I’ve been sucked into the sourdough cult: I spend days (literal days: hours and hours) every week flipping and flopping my bread baby, manipulating it into shapes, and spending more time and energy on various proofs and rests than I did on my university dissertation. I have invested in special baskets, special razor blades for cutting, special flours, all to ensure the most perfect loaf. I obsess over my crumb, my oven spring, my crust. I nurture my starter like it is a tamagotchi. It is, frankly, exhausting. And makes me dreadful company at a party.
So consumed am I by this obsession that I almost forgot that normal bread could exist. By ‘normal’, I mean bread that is made with added yeast, as opposed to that powered by the naturally occurring yeasts in a sourdough starter. Once I’d started on my sourdough fixation, yeasted bread felt like a cheat, or maybe something lesser. How could something which wasn’t going to take up half my week match up to my unpredictable dough child?
A simple loaf of bread, I am quickly reminded once I get my hands stuck in, is a wonderful thing: comparatively quick and easy to make, with a dough that is soft and lovely to work with. It is as straightforward as this: first, mix together all the ingredients by hand or in a stand mixer. Leave for an hour to prove, then knock the build of up of gas out of the dough. Roll into a rectangular shaped roll roughly the size of your loaf tin, and leave for another hour. Slash it with a knife and bake it hot hot hot for 20 minutes, before turning down the temperature a little and finish baking. That’s it: 2 proves, one knock-back, and a shape.
It doesn’t require any other attention; you don’t need any equipment beyond a loaf tin, and it takes just under three hours from start to finish. A small amount of softened butter beaten into the mix creates a slightly richer flavour, and a tablespoon of dark brown sugar adds just a touch of toasty caramel to the loaf. I make this as a tin loaf, so it has its final prove in the tin and bakes in it, giving it a clean shape that will slice beautifully. When it comes out of the oven it should be substantially risen, with a taut crust the colour of ground coffee, and a gorgeous parting across the top where it was slashed.
Makes: 1 loaf of bread
Takes: 2 hours, including proving
Bakes: 40 minutes
100g strong white bread flour
400g strong wholemeal bread flour
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
50g butter, softened
1. Place all of the ingredients in a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, or a large bowl, along with 400ml of warm water. Stir on a low speed or with a spoon or spatula until you have a shaggy dough, then turn the speed to medium-high on the stand mixer, and mix for 5 minutes. If making by hand, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes. Cover with a clear, dry tea towel, and leave to prove in a warm place for an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
2. Turn the proved dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pummel it a couple of times to get rid of the gas that has built up.
3. Lightly oil a 2lb (900g) loaf tin with a neutral flavoured oil. Flatten out the dough with your hands into a rough rectangle shape. Fold the rectangle like you would a business letter (bottom third folded up, top third folded down on top of it). Now roll the dough from the short end to form a pudgy roll, and tuck each end of the dough underneath. Place in the dough tin with the seams facing downwards. Leave to prove for an hour in a warm place.
4. Preheat the oven to 220°C. The dough is ready to cook when, if pressed gently with a finger tip, the dough doesn’t immediately spring back, and briefly keeps the imprint.
5. Just before baking, dust the top of the loaf with a little flour, and then, using a sharp knife slash down the centre of the length of the loaf.
6. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 180°C for another 20 minutes.
7. Remove the tin from the oven, and leave for ten minutes. Remove the loaf from the tin and leave to cool completely.