My Daily Bread

They say that there is nothing like baking your own bread. Nothing like the smell of it freshly baked, permeating your kitchen like a soft, stealthy blanket. Nothing like the ability it has to ease stress and calm your insides. Well, they say right. I have been putting off bread baking for a while...what with the yeasts, and risings, and proofings, and such. I was apprehensive...but also drawn to the very basic, almost primordial picture that bread baking was painting in my little noggin': Me, flour dusting my arms, massaging a lump of dough into a piece of heavenly comfort. So I embarked on a project called, um, "No buying bread!" Ok, more like an experiment. I would see how long I could go eating nothing but my own bread.

The breads you see here are my first attempts. The topmost picture being the very first product of this little experiment. It's The Essential White Loaf from Nigella Lawson's How To be A Domestic Goddess. I thought it may well do to start with something that had the word essential in it. Nigella said that I didn't have to put it in a loaf tin but could instead form it into any shape I wished. So I tried to go for a rustic looking round, but instead ended up with a lumpy alien spacecraft. No first whiff, my first bite, and it was all worth it. Worth the time spent waiting for the dough to rise, the steps taken to get to this essential loaf, even the efforts of keading (something that I have discovered I actually does calm your insides!). I know this is a comment from a total newbie breadmaker still in the honeymoon of it all, but I kept thinking as I bit into my first slice, "My bread, MY bread."

Here's the recipe:

The Essential White Loaf
(from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess)

- 500 grams strong white bread flour (plus some for kneading)
- 1 sachet (7 grams) easy blend yeast or 15 grams fresh yeast (despite Nigella’s explicit warning against it I used active dried yeast, it’s all I had, and it still turned out ok)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- around 300 ml tap water or potato water (I used potato water)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

Here’s what you do:
- Put the flour, yeast, and salt in a bowl then add 200 ml of the water. As you add the water mix with a wooden spoon (or your hand). Add more water until it becomes a “shaggy mess” (I love that phrase! There are times, after a completely satisfactory wild night out, that you return home feeling exactly that way? Like an absolutely brilliant shaggy mess?). Now add the butter and mix in.
- Now start kneading (yey!) for at least 10 minutes. There may be a day, long into my bread future, when I may tire of pushing the heel of my hand into a mound of pliant dough over and over (thinking very deep thoughts), but until that day comes I won’t be using the dough hook.
- Add flour as needed (if the dough seems too sticky).
- When the dough is smooth and less sticky, form it into a ball and place it in a large oiled or buttered bowl, turning it once so the top is greased too. Cover loosely with cling film (or a tea towel) and leave to rise for an hour or so until doubled in bulk. You can also opt to give it a long cold rise in the fridge overnight.
- Once doubled in size, punch it down (another fun part!) and knead for just a tiny moment.
- Form the dough into what ever shape you want and place it on a baking sheet (or loaf tin) and once again cover loosely with cling film or a tea towel. Leave for 30 minutes or so until puffy again.
- Remove towel and dust lightly with flour. Place in a 220C oven and bake for 35 minutes.
- You know it’s ready when you rap on the underside and it sounds hollow.- When done, place on a rack and let it cool.

I suppose there are more expert recipes out there...stuff that come from bread bibles and such, but oh the ecstasy of eating fresh bread that was kneaded by these two hands. It tasted much heartier than store-bought, and less sweet as well. Now, you are probably wondering why the picture above (and the one above that) look suspiciously not white. That's because for my second attempt I used half white flour and half whole wheat (using the same recipe). Also delicious! The bread pictured in my last breakfast post (in which I alluded to my bread project) is Potato Bread, also from Nigella, and actually my favorite so soft and chewy!

So have I bought bread since I started? Nope. So far things are looking good and I am enjoying myself immensely. And I have only just used recipes from one book! There are tons out all the bread recipes I have been bookmarking from the food blog I haven't even ventured into starters (although I have gotten a lot of good tips from much-admired food bloggers)! This may be the start of something great...