Brilliant Bread At Last!

People, a revelation! I have been cooking bread for over twelve years. I am not a bad bread baker. I make fantastic pizza bases, yummy hot cross buns, but everything else has always been a bit... stodgy. Scrolls, rolls and loaves, a bit steamy and cakey on the inside. I have always used organic plain flour, sometimes with a third or so wholemeal. I make beautiful dough, I love to knead, it rises beautifully, but then it doesn't cook so well. I've tried all sorts of techniques, spraying with water, cooking on terracotta tiles, varying the temperature...then..

last week, I bought... bread flour. Not organic, probably bleached, all the things I generally avoid. But the bread is WONDERFUL! Light, puffy, dry, everything you could want in a loaf of bread. After all these years. I can buy it at the local flour mill in giant paper bags. It's super cheap. Maybe I'll keep the organic flour for cakes.

Up above is tonight's pull apart herby scroll loaf. I can now offer you my bread recipe, which now makes perfect bread every time. Of course, most of you reading this will already be fab bread bakers, but maybe someone hasn't tried it yet...

Jo's Basic Bread

4 cups flour (I sometimes use 2 cups plain, 2 cups wholemeal. This makes the whole recipe incredibly easy to remember. Two of everything. If you use wholemeal, you will need to add an extra couple of Tbsps water)
2 tsp dry yeast
2tsp salt

Stir these ingredients in a large bowl.
Make a well and add:

Glug of olive oil (2 Tbsp if you want to measure)
2 cups of warm water

Stir with a metal spoon. When it starts to cling together in a shaggy mass, start kneading it together in the bowl. I always do this with one hand to keep the other one clean. Sprinkle flour on the kitchen bench with your clean hand, then pop the whole lot onto the bench and knead for about ten minutes. Add a few sprinkles of flour when needed. The dough should become satiny smooth, and not stick to the bench. When it is ready it will have a sheen to it, and you will be able to take a small piece and pull it out into a square that is so thin you can see through it, without the dough breaking. This is called the baker's window.

Wash out the mixing bowl with warm water (I find fingernails most effective for getting dough off the bowl. Hate dough on my dishcloth). Pour another glug of oil in the bowl, pop the dough in then turn it over to oil it all over. This prevents a crust forming on the dough and helps it rise evenly. Tea towel over the top, let it rise for an hour and a half. It doesn't need to be particularly warm. Even in winter it just sits on the kitchen bench.

Next, take the dough out (I always punch it down because it is fun, but not really necessary). Knead again for a couple of minutes. You shouldn't need any more flour. Now, shape your rolls, scrolls or loaf. My pull-apart loaf is scrolls laid on top of each other which helps them to pull apart really easily. These scrolls have melted butter brushed on, herbs sprinkled (dried oregano today), cheese sprinkled on top. Whatever shape you choose, let them rise for another half hour while you finish dinner.

Today it is cauliflower cheese. Cauliflower lightly steamed, some left over pasta, a bechamel sauce with cheese and smoked paprika, topped with bread crumbs, more cheese and paprika. We will have greens tomorrow.

Heat oven to 200C, pop in bread and dinner. 15 mins for rolls and scrolls, half an hour or so for a loaf. Bread should sound hollow when tapped, top and bottom. Tip it onto a cake cooler immediately. No soggy bottoms!


Well done! Locally sourced flour in big paper sacks sounds a fair swap for organic. I'm a real breadmaking cheat - I use a breadmaker. Even that doesn't insure against doughy loaves from time to time. My best loaf ever was produced this week from a packet of breadmix! All I had to do was add water. I made extra sure not to read the ingredients so as not to spoil the experience...
Your bread looks gorgeous- I bet your house smells great too- the smell of baking bread is a massive joy to me! Almost as good as munching it!!!
Heather said…
Bread making is so perilous sometimes. Sometimes it turns out great...sometimes not. I'm glad you found the perfect balance. I'm going to try out your recipe. Thanks!
Anonymous said…
I had the same thing...stodge, until I discovered the local milled flour :). Every one of them makes gorgeous bread but watch out buying their stoneground wholemeal in large bags unless you want to use it all pretty quickly. It goes rancid fast unless you have someplace (like a freezer) to store it in.
Jo said…
Sarah, sometimes it's just safer not to read the ingredients..
Love the smell of bread baking Mrs Frantic. Love it more when I know the bread is going to be perfect!
Heather, I hope this recipe works for you too.
GretchenJoanna said…
Probably the bread flour has a higher gluten content? I always add some gluten flour to my bread dough because I want the slices to hold together if it is for sandwiches, or just to be chewy eaten any old way. If I add some gluten flour I can use way more whole grain flour in the mix, too, without it getting too crumbly, as in our favorite oatmeal bread. So glad for your success!
Anonymous said…
Yummo! And I bet your house smells scrumptious? I am not a bread maker but it is probably just as well as I am addicted to wheat products. Eat way too much bread. Fresh, white bread is like a cake to me.
Jo said…
Gretchen Joanna, I am sure you are right, it is that high gluten wheat that does the trick. And i was wondering whether I could do half organic wholemeal and half breadflour. Thanks for the confirmation, I will try that today.
Lucinda, you are so right, good bread is so addictive. Luckily my family devours it so quickly there is rarely enough for me to over-indulge..
Ah so jealous! I've never made bread except briefly in a bread maker. Now I try (and regularly fall) to eat gluten free. Though I tend to think homemade stuff is "less bad" but that's kinda illogical
Anonymous said…
Sadly I'm intolerant of wheat unless it's sprouted (waaay too much hard work there) or made into sourdough which I too find can be hit and miss. Finding a good bread recipe is as good as finding the perfect underwear - you stick with it! ;) Oh how I love the smell of baking bread. :)
Your bread looks beautiful. If you ever get the chance, would you be so kind to post your recipe for pizza dough? Mine turns out okay, but never as good as I'd like.

Jo said…
Sarah and Jessie, so sad! Good bread is the best, isn't it? Have you tried spelt or kamut flour? Easier to digest, lower gluten.
Frances, my pizza dough recipe is exactly the same, but I will do a post later today on how I cook it, which I think is the key...
isnt it wonderful when one small tweak changes your life - for the better! yeast and i don't get on, so i am in awe of anyone who can bake bread. well done jo. smells delicious, even from here :-)
Jo said…
e, I don't believe it, you can cook anything. Have a go with my recipe. It will keep the winter blues at bay. Nothing says 'winter well spent' like the fragrance of bread baking..
Jo said…
Fran, found your comment in the spam folder...again.
Do you use Tasmanian Flour Mills? Thanks for the stoneground flour hint. I'm loving the bread flour. It's so exciting when a project finally goes how you want it to..

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