It’s been a pretty busy month and (as you may have gathered by the long stretch of time between my last post and this one) it hasn’t been spent ticking off more recipes from How to Eat. But instead of falling down a shame spiral about it, let’s get to the next recipe: Basic white loaf.
I’ve tried to make bread several times before and it has never, ever ended well.
I can successfully make bread-like items: I can a make decent pizza dough, I can make a realistic-looking Focaccia, but bread that is just bread is always a hot fresh disappointment.
The last time I tried to make bread, I attempted rolls. They emerged from the oven looking a little pale – as if they were undercooked. However, picking one up revealed that they were very cooked because they were absolutely rock solid.
Despite the fact they didn’t look or feel like rolls, they smelled delicious. You know, that warm yeasty, cosy, fresh, bready bread smell? So appetising.
Yeah, that’s what my anemic dough rocks smelled like.
Unfortunately they tasted awful. Truly… awful. Like what I imagine eating cooked Play Dough tastes like.
So it goes without saying that at the beginning of the basic white loaf venture, my expectations were low.
For the first time since starting this little project of mine, I finally learned from my past mistakes and read the whole recipe, word for word.
After weighing out all of my ingredients (all of which I had!) I immediately set about cheating and used my stand mixer to knead the dough.
I hate kneading. I wish I liked it, I wish I could tell you that there’s something wonderful about getting flour all over your hands and kneading away until falling into meditative state. That there’s something soulful about the hard graft of kneading.
But I can’t. Because the truth is I get bored and tired very quickly – my hands ache and I end up complaining loudly at an audience of no one about how bored and tired I am of kneading and how much my hands ache.
NB. You have to knead the dough for all of ten minutes – not that long for normal, rational human adults.
The trickiest part about making bread is having the patience (which, as we’ve already established, I do not possess) to wait around for it to prove. I think the total prove time was about two hours in the end.
Each time I returned to my bowl I peered in at my pasty ball of uncooked dough. I prodded it like I was the school bully. Stupid dough. You’re never gonna be bread.
In my mind, I had failed before I’d started (life metaphor alert). I’d already told myself it was never going to work, so all I had to do was go through the steps and make a shitty ball of pale dough just to say I’d done it. After that I would never have to attempt bread-making again. I’d just buy it from the shop like a normal person.
After the final knead, I could either freestyle it and fashion the dough into a loaf-type shape, or put it in a good old fashioned loaf tin. I did neither. I put it in one of those new-fandangled silicone things that unhelpfully flop about as you attempt to position your dough into them.
I jostled the dough into position, pushing it into corners only to have it rebelliously spring back to the centre. At this point, I wasn’t even that bothered if it didn’t resemble a loaf of bread at all.
So my small rectangle of dough sat in the middle of the tin, a good distance from the edges, to prove once more before baking.
It got a decent rise in the final prove, but when it emerged from the oven it looked a bit, well, tiny. Like bread loaf made for The Borrowers. Much to my surprise, it had a solid golden tinge to the crust and smelled like bread – so I was happy enough.
I left it to cool before slicing it up to see how unbread-like it was inside.
As the crust fell away, I stared in awe at the light, fluffy loaf in front of me.
It looked just like real bread.
It couldn’t be possible.
I took a bite of the crust and… is that? Could it really be? It actually tasted just like real bread!
Bread that tasted like bread. I never saw it coming. I was so pleased with myself that I sliced the whole loaf and used it to make teeny tiny ham salad sandwiches to take to work the next day.
I don’t know whether it was the fluky process or just having expectations that were in the gutter, but either way my basic white loaf turned out basically brilliant.
I was even surprised that the baking gods didn’t punish me for using my stand mixer…