I’ve recently discovered that I can indeed bake bread! I have been using the ‘River Cottage Baby & Toddler Cookbook’ by Nikki Duffy, quite a lot recently, and a fair few recipes from this book seem to have become a part of my regular repertoire. If you haven’t got this book and have a baby or young children, then I definitely recommend getting it! (You can follow this link to the River Cottage website and buy it River Cottage Baby & Toddler Cookbook). I have found that the bread recipe in this book is pretty foolproof – it must be as I have made it numerous times and it has worked wonderfully every time! I wanted to share it here, giving credit to Nikki. I think there is something so nice about making and baking your own bread. When you make bread yourself, you have total control over the type of flour and levels of salt going into it, and therefore into your little people too! Shop bought bread can contain so many additives and high levels of salt, and it just seems such an obviously good thing to do, and I feel, one of the most homelyest things to do – to bake your own! It is definitely cheaper (perhaps unless you buy a no frills supermarket brand, but is that really bread anyway?!) and so much tastier. Nikki also gives ideas for making other “bready goodies” such as pitta bread, pizza dough and breadsticks – needless to say, we have tried them all in our family and it’s all good! So, here is the recipe for ‘Basic Bread’ taken from The River Cottage Baby & Toddler Cookbook, by Nikki Duffy, page 230:
(Makes 2 Loaves)
500g Strong White Bread Flour
250g Strong Wholemeal Bread Flour
250g Plain White Flour
2 tsp Easy Blend Yeast
2 tsp Sugar
10g (11/2 level tsp) fine sea salt (although I use about 1/2 tsp – Nikki Duffy says you can leave the salt out altogether or just reduce the amount you put in – it doesn’t seem to affect the consistency of the bread dough)
2 tbsp Olive or Rapeseed Oil
Put the flours, yeast, sugar and salt in a large bowl and combine thoroughly. Make a well in th centre and add the oil, then pour in 625ml warm water. Mix to a rough dough in the bowl. You may feel you need more water – different flours vary a lot in absorbency – you are aiming for a dough that feels quite sticky and squidgy when you squash it between your fingers.
Turn out the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes. Hold one end of the dough down with one hand, the stretch the rest away from you along the worktop with the other. Fold the dough back on itself and repeat, turning the dough 90 degrees every few stretches. Kneading should be a fairly gentle, rhythmic process that folds air into the dough and stretches the gluten within it, rather than a rigorous pummeling!
When the dough feels smooths form it into a ball. Put a little oil in a large, clean bowl, add the dough and turn it so it is covered with a light film of oil. Cover with clingfilm and leave in a fairly warm, draught-free place until doubled in size – probable about an hour but possibly longer.
Scoop the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. use your fingers to ‘knock it back’, or deflate it. Cut into 2 equal pieces. Either make 2 loaves or 1 loaf and other bready goodies! If making a loaf, shape into a loaf and place in a loaf tin. Dust with flour, cover with clingfilm and leave in a fairly warm, draught-free place until doubled in size again.
While the dough is proving, preheat your oven to its highest temperature. When the dough has risen transfer it quickly to the oven and bake for 10 minutes, the reduce the heat to 200C/Gas 6 and bake for a further 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
To test, hold upside down in a cloth in your hand and knock on the base. You should feel the loaf vibrating in your hand and it should should hollow. If not return to the oven for a little longer. Once cooked, leave the bread to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.
Variations For each of the following prepare the bread dough, leave to rise and then knock back, following the method above.
After knocking back, take walnut-sized pieces of dough and roll them out into long, thin rods. Place on a lightly greased baking tray. Leave to rise for 10-15 minutes, then bake at 200C for about 10 minutes. leave to cool on a wire rack. These are great to be kept in the freezer as they defrost within minutes.
take egg sized Balls of knocked-back dough. Roll them out on a floured surface into oval shapes, no more than 5mm thick. Transfer to a greased tray, and leave for 10-15 minutes, then bake at 220C for about 8 minutes, until puffed up and just starting to brown. Take them from the oven and immediately wrap in a clean tea towel. Leave to cool completely before unwrapping (the trapped steam keeps the pittas soft).
For a large pizza that will serve 3 adults, use a quarter of the knocked-back dough. leave it to rest for 10 minutes, the roll it out on a floured surface until no more than 5mm thick. Transfer to a greased baking sheet (it will shrink back when you transfer it, so give it a bit more rolling, pushing and stretching when on the baking sheet). Add your chosen toppings and bake at your ovens maximum temperature for 10-12 minutes.