- 1 lb strong bread flour (white or wholemeal OR a mix of 3/4 wholemeal and 1/4 porridge oats)
- 1 tsp yeast
- 1 tsp sugar
- Optional up to 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 pint hand-hot water (weighs about 10 oz if you measure it onto the scales with everything else)
- Olive oil – approx 1 tablespoon
- Optional seeds to taste (I like a mix of pumpkin, sesame, and linseeds in wholemeal bread, or poppy seeds on the outside of white bread)
- Weighing scales
- Mixing bowl
- loaf tin, baking tray, cake tin or similar
- Measure the flour, sugar and yeast into the mixing bowl and make a well in the centre with the teaspoon.
- Pour in the hand-hot water and stir until there's almost no visibly dry flour left. Plain white bread flour will go very sticky and gloopy, wholemeal flour will be a bit stiffer. Mix it as best you can with the teaspoon and leave it in the bowl.
- Cover the bowl with a hot wet teatowel and leave in a warm but not hot place for 30 minutes or so. Up to two hours is fine, longer than that gives a slightly sour flavour to wholemeal bread, in particular, which you might not like. When you get back to it, the dough should have at least doubled in size.
- Knock it back – that is to say, punch it with one hand until it's back to its original size and your hand is covered in dough. If it's very sticky, take it in both hands and slap it and stretch it and knead it until it becomes elastic – it's to do with the breaking down of the proteins in the flour. Once the dough is a pliable lump and no longer sticking to your fingers and everything else it touches, you can finish it off for baking.
- Finishing touches: Stick it in an oiled loaf tin OR knead in some seeds, make a fancy loaf shape and roll it in seeds, stretch it out and tie it in a knot, brush it in oil a well as oiling the tin, knead in some sliced garlic or lumps of fruit, make it a cake shape, whatever.
- Final rise: When the loaf is in or on whatever you're going to bake it in, loaf tin, cake tin, baking tray, whatever, cover it with something rigid and high – another tin turned over on top of it, the upturned mixing bowl, or similar – to give it plenty of space to rise. Cover it with a hot wet teatowel again to make it airtight and leave it to double in size again.
- Then sling it in the oven. I usually bake for about 30 minutes at Gas Mark 6 (400F, 200C) but you can do it hotter and faster or slower and cooler. If it comes out underdone put it back in again. If it comes out overdone, make croutons from the crust. It's very hard to make bread actually inedible. A perfect loaf will look well-risen and have a nicely browned crust, and when you turn it over and knock on the base it will sound hollow. Imperfect loaves are still very good if eaten hot. Perfect loaves are worth saving for a few hours as they slice better cold.