Lets get back to basics. Bread baking. We haven’t talked about bread baking since way back in the beginning, with a white loaf. But I’ve been baking bread steadily for the past few months (and took an amazing day course at River Cottage) and just have to start sharing these recipes with you!
I love that chewy, crispy crust you get on a good bakery loaf of bread or a real French baguette. And I finally figured out the secret to achieving it at home – water in the oven!
You should have a basic bread recipe in your repertoire because it’s so versatile. Want to include dried fruits and a bit of sugar? Or herbs and sea salt? Or sun dried tomatoes and basil? Or blue cheese and walnuts? No problem. Once you’ve mastered a basic bread recipe, you can make endless variations and appear the homemaker extraordinaire! (Don’t forget to name them fancy things, preferably French-sounding, everyone will be tres impressed).
This bread recipe makes an artisanal loaf, which to me just means that it’s free-form, without a bread pan.
This is brilliant because 1) it is ‘artisanal’ and therefore sounds more difficult and 2) you don’t even need special equipment to make it!
I’ve used thyme and sea salt, but use whatever herb you have on hand and enjoy. Rosemary, tarragon or some mixed herbs would work well too.
Thyme and Sea Salt Bread
Adapted from River Cottage Bread Handbook
Makes 1 loaf
500 g. strong white bread flour
1 1/4 c. (300 ml) warm water – just above body temperature
1 Tb olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. (10 g) sea salt
1 1/2 tsp. (5 g) yeast
2 tsp. dried thyme
cornmeal for dusting (optional)
Mix: In a mixing bowl, combine flour, salt, yeast and thyme, stir to combine. Then add olive oil and water. Start stirring it together (your fingers are fine for this … or use a dough whisk like I have). Stir until it’s just come together and the liquid is absorbed – it will be crumbly and in lots of pieces.
Knead: Turn the dough out onto a very clean counter, lightly dusted with flour. Put a little flour on your hands. Now start kneading the dough. Don’t worry about your technique if this is your first loaf, just push the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, then pull it towards you. Turn it around and repeat. Do this for about 10 minutes. After about 5 minutes the dough will magically change from crumbly and sticky to smooth and elastic! Keep going!
Rise: Once the dough is smooth & elastic, shape it into a ball. Put a small amount (1 tsp) of oil in the bottom of your mixing bowl and rub it around the bowl to cover. Now put the dough into the oiled bowl. Now, turn the dough over (the top of the loaf should now be lightly oiled!). Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm location for about an hour, until the dough is doubled in size.
Shape: Prepare your baking sheet. I put a little dusting of cornmeal on the baking sheet so the bread doesn’t stick. Then take your dough and shape it into your loaf. The easiest is to make a round loaf, but you can try any shape that you want! To shape the loaf, rather than rolling it like a ball, stretch the dough a bit and then tuck the ends underneath – this should give you a nice, smooth top. Place the shaped loaf on the baking sheet, and sprinkle a bit of cornmeal on the top. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm location for another hour, it will continue to rise.
Bake: Put an empty metal baking dish on the bottom of your oven. Preheat your oven to it’s highest setting (about 250c/475f). Boil a kettle of water. When the oven is heated and the kettle is boiling, pour about 1 inch of hot water in the bottom of the baking dish – voila, a steam oven! Slash the top of the loaf with a knife in 1 or 2 places. Sprinkle water on top of the loaf, or spritz lightly with a spray bottle of water. Bake in the hot oven for 10 minutes.
Turn the oven down to about 180c/350F (or lower, if the loaf seems too brown on top), and finish baking for 30-40 minutes.
Test if the loaf is done by knocking on the bottom of the loaf – it should sound hollow when fully cooked. Place loaf on a rack to cool.
Try to wait until it cools to enjoy