The aroma of a warm, crusty loaf leaving the oven is like nothing else; not even newly cut grass or powerful solvents can compete. It is the most basic of human foods, baked by prehistoric man since 30,000 years ago. This is the reason it appeals to us so strongly; it is both incredibly basic yet utterly irresistible.
When our ancestors first had the brilliant idea of making a paste from flour and water and baking it, what they made would have been revolting to modern tastes. Without yeast or flavourings, bread would have been little more than a stodgy doorstop, more of a weapon than a meal. It was only until those ever resourceful Egyptians came along and added yeast did we get the modern loaf.
As far as today’s bread goes, all you need is flour, water, salt and yeast. These four simple things can produce any variety of loaves, from soft white rolls to indulgent focaccia. Mix these into a dough, work it, leave it to rise, bake it and you’re done; simple eh? Get into bread making and you could end the days of buying spongy, unhappy loaves from those thieves at a well-known on-campus supermarket. I’m not mentioning names, but it rhymes with ‘frost butter’.
Even the poorest of homemade loaves far surpasses shop brought bread. Using the industrial ‘Chorleywood’ process to produce quantity over quality, the average sliced white loaf is designed for small budgets and little time (i.e. students). But for a special occasion, an excuse to put off work (of which I’m guilty), or purely out of boredom, getting the mixing bowls out and knocking up a loaf is the best way to eat your bread.
For me, one of the best parts of making bread is the kneading. It is simply the repeated stretching and bashing of the dough until it turns from a rough mass into a smooth ball. There are tons of techniques; anything that works the dough will do fine. Relaxing and therapeutic, you can turn off whilst doing it. Let all those worries of deadlines and bills just drift away as you work the dough. Angry with your seminar tutor/housemate’s annoying habits/life in general? Simple, just work that dough and feel the stress just disappear. Trust me, it’s worth a try, it’s virtually an edible stress ball.
Armed with this valuable knowledge, here is a recipe for a simple, tasty bread ideal for beginners and professionals alike, so, with flour at hand, I wish you good luck and happy baking.
Cheesy cob loaf
1/2 kg strong white bread flour
1 tbsp salt
7g sachet of fast action dried yeast
50g grated cheese
Ground black pepper
1. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and add the salt to one side and the yeast to the other.
2. Make a well in the middle and slowly pour water into it, and mix with a spoon until you have formed a rough dough. It should be soft, but not sticky. Use more or less water if you have to.
3. Knead for about 10 minutes on a floured surface, or until you have a smooth dough.
4. Place in a bowl, cover, and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, usually about an hour. When risen, knock back by punching it, then shape it into a ball. Do this by gently cupping the dough at the sides and rotating it.
5. Brush the top of the loaf with milk and add the cheese and black pepper. Leave to rise again until doubled in size, about half an hour.
6. When risen, bake in a 220C/425F oven for 40 minutes, or until it sounds hollow when tapped from beneath.