchemy in watching the bread rise. I’ve been struggling to bake good bread in my Hong Kong kitchen. Buildings in Hong Kong are, for the most part, unheated. The cold winter months don’t last long but it means this time of year my kitchen is freezing. Not ideal for a well risen loaf. Today I put my silly little oven on full heat, opened the door, and sat the dough in front of it. Finally I had a nice warm surface for my dough to rise.
This, most simple of breads, is perhaps my absolute favourite. Fluffy, airy white bread with a proper crusty top. Perfect for ripping into straight out the oven and covering in delicious salty butter. This is proper comfort food.
White Farmhouse Loaf
(from Jamie Oliver)
I made a third of this recipe, which made a small loaf, big enough for two people. It freezes well if you need to.
1 kg strong bread flour
625 ml tepid water
30 g fresh yeast, or 3 x 7g sachets dried yeast
2 tbsp sugar
1 level tbsp salt
flour, for dusting
– Pile all your flour onto a clean work surface and make a deep well in the middle. Pour in half your water, yeast, sugar and salt. Stir it around with a fork.
– Now slowly begin to bring the flour in from the sides of the well, mixing it with the water, until you have a lumpy porridge consistency. Add the remaining water. You might need to deepen your well to stop the water escaping! Keep adding in the flour and start bringing it all together with your hands until you have a dough.
– Start kneading the dough, pulling it apart, pushing it, pulling it, stretching it – this is my favourite part! Keep going for about 5 minutes until you have a smooth, silky dough.
– Flour the dough, then put it in a bowl, cover it and leave it in a warm place to rise for half an hour, to an hour until it has doubled in size.
– Knock it back down into the bowl, bashing all the air out. Now shape your dough. I made one loaf, then slashed the top with a knife. Put it onto a floured tray and leave to rise again for another half an hour until it’s doubled in size again.
– Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Gently put your bread into the oven and cook it for about 30 minutes. Test to see if it’s done by tapping the bottom, it should sound hollow.
– Leave it to cool on a wire rack, or rip straight in and enjoy.