Making bread is the closest thing to actual magic that really exists. A few cheap ingredients, a little bit of movement, and the whole mixture turns into something else entirely – something that’s warming, hearty, delicious and just perfect to dip into balsamic vinegar (the measure of all great things).
Making bread is also one of those gorgeously physical things that you can do to de-stress while you listen to the Moth podcast, chatter away to a mate on Skype or dance embarrassingly around your kitchen to the Craig Charles Funk and Soul Show. And when you’re done, you’ve got BREAD!
It makes your whole house smell like a bakery, it saves you money and it makes you healthier (if you stop buying that horrible store-bought sliced bread that’s mainly plastic, that is). It’s a skill that we shouldn’t lose, and a source of creativity that we shouldn’t overlook. If you didn’t guess yet, I love making bread.
Bread can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be. It can be three ingredients or twenty. This recipe is somewhere in the middle; it’s a little more nuanced than your standard plain white bread, but the little bit of extra effort is worth it. The rye flour brings a nutty, thick taste to the bread and while the fennel and caraway lighten each bite. The olive oil helps the dough stay beautifully moist and the whole thing turns out with a great crust and an intense flavour.
(Makes 1 large loaf)
305g strong white bread flour + more for kneading
250g rye flour
400g warm water (400ml)
15g olive oil
1 packet (7g) active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
In a large bowl, mix together the white flour, rye flour, active dry yeast, salt, sugar, fennel seeds and caraway seeds
In a separate bowl, stir together the warm water and olive oil
Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour the water mixture into it
Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry until it all comes together in a wet dough, but one that’s workable. If your dough is too wet, add in a little (only a little) more white flour just until it becomes workable
Flour your workspace if necessary and tip the dough out onto it
Work the dough for about 10 minutes. This is the best way, in my opinion, to work dough, as it gives a light and airy bread that’s just delicious
When your dough is spongey, smooth and forming glutinous strands, place it into a greased bowl and cover with a floured tea towel. Leave it in a warm place for 1-2 hours, until it has doubled in size
Gently turn the dough out onto your work surface, fold a couple more times to bring it into a rough loaf shape, then place onto a floured baking tray for a freeform loaf or into a loaf tin for a more traditionally structured loaf
Cover with the tea towel again and set aside for another hour in a warm place
When the dough has risen enough, preheat your oven to 250 degrees Celsius
Just before placing the dough into the oven, turn the oven down to 220 degrees and place a baking tray of cold water on the bottom shelf
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a nice crust has formed and the bottom sounds hollow when knocked
Turn onto a wire rack to cool and enjoy when just warm, with a thick coconut spread or jam
Keep in a bread bin and don’t forget to share!
I would never presume to tell you how to enjoy your fresh bread. It’s much too personal for that. However, I’ve enjoyed this bread slathered with peanut butter and jam as a cheeky post-workout snack, and also dipped into olive oil and balsamic vinegar then used to clean up a bowl of broccoli and ginger soup. You can, even, use the ends to make brown sugar caramelised bread crumbs to make brown bread ice cream – the recipe for that is coming soon.
Whatever you use it for, don’t forget to appreciate the magic.