I was terrified of making this because I’ve never made bread before! It seems like some kind of arcane wizardry reserved for those genetically blessed and talented enough to turn water and flour into one of the most yummy and ubiquitous foodstuffs known to man. Anyway, before I get carried away extolling the virtues of bread and bakers, I’d like to say that this is absolutely the best one to try if you are, like me, daunted by the prospect of bread baking. It doesn’t need any fancy preparation. You just use some water, plain flour, salt, sugar and yeast. It tastes amazing!
When you’re baking something with so few ingredients, it’s crucial to use good quality ones because the difference becomes really noticeable. Usually bread requires something called ‘Bread Flour’ or ‘Strong White Bread Flour’. This type of flour has a higher protein content (gluten is the natural protein found in wheat), usually around 14%. Plain flour has only a medium gluten content, around 12%. Nevertheless, this recipe uses plain flour and the bread still turns out really well. I’d love to make it with bread flour next time to see what difference it makes, I imagine the inside would be even lighter and springier.
Bread is an ancient staple food, likely dating back to the stone age. As the process of grinding wheat into flour requires stones, one current theory is that bread was developed by hunter gatherers, who may have collected wild grains whilst hunting for meat, and brought them back to grind into flour with heavy rocks. It is thought that at first the flour would have been mixed simply with water, to make a tasteless sort of gruelly type liquid or paste. At some point, they would have tried heating this paste in the fire, to make a kind of flatbread or cake. An alternative theory is that the first breads came from the starch found in the roots of ferns, which means that they could have developed even earlier.
These early types of bread are all unleavened, meaning that they form flatbreads and don’t rise. The first records of leavened (risen) bread come from Ancient Egypt. The Egyptians were interested in why some bread started to rise, and developed a technique where they would use a lump of dough from the previous day’s batch to rise their new batch of dough. The yeast from the day before would activate in the new dough, causing it to rise as well. This is called a ‘starter’ and many traditional bakers still use this method of rising bread today, especially with certain breads such as sourdough.
As well as learning a little about the history of bread, it’s been interesting to research the effect of bread on our own history. Bread has had such a huge impact on anthropology that it could be said to have created society as we know it today. Once hunter gatherers began collecting grains, it wasn’t long before they realised that they could grow the grains close to their homes to save time and gain a greater control over the cultivation process. This meant that they no longer needed to be nomadic, so they started to create static societies. Rice and maize had similar effects on Asian and North American populations too, enabling the natives to settle in one place.
WHAT YOU NEED
2.25 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
300ml warm water (not hot!)
1.5 tsp salt
350g organic plain flour
Cast iron pot (such as Le Creuset)
Prep Time: 1hr 30 mins
Cooking Time: 45 mins
Cooling Time: 20 mins
- Mix together the yeast, sugar and warm water in a large bowl. Let it sit for 5 minutes, until the yeast starts to bubble.
- Add salt to the mixture.
- Add flour a little at a time, stirring with a spatula until the mixture forms a smooth dough – use the spatula to scrape excess flour off the sides into the dough.
- Lightly flour the dough, turn it over and flour the other side. Cover with a tea towl and rest in a warm place for an hour, until the ball has doubled in size.
- Lightly flour a chopping board and put the dough on it, fold each side of the dough into the centre by pulling it out slightly, then pressing it lightly into the top of the dough. This creates a bit more air and a better shape to your dough.
- Flip it over and shape it into a round loaf. Place in a lightly floured bowl, with the seam on the bottom. Leave for another 30 mins.
- Meanwhile, heat a cast iron pot with a lid in your oven at 240°C.
- Once the bread has risen, tip it out onto a square piece of baking paper, seam side up. Lightly flour and place into the pot. Put the lid back on and place in the oven for 30 mins. Be careful, the pot gets very hot!
- Take the bread out and examine. The top should be light brown, leave it for a further 5 mins if you want a darker crust.
- Leave to cool for 20 mins on a cooling rack. Your bread is ready!
LF – this dish is naturally lactose free
GF – I’m not sure how it’d work with gluten free flour but you could give it a go. Generally the gluten is necessary in bread to give it its texture and springiness.
V – this is naturally vegetarian
Ve – this is naturally vegan