To celebrate Eden’s Harvest Festival this October, we’re bringing you a selection of recipes, ideas and creations to celebrate this special season. Today, expert baker and Guardian columnist Dan Lepard gives tips on baking the perfect loaf.
Years ago baking was frustrating for me. This was way back in the early 1990s when the bread I wanted to bake never turned out like the image I had in my mind. And to be fair I didn’t often see pictures of bread I wanted to bake. What I was after wasn’t just a chewy crust and a good flavour but a crumb that wasn’t dense like a bad scone but instead full of holes and lightness. A crumb that had a very slight waxy quality that stayed moist for days.
So I started looking and expelling the recipes and techniques that seemed unlikely to help me, and eventually I got to my baking ‘Eden’: perfect loaves every time, effortless and sweat-free, without the need for a mixer or machine. Naked bread, nurtured by a fully clothed Adam.
One technique to be expelled from my baking Eden was ‘rising bread’ in an airing cupboard or warm place. This bread baking ‘essential’ turned out to be disastrous for the loaf I wanted to bake. The truth was that a long, slow, cool wait once the dough was first mixed gave the best crumb to my mind. You see, yeast rises at all sorts of temperatures: very slowly in the fridge and very quickly in an airing cupboard. But when it rises slowly the flavour grows more complex and the texture of the dough doesn’t degrade as quickly. So, the final loaf tastes rich and the crumb becomes more translucent.
The other was that I let go of my ego about kneading and started to accept that most of the changes that occurred in the dough were because of nature, time, water, and fundamental characteristics of the flour I was using. Occasional light kneading of the dough, rather than a full-on pounding with fists and fury, produced the easiest result with the beautiful open texture I was after and a good round shape. Some even leave out the kneading entirely and find their loaf still turns out rather well.
This is the easy white loaf this approach produced, and it’s still the one I rely on for our everyday bread. Allow yourself about three or four hours for this recipe.
400g strong white flour, plus more for shaping
1 tsp fast action yeast
1 tsp fine salt
300ml warm water
oil for kneading
1. Put the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl, pour in the warm water and stir everything together into a sticky shaggy mass. Scrape the dough from your hands, cover the bowl with a cloth and leave 10 minutes.
2. Lightly oil a 30cm area of the worksurface and your hands, and knead the dough, repeating twice more at 10-minute intervals.
3. Return the dough to the bowl and leave it for 45 minutes.
4. Dust your work surface with flour. Tip the dough out onto it and pat it into an oval. Roll it up tightly, give each end a pinch to keep it neat then place the dough seam-side down on a floured tray, cover with a cloth and leave until the dough has increased in size by a half – about 45 minutes.
5. Flour the top of the dough, cut a slash down the middle and bake at 220°C/200°C fan/425°F/gas
7 for 35-40 minutes.
Dan Lepard’s new baking book, Short & Sweet, is available at the Eden Project bookshop.