Welcome to my go-to bread. This recipe is the base of nearly every loaf I bake at home. I’ve come to think of it more as a template that you can adjust to suit what you have on hand. Not only can you change up the ingredients, you can use the dough to make sandwich loaves, round boules, focaccia and buns. Bread, at it’s most basic, requires no other ingredients than flour and salt, and since most of us are lucky enough to have access to running water – and can probably afford a bag of two dollar flour – the dream of homemade bread needn’t be a complicated one.
There is one thing worth saying now, however. Bread, in all the various shapes and forms that we’ve come to love, owes it’s very success to one thing: gluten. While we know it as a big scary nutritional buzzword now, it’s actually just a type of protein found in a few grains that allow flour and water to hold together, get stretchy, and most importantly, rise! Without gluten, true bread isn’t possible. Now this isn’t to say that there’s no such thing as gluten-free bread (we’ve all seen the double-priced loaves on supermarket shelves), but more to acknowledge that if you’re gonna bake bread, you either embrace gluten (if you can) and be thankful for the light-as-air loaves it produces, or delve into gluten-free flours and a different approach to baking (try here or here).
(Summary so far: suitable flours for this recipe are plain/high grade, wholemeal wheat, rye, spelt and barley. Things like rice, buckwheat, or oat flour all require binding agents such as egg or xantham gum and will need a different recipe.)
As long as the flour to water ratio stays the same you can switch up what type of flour you use, add all sorts of nuts or seeds for texture, honey or molasses for sweetness, caraway seeds, rolled oats… the possibilities are only limited to what’s in your pantry!
There are two ways to make dough rise: commercial dried yeast or a sourdough culture. A sourdough is a collection of wild yeasts and bacteria that not only raise the dough but flavour it and improve the nutrition. Commercial yeast is one specific strain of yeast that’s super efficient and easy to use, so a good place to start if you’ve never baked bread before. If you’re interested in sourdough I’d recommend making this once or twice with instant yeast, then checking this out for more information about how to start and maintain a sourdough culture.
If you live in Wellington I’m happy to share a wee bit of my sourdough to get yours started.
Examples of variations on this recipe:
- A dark coloured rye loaf –
50/50 white flour and rye flour, plus cracked rye, molasses and cocoa powder
- Polenta and pumpkin seed bread –
100g polenta and a big handful of toasted pumpkin seeds, plus 100g mashed pumpkin (and 50g less water)
- Rosemary and garlic cheese loaf –
Chop a tablespoon of rosemary finely and crush two cloves of garlic. Fold through the dough with a big grind of black pepper, a drizzle of olive oil and a handful of grated cheese. This looks great as two strands of dough twisted together.
This dough can be shaped in different ways, too, to make other types of bread:
- Caramelised onion and rosemary foccacia –
Instead of kneading the dough on the bench in the morning, give it a quick knead in the bowl then turn it out into a generously oiled roasting tray, squishing it flat and as far to the edges as possible. Once doubled in size, scatter caramelised onions and chopped rosemary over the dough and dimple it down with your fingers. Drizzle with oil and bake for 25 minutes at 200C.
- Poppy seed and sesame burger buns –
The next morning, add a good handful of both poppy and sesame seeds to the dough. Mix well, then drop big tablespoons onto a tray lined with baking paper, well spread apart (about 9 buns to a tray). Leave to rise until doubled, then bake for 10-15 minutes or until risen and golden.
EASY-KNEAD OVERNIGHT BREAD
Make this recipe even more time-saving and double or triple the recipe; either baking all the loaves at once (and giving them away or stashing it, sliced, in the freezer), or refrigerating the unbaked dough for a few days until you’re ready to bake again – just make sure you bring it back to room temperature for a few hours before the final shape and rise.
500g flour – white or whole wheat, rye, spelt, or a mixture of these.
1 teaspoon fine salt
100g mixed seeds, rolled oats, bran, grains, etc.
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
400ml warm water
Add the yeast or sourdough to the water along with a good pinch of flour, stir, then set aside for ten minutes. Stir together the flour with the salt, along with any other grains, seeds or flavourings.
When the yeast has dissolved into the water, pour it into the bowl of flour and start stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula. This is quite a wet dough so don’t worry if it’s sticky, you just want to make sure there are no dry patches of flour and it’s all thoroughly mixed. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and set aside overnight.
The next morning, the dough should look bigger and airier. It may have risen and collapsed, or it might have just grown slightly, but as long as there’s been some sign of activity you’re good to go.
It’s time to knead the dough, but we’re taking a slightly different approach.
To knead the dough you’re going to stretch it in all four directions: on the farthest side of the bowl from you, dig under the dough with wet hands, pull it away, then fold it back on itself. Repeat this action on the right-most side, the side closest to you, and the left-most side. Do this four-fold round once or twice more, until you have a stretchy looking lump of dough in the middle, hopefully looking pretty cohesive.
Grease a baking tin or line with baking paper (i.e. make sure all metal surfaces that the bread could touch are greased), or line a flat tray for a round loaf. take your risen dough and do one more set of four-folds (like you did before), then pick up the dough and dump it into the tin seam-side down. Or, for a free-form loaf, shape your loaf with floured hands on a floury bench using the same four folds, until it’s a smooth tight ball. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise somewhere warm until doubled, about 1 – 1 1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220.
Carefully place the risen loaf in the oven and turn the heat down to 200. Bake for 30 minutes, then leave to cool before slicing.
Stores best wrapped in brown paper or a tea towel and kept at room temperature