Get baking this summer with an easy recipe from River Cottage
Bread is such a familiar part of our everyday diet that it's sometimes easy to overlook - why bother making your own when it's so readily available in every supermarket?
It's also shrouded in mystery, with talk of fermenting yeast, knocking back and proving, turning the most confident cooks to jelly.
But bread, as the saying goes, is the staff of life, and what could be more life-affirming than knocking up your own wholemeal loaf for lunch, or making delicious fluffy croissants for friends at weekend brunch?
Can anything beat a hunk of freshly baked bread, slathered in butter and jam, or the vibrant aromas of a fresh focaccia torn to pieces over a lively supper?
This is a simplified bread recipe, which can be adapted to create a host of different breads, the recipes and ingredients for which are listed below, from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's River Cottage Baking.
Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the liquid, and with one hand, mix to a rough dough. Mix in the fat if you are including. If necessary, add a little more flour or liquid to make a soft, easily kneadable, sticky dough.
Turn the dough out on to a work surface and clean your hands. Knead the dough until it is as smooth and satiny as you can make it. This will take 5-15 minutes. Shape the dough into a round. Next, oil or flour your work surface and put the dough into a mixing bowl.
Put the bowl in a bin liner and leave to ferment and rise until doubled in size. This can take between 45 minutes and 11/2 hours - or longer still, if the dough is cold. Deflate the dough by tipping it on to the work surface and pressing all over with your fingertips. Then form it into a round. If you like, leave to rise again up to four times.
This will improve the texture and flavour. Now, prepare for baking. Switch the oven to 250C/gas 10 or its highest setting and position a large, heavy baking tray in the oven. Get an oven cloth ready, as well as a serrated knife if you wish to slash the tops of your loaves.
Clear the area around the oven. Divide the dough into 2 large or 3 small loaves, or a dozen rolls. Shape these into rounds and leave them to rest, covered, for 10-15 minutes. Shape the loaves as you wish, and coat the outside by rolling in a fistful of flour.
Transfer loaves to well-floured wooden boards or tea towels and lay a plastic bag over the whole batch, to stop it drying out. Leave to prove, or rise for the final time, until the loaves have almost doubled in size. They should spring back to their original shape when squeezed gently.
Transfer the loaves for baking to the hot tray (removed from the oven). Slash the tops, if you wish, with the serrated knife. Put the tray in the oven, and close the door quickly. Turn the heat down after about 10 minutes to: 200C/gas 6 if the crust still looks very pale; 180C/gas 4 if the crust is noticeably browning; 170C/gas 3 if the crust seems to be browning quickly.
Bake until the loaves are well browned and crusty, and feel hollow when you tap them: in total, 10-20 minutes for rolls; 30-40 minutes for small loaves and 40-50 minutes for large loaves. Leave to cool on a wire rack, or anything similar that allows air underneath. Bread for tearing can be served warm, but bread for slicing must be cooled completely.
More information on River Cottage courses and recipes