Basic bread dough
There is something special about a freshly baked loaf of bread and I find it fascinating that just the process of adding water, salt, sugar and yeast to flour can produce such amazing results. This basic bread recipe can be used to make buns, as a pizza base if you like a more leavened pizza, and for focaccia. Experiment and change it by adding raisins or seeds (cumin, fennel, sesame, poppy) when you knock it back. You can double the ingredients if you want to make more. If you have a machine with a dough hook you can use it here to save yourself the job of kneading!
- If using dried yeast, mix together the yeast and sugar in 3 Tbsp warm water. Leave for 15 minutes until it starts to foam. (Fresh yeast can be crumbled directly into the flour.)
- Put the flour on a bench and make a well in the middle.
- Gradually pour the yeast mix and the 375ml water into the well, using your fingers to incorporate the wet with the dry. Make sure the water does not “breach” the sides of the well. Add the salt and mix well.
- Start kneading by pushing the dough away from you with the heel of your hand. You have to be vigorous with this action.
- Roll and pull back towards you and repeat. This will take around 10 minutes. Move the bread slightly every time you push out so that you gradually incorporate the flour on the bench. If the dough is too damp, you can add a little flour.
- With your fingers, take a small piece of dough and pull it apart to see the development of the strands of gluten. If you can see through the dough and it does not tear, the gluten has developed and the bread can rest to rise. Keep kneading until it reaches this stage.
- Form into a ball shape by rolling the dough and pulling it back on itself. The bread should look smooth and glossy.
- Brush a bowl lightly with oil. Coat the dough in the oil to prevent it drying out. Cover with plastic wrap or a cloth to rise. Depending on the ambient temperature of the room, this can take 30-60 minutes. It is a good idea to put it near a warm oven or hot water cupboard.
- To finish, heat oven to 220C. Knock back and shape. Place on an oiled baking tray. Sprinkle with flour or brush with beaten egg or oil. Slash the top and leave to prove for 10-15 minutes.
- Bake for 10 minutes then turn oven down oven to 190C and cook for another 10 minutes. You know it is cooked when you tap the bottom of the loaf and it has a “hollow” sound. Leave to cool.
Instructions on how to knead bread
Some reasons why breads fail
- Old or stale yeast
- Not enough yeast
- Dough is too dry – needs more liquid
- Dough is too wet
- Rising time is too short or room is too cold
- Not enough yeast
- Needs more kneading
- Too much salt or sugar
- Too much/too little liquid
- Over-proved and dough collapses
- Holes – not knocked back properly and air holes remain
- Coarse texture – too much liquid, over-proved
- Wrinkles form on the skin means dough over-proved
Cracked crust (oven-spring)
- Oven too cool
- Dough not slashed
- Dough not covered during proving
- When the oven is too cool, the bread is pale, dry and hard
- When the oven is too hot, the crust is dark and burnt