Perfect Artisan Bread Recipe
Want to make a perfect, crusty on the outside, soft, fluffy and sweet on the inside artisan style white loaf on your first ever try? Then read on...
I haven't had children yet, but I would guess that the feeling of nurturing my very own soft little doughy creation from the mixing bowl to the cooling rack (then directly into my belly) would be similar. It is a soft, fuzzy, happy feeling much akin to thinking of the fifties or the feeling my grandmother clearly gets by dunking a chocolate digestive into a cup of hot milky tea then gumming it to a paste.
There are many reasons why we should make our own bread at home and by hand and why you should follow the White Bread Recipe below! If you have stumbled over this Hub by accident and you think I'm some sort of generic hippie telling you to throw off the oppression of the commercial bakeries then here are five real reasons why:
- Due to a number of factors such as longer proving time, and yes; Freshness, home baked bread tastes better! (what other reason could you want!)
- With home baked bread you know exactly what is in it! Which means; No aritificial stuff like preservatives, flavourings, colourings or other nasties!
- Mixing, kneading, proving and baking your own loaf is one of the most satisfying, relaxing and therapeutic things you can do, not to mention rewarding.
- They were baking bread in ancient Egypt! Much like dry stone walling, it is a skill we cannot afford to let die.
- Baking better quality bread at home is actually cheaper than branded or other commercially available bread!
So now you know why you should bake your first ever loaf! And if you aren't a total novice I would hope that you will enjoy the simplicity of this basic recipe and perhaps in the short story to follow you will recognise your own struggle to master the art of bread baking.
Please note that this recipe is based around getting a great loaf first time, which I doubt many people have achieved considering the many variables that can all go very wrong. The measurements and ingredients have all been put together to give you the greatest possible chance of success. At the least your bread won't turn out too dense and the dough shouldn't be too messy so as to deter you from trying again!
I made my first loaf about three years or so ago now and even though it was an unmitigated culinary disaster, in the end I got the exact same contented feeling as I get now when I churn out a masterpiece.
In short I bought the wrong type of flour, used the wrong type of yeast, under kneaded and over baked.
In fact, that first loaf was more a hybrid between a loaf of bread, a biscuit and a jaffa cake. It was burned on the outside and all but raw in the very centre. I ate a few slices and within half an hour the still active yeast created the most painful wrenching in my chest making me seriously think I was having a heart attack; it was though of course gas.
None the less I bumbled a long happily for the next two months, using some dodgy and some I'm sure fantastic recipes found online. Nothing got much better during this time because i was still using the wrong yeast! A few things started to slot into place and I did find out which flour to use before long and why. In reality though I learned very little in this time and though I loved each and every dough and had the greatest hopes for success on every occasion, my bread was awful.
After two months I bought my first baking book! Something I will review another time, but the learning began in earnest now. I learned that my dough wasn't rising at all, and slowly the penny dropped that I should use 'fast action yeast' and my dough might just improve! It was a scary time, I had got my bread to perhaps the best level it could get to on the old yeast and didn't want to start again! One try though and I realised it was time to start from scratch.
Many baking books later and a few science lessons too and finally I can make a range of breads, all different shapes, sizes, tastes and with different uses. I look back to my early days and shake my head at my own ignorance.
I realise that only idiots would forge on for so long making awful bread, without buying a book about it and doing a bit of research, and I really did wonder how commercial bakers and otherwise managed to make such soft bread so reliably during that time, but at no point was I going to give up! I think when you start from scratch at something and don't have any friends or family who are big bread bakers, then it seems there is so much to learn that you don't know where to even start!
Well if any of this rings a bell or I have managed to almost worry you out of giving this a go then worry no more! This hub is designed to get you baking from your first loaf, because lets face it, most normal people who have lives aren't going to dedicate much time to baking without some sort of early success (instead they will just buy a bread machine which as far as I'm concerned was created by the devil to mislead real would be bakers).
I will outline what you will need (not much) and why you need it! As well I will take you through a step by step process that is standard among experienced bread bakers. This is the information I wish i could have simply been presented with when I was a young impressionable baker (I was 22 then... so much has happened in the last 3 years).
I'm not going to get into any more details that would just confuse you more, just know that once you've made your first loaf or two and you're hooked, bread baking is a rich tapestry of very different flours, baking methods and ingredients. This basic recipe contains all of the basics and a little more to be successful every time (if you follow it that is).
Gluten - Without going into too much detail Gluten is very important. Each grain of finely ground flour contains this miracle agent and by kneading your dough the gluten is slowly released from those grains. This is what makes your dough become stretchy and allows air bubbles to form making the final loaf as fluffy as a cumulonimbus cloud.
This is why it is important to use Strong Bread Flour because it has lots more gluten in and makes far better bread!
Step One - Measurements
Its important to plan what you're going to do before you start mixing or kneading your dough.
Measuring out your ingredients means that everything will be ready for you when you need it. You might think I'm being at bit anal here but trust me, the second you plunge your hand into the flour to mix in yeast, salt or rub in butter your hands will be covered. And scratching around the kitchen looking for ingredients then measuring them will just get messy.
So measure out your ingredients leaving them in separate bowls or containers as follows (use this converter is you prefer imperial measurements):
What you will need...
Before you start, make sure you have the following, I have included realistic prices in Pound Sterling because its perfectly fine if you don't have some of these items, but it shouldn't be much more or less elsewhere.
Also note that I am taking into account that you may be starting off with none of these things.
Utensils for Making Bread
- Ceramic baking bowl ~ £10.00 + Plastic or even metal bowls will do the job and may well be cheaper
- Cooling rack ~ £3.00 +
- Measuring Jug ~ £5.00 + You can use jugs that don't measure or even bowls if you don't want to buy one straight away. Use the scales to measure instead!
- Good quality, accurate scales ~ Ensure you pay no less than £15.00+ You can get away with less in some shops but they won't be accurate or reliable
- A clean tea towel ~ £3.50 + This will get you a little bundle! You will need them to cover you dough while rising. If you have a supermarket shopping bag or unused, clean bin bag I suppose you could use these instead, just make sure you cover full and make the seal tight.
Ingredients For Making Bread!
- 'Strong White' or 'Bread' Flour ~ £0.60 - £2.50 (per 1.5kg bag) Why can't you just use plain flour? Strong White Flour has usually grown in a very fertile medium and environment and contains more gluten! You need this gluten or the dough will not go stretchy enough and your bread will end up very heavy. Don't make the mistake of using plain flour, you won't get away with it!
- Fast Action Yeast - £0.15 - £0.30 (per pack)I made the massive mistake of buying dried active yeast (which needs around an 8 hour initial rising period) when I started out, another mistake might be to buy brewers yeast! You can also buy fresh yeast which works fine but one step at a time please! The way to avoid getting the wrong yeast is by reading the back of the pack, if the directions tell you to add the yeast to water first then don't buy it! If it tells you to add sugar then treat it with suspicion; this should not be necessary.
- Sea Salt ~ £1.00 - £1.50 (per 200g) You can in theory use any salt you like! But remember that table salt usually contains anti-caking agents (along with higher levels of radio activity than other salts - not that I want to worry you). If using rock salt make sure its out of a grinder.
- Unsalted Butter ~ £1.20 - £2.50 Make sure its unsalted, we need to control the salt content in the bread so it doesn't kill the poor little yeasts!
- Clear honey ~ £1.00 - £3.50 (per 350g) I won't be upset at you if you use cheap honey, its probably mixed with all kinds of other syrups and sweet things to bulk it out, but I suppose it will still taste good.
- Warm water ~ Free if you live near a river and its clean You want it about lukewarm. A good way to make sure you get it right is to boil a kettle then add 2 parts cold water to one part boiled.
There are a massive range of extras and alternatives that you could add to either of these lists, but I will resist the temptation to do so or make any suggestions because you're just starting out and you need it to stay simple; trust me!
- 500 grams of the Strong White Bread Flour
- 30 grams of the Unsalted Butter
- 7 grams of the Fast Action Yeast
- 10 grams of the Salt
- 305 grams of the Lukewarm Water
- Do not measure out the Honey just yet, you will however need about 25 grams
So now you should have all of your ingredients laid out and ready to use!
You should also before you start make sure you clean the work surface you plan on using. Spray it with anti bacterial spray and clean it thoroughly with a clean cloth. If you don't do this you will notice that your beautiful white dough will start to pick up little specks of whatever it is you were cooking last night, even though you could swear that the surface was clean!
Even if it is clean, do it just in case and make sure it is dry before you knead!
Fast Action Yeast
Fast Action Yeast is important in modern bread making.
You can buy it in tubs of up to 100 grams or more or like most you can buy it in sachets of 7 grams, these cost little more than £0.20 for two satchets!
If like me you tend not to trust sachets of food or flavourings and prefer to do things from scratch please trust me when I say that these little sachets are perfectly innocent and preferrable to me.
You can buy branded Fast Action Yeast and more often than not slightly cheaper supermarkets own. I have yet to find a reason how the branded stuff could possibly be better when all it contains are the exact same strain of bacteria in a dormant state.
Step Two - Mixing
1. Put your pre-measured flour into your ceramic mixing bowl if you haven't done so already.
2. Then tip your bowl or sachet of yeast in a heap on top of the flour. Make sure that you pour it to one side of the bowl... the salt goes in next and they shouldn't touch before being mixed.
3. Pour your measured out salt into a heap on the opposite side of the bowl.
4. Now that you have your flour, yeast and salt all in one bowl you should stick your index finger into the middle of the yeast pile and swirl it around until mixed in, then do the same with the salt... finally sift the flour together to even the mixture out.
5. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture so you can see the bottom of the bowl. Then pour your measured out Luke Warm Water into the well.
6. Now before you mix together its time to add the honey! Remember how I stopped you from measuring out your honey earlier? Well that's because if you put it in a bowl half of it would stick and you wouldn't get 25 grams worth and it would be a waste of honey!
So now get a tablespoon or soup spoon or whatever spoon you like. If it's a squeezey bottle measure out two generous spoons over the bowl, if it's a jar then spoon in two generous spoons, each time letting most of the honey trickle off.
It's important that you lick the spoon afterwards and make a yummy groaning noise so as not to waste the honey.
7. Now using your hands (or just one if you want to keep a hand clean)... yes it's going to get messy, start collapsing the flour into the water. Continue to gently mix the ingredients until you start to get something resembling a soft sticky dough. Make sure you regularly mop up the residual flour from around the bowl until it all comes together in one lovely bit of dough.
8. Your butter should have gotten a bit softer since taking it out of the fridge and now its time to use it. Try to clean the worst of the dough from your hands then tip the butter on top of the dough in the bowl. Using your hands again, gently massage the butter into the dough, folding it in and squigging it together. Should only be a moment before the butter all but disappears.
Why Warm Water?
Using warm water on your dough as opposed to cold water can be very important. Your yeast needs warmth, wetness and something to feed off. Warm water provides that initial warmth; activating the yeast. It also provides the wetness. The flour and honey provide the food!
Step Three - Kneading Dough
9. Now the kneading starts! The butter should have lubricated the bread nicely so you won't need to add flour to your work surface. Adding more flour now would make your dough slightly dryer and you don't want that because the softer the dough, the softer and lighter the bread!
Take the dough out of the bowl and put the bowl to one side for now and the dough on the work surface ready to knead. Now there are many ways to knead and I won't bore you with the various ways, I will just give you the best way:
- Use one hand to hold the dough in place and with the other slowly push the dough away from you, flattening it out across the work surface. This should stretch and break the smooth surface of the dough.
- Now roll the dough back up, turn to another angle and push the dough away from you again. Don't worry about the dough sticking to the surface it will a bit! Just keep going over the same spot and after a while it should come back together.
- Repeat this for about 10 minutes! It's actually a good, mild workout!
- After just a minute or two you should notice that the dough is becoming firmer and less sticky! This is because the magic gluten is being released already and making the dough very stretchy! Don't stop yet though!
- If it gets too sticky I have now made an allowance in the recipe for you to flour your work surface, but don't flour the surface more than twice or the dough will start to get too dense! (28/04/2012)
10. Now you must shape your loaf into a round. This is nowhere near as hard as you would think! Again there are a million ways to do this but lets just go for the easiest one:
Try your best to shape it as close to a round as possible by rolling it around the work surface, then cup your hands either side of the dough and start doing mini karate chops around the base, making sure the sides of both hands meet in the middle.
It doesn't need to be perfect so if there are a few folds and lines on the surface of your dough, don't worry!
Your kneading should take about 10 minutes but how do you really know when your dough is ready?
This will take time to get a feel for but you want to get it right first time! There are lots of ways to do this! The best known way is to rip away a handful of dough and using both hands see how thinly you can stretch it out. You should almost get it see through without any rips.
Look at your dough by eye, is it silky smooth to touch now? Does it look smooth? If you flatten it out with your hands then fold it in half and press down onto the surface does it spring back quickly?
You can try the method above if you like but I did say I wouldn't get too technical or confusing, so if it's your first loaf just time yourself and don't stop kneading for 10 minutes and 9.9 times out of 10 it should be fine!
Step Four - Proving Dough
Your kneading is now done and your gluten should have firmed up your dough nicely! Hopefully you've managed to shape your dough into a ball (or 'round').
Now take the bowl you used to mix the dough initially. If you want to you can put a teaspoon of Olive or Sunflower oil into the bowl and smooth it up the sides! By doing this you ensure the dough doesn't stick to the sides when you turn it out later. This isn't a massive issue though as it only takes a second to pick any sticky bits back off the bowl if you want.
Take your tea towel and run it under a tap so its wet all over. Then rinse out the excess water before covering your dough over fully!
Leave it somewhere warm for 1 hour! During that time I would advise you clean your work surface before any residual dough goes dry and hard, it's a nightmare to get off otherwise!
How does dough rise?
When you put your dough into a moist, warm environment it will rise! In fact if you leave it too long it will collapse back in on itself and hundreds of little air bubbles will form! It is these bubbles; created as a by product of the yeast feeding which helps the bread develop a light and fluffy crumb structure.
Magic isn't it! I was like an excited puppy when my first dough began to rise and I couldn't help checking back every few minutes! You however should if possible stay calm and not disturb the protective wet tea towel more than once or twice as the dough proves. If you check it too much the air can get to it and a skin can form. Whereas this can help make a thicker crust and some say a tastier loaf, it also makes the dough less pliable and harder to shape a second time!
Step Five - Knocking Back Dough
It seems a shame to knock all that air that your yeast has worked so hard to make for you out of the dough, however necessary it is.
- You now need to push your hand firmly on the dough whilst still in the bowl. A mini explosion of trapped air should follow.
- Now scoop out the deflated dough and put it back on your work surface!
- Next you need to distribute those air bubbles, helping you to build up an even crumb structure.
- With the air bubbles distributed fold the dough in half and roll it around for a minute to smooth it out.
Once you have folded the dough all the way round you need to turn it back over again. You should be presented with a pretty smooth, evenly rounded surface!
Remember the karate chops you used to shape the dough last time? You will need to repeat this briefly, plumping up the already rounded dough and tightening the gluten a tiny bit more.
Step Six - Baking
Really by now you have finished most of the hard work! Before you congratulate yourself though we do need to actually bake the dough!
Firstly we need to transfer the loaf to a metal baking tray. So get about a table spoon of Olive or Sunflower oil onto your baking tray and with your hands rub it all over, ensuring that you cover the tray at least where you loaf is going to sit.
Now, be careful! Cup both hands under the dough and making sure you don't disturb your carefully shaped dough too much, lift and place onto the tray.
Remember that damp tea towel? Don't put it in the wash just yet! It should still be damp so lay it over the dough and the baking tray so the dough is covered entirely!
Leave to prove for up to one hour, turning the oven up to around 200 degrees celsuis. (You need it nice and hot before the bread goes in or your dough will over rise and deflate and will also take much longer to bake).
I really have tried not to give you too many options in this recipe because its only your first go at making yummy bread by hand and I don't want to complicate things or give you too much to think about, (or scare you away).
However if you are minded too when you are turning your oven on you might want to get another baking tray (if you have one going spare) and place it on the very bottom of your oven (or the lowest rack).
Ideally the moment your dough goes into your oven you want lots of condensed moisture to cloud around and cuddle it and the only way to do this is to have the extra baking tray beneath your loaf and filled with cold water at the last moment. By doing this the water fizzles and creates a steam bath in the oven, covering your bread in glorious moisture.
What does this do?
By doing this your loaf will come out crusty and will have a very satisfying crunch when you take that first bite!
Remember though this is optional, your bread will still be yummy if you prefer soft bread.
It's important now that you get your dough in the oven at the right time! There is no point in falling at the last hurdle after all and its not difficult to judge the correct moment.
About an hour is usually the right time, but one fail safe that I have personally developed is to take hold of your backing tray and give it a gentle shake. When ready the dough itself should give the very faintest bit of a wobble in a similar fashion to jelly. Just a slight wobble now not much at all. You will know what I mean when you try it!
(Make sure it is a gentle shake! If you are rough with your dough at any point from now you risk knocking some of the air out of it and you really don't want to do that!)
So time it as closely as you can with getting your oven up to temperature. Turn your oven up to 200 celsius at least fifteen minutes before the dough goes in!
As soon as the oven is on you should take the tea towel off the dough and you can now put it in the washing basket if you wish! Once that's taken care of you should take a handful of flour from you bag and sprinkle over the dough. Once you have done this run a very gentle hand all round it making the covering even!
Covering your dough with flour will help stop the dough from cooking unevenly or getting treated harshly by the hot oven. It also looks very nice once its all ready.
Making a Cut
Making one, or two, or three or more cuts in your dough is important! It serves several purposes and I sometimes like to get a bit arty.
Once your dough is floured you can slash the top of your bread! It helps the heat penetrate deeper into your bread, meaning that it will bake better and more evenly. This is important for the even crumb structure you're trying to achieve.
It also looks lovely! If I'm feeling particularly fruity I might even do a few squiggly cuts.
Now all you have to do is wait for the oven to heat up fully and gently put it into the middle(ish) shelf!
You want to leave it in for a total of around 25 minutes.Do not for any reason open the oven door for the first 10 minute of the bake. The yeast becomes hyperactive in the intense heat and the loaf will rise further as it bakes! Inevitably the heat does kill the yeast and that can take up to 10 minutes. If you do open the oven; even for a second and the temperature changes without a crust forming first then the dough will deflate and you will end up with a flat, dense and unattractive loaf!
Every loaf is genuinely different and just because it looks done on the outside it doesn't mean its done on the inside. So after 25 minutes take it out and using an oven glove on one hand (because it will be hot!) tilt the loaf on its side and tap the flat underneath. When it's done it will make a very clear hollow noise.
If you're in doubt when you do tap your loaf put it back in for another 5 minutes. It won't do too much harm and a slightly overdone crust is more desirable by far than a raw inside.
Your hard work is over, and with only a little bit of luck you have a beautiful fresh loaf of white bread! It should be crusty on the outside, very soft on the inside and the honey will have given it an addictive sweet aroma and flavour.
Speaking of aroma you should have been enjoying that fresh bread smell for the past fifteen minutes at least and I bet its made you hungry!
If you can wait then please do! Leaving it to cool for fifteen minutes is your best course of action. I know its not fair but the bread is still very warm and soft on the inside and also still quite pliable. Trying to cut it will crush the crumb structure and make the loaf misshapen and dense. Also didn't your Grandmother never warn you not to eat hot bread?
Next try Pain De Campagne, an excellent traditional bread with a few more technical tricks to get a mature flavour.
I do hope you enjoy this recipe and if you follow it nothing will go wrong I assure you!
There will of course be variables. Your honey could be a particularly thin brand and make a wetter dough (add a handful of flour as you knead) and different ovens have a habit of doing different things, but you'll know more about your own than I do.
There is so much more you can do with bread! So many extra ingredients and methods of baking! Everyone of your loaves will be different and you will learn something from each of them.
I would recommend that you make this loaf with kids! White bread might not be as healthy for them as wholemeal (which I will do another time) but it is far softer and I would eat my own white bread vs a commercial wholemeal any day!
If one person is inspired to make their first loaf then the weekend its taken to write this was not wasted!
Finally, if you liked this hub then help me spread the word and share it on facebook or twitter :)
Amendment - 28/04/2012
I have made a minor amendment to the recipe to allow you to put flour on your work surface whilst kneading. The recipe above is quite a wet/soft dough recipe and it can get sticky. The reason for this is in case it is your first time and you don't quite knead enough so you still have a better chance of getting a soft loaf. The minor amendment made has been done so that if it is sticky, and you don't like it you can dust your work surface with flour - this will prevent sticking!