There’s a reason that the smell of freshly baked bread sells houses, why it’s piped into supermarkets even when no baking is done on the premises. It’s a calming smell, one that is peculiarly nostalgic and comforting, even if, like me, you didn’t grow up in a home where bread baking was common.
But it’s also comforting to make: bread-making means you get to pummel a piece of dough in the pursuit of gluten-development, it’s quite the stress-reliever. And I love the simplicity of it: flour, water, salt, yeast, that’s all you need for the most basic of breads, and the most impressive kitchen alchemy. There is little more satisfying than lifting the lid on a Dutch oven and seeing the transformation from damp, cool dough into a golden-crusted domed beauty. And it goes without saying that freshly-baked bread is an incomparable treat.
If you’re intimidated by bread, you’re very much not alone. Part of the problem is the vogue for sourdough: the path to sourdough is long and winding, and filled with hurdles and pitfalls. It’s a joy when you get it right, but sourdough is apt to put off the nervous enthusiast: too wet, too sticky, so slow. If you’ve ever attempted it, successfully or not, you will never again begrudge paying £4 for a loaf of the stuff from an artisan baker. But not all breads require three days and a PhD in flour to ensure success: bread needn’t be complicated, and it should never be an ordeal. We’ve put together a list of some of our favourite simple breads.
Let’s start at the beginning, with the most simple of bread recipes: a white loaf. Dan Lepard’s bread recipes are always bang on, and this is no exception: soft crumb, crisp crust, straightforward and delicious – a very good place to start.
If you’re nervous about shaping your bread, then using a loaf tin gives a security blanket of structure to your loaf: this wholemeal bread recipe is baked in a tin, which makes it perfect for toast and sandwiches.
I also love the lazy shaping that you use for focaccia: expect a very wet, oily dough, that will stretch further than bubblegum. Pressed into a roasting tin and then dimpled with your finger tips like you’re playing a squidgy piano, it will bake into the most addictive bread, and is endlessly customisable with toppings, flavoured oils and herbs.
If I had to choose my favourite simple bread (don’t make me choose!) it would be this spelt bread recipe: it’s a very easy dough to handle, soft and supple and I cook it in a Dutch oven or deep casserole dish to give it a burst of steam and beautiful oven-spiring – it’s also low in gluten if you struggle to digest it.
For cold Autumn days, I like Claire Thomson’s porridge bread: this bread is made using the remnants of porridge left in the pan or bowl after breakfast. Because the porridge is cooked, it’s different to an oat bread: chewy, almost crumpetty in texture, and slightly sweet from the milk (and if you’re me, honey) from the porridge. You’ll soon find yourself deliberately cooking an extra portion when you’re making porridge just to justify this bread.
But if you don’t want to hang around, or simply don’t have the time, you can make soda bread. Soda bread doesn’t use yeast – instead, it uses baking powder or bicarbonate of soda as its raising agent, like you would use in a scone or a cake, which doesn’t require time or kneading to react. So you bring the dough together briefly with your hands, and it’s immediately ready to bake – and ready to eat 20-40 minutes later. I think it’s hard to beat soda bread alongside a bowl of soup, which makes it perfect for autumn.
Another speedy option are these flat breads: ready to cook as soon as you’ve pulled the dough together, they are cooked on a griddle or frying pan, and are charred on the outside, soft and pillowy inside. Sometimes I brush it with garlicky butter, other times I wrap it around spiced chicken, pickled cabbage and yoghurt – either way, it’s brilliant.