30g/1oz honey (or sugar)
625ml/just over 1 pint tepid water
1kg/just over 2lb strong bread flour
Some extra flour for dusting
Dissolve the yeast and honey (or sugar) in half the tepid water.
On a clean surface or in a large bowl, make a pile of the flour and salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in all the dissolved yeast mixture. With 4 fingers of one hand, make circular movements from the centre moving outwards, slowly bringing in more and more of the flour until all the yeast mixture is soaked up. Then pour the other half of the tepid water into the centre and gradually incorporate all the flour to make a moist dough. (Certain flours may need a little more water, so don’t be afraid to adjust the quantities.)
Kneading! This is the best bit, just rolling, pushing and folding the dough over and over for 5 minutes. This develops the gluten and the structure of the dough. If any of the dough sticks to your hands, just rub them together with a little extra flour.
Flour both your hands well, and lightly flour the top of the dough. Make it into a roundish shape and place on a baking tray. Deeply score the dough with a knife – allowing it to relax and prove with ease. Leave it to prove until it’s doubled in size. Ideally you want a warm, moist, draught-free place for the quickest prove, for example near a warm cooker, in the airing cupboard or just in a warmish room, and you can even cover it with clingfilm if you want to speed things up. This proving process improves the flavour and texture of the dough and should take around 40 minutes, depending on the conditions.
When the dough has doubled in size you need to knock the air out of it by bashing it around for a minute. Now you can shape it into whatever shape is required – round, flat, filled, trayed up, tinned up or whatever – and leave it to prove for a second time until it doubles in size again. The important thing is not to lose your confidence now. Don’t feel a need to rush through this, because the second proving time will give you the lovely, delicate soft texture that we all love in fresh bread.
Now it’s time to cook your loaf. After all your hard work, don’t spoil your efforts. You want to keep all the air inside the loaf, so dont knock it. Gently place it in the preheated oven, don’t slam the door. Bake according to the time and temperature given in the recipe variations which follow. You can tell if your bread is cooked by tapping its bottom (if it’s in a tin you’ll have to take it out). If it sounds hollow it’s cooked, if it doesn’t then pop it back in for a little longer. Place it on a rack to cool.
You’re going to love this bread!