Bread is basically flour, water and yeast. Sound simple? Bread making is not so much about the ingredients as it is about the process, and thus it really can be called an art. One which has taken me many years of practice in order to bake a decent loaf.
- Bread flour which is high protein / gluten flour (however if you don't have any on hand, plain flour is fine)
- sugar / honey
- bread improver (available in the supermarket / bake shops)
Knead the sticky dough ball while slowly adding flour back into the ball so it becomes less sticky and more workable. Keep the dough as wet as you can. Knead for ten minutes until the dough springs up in your hands.
Let it rise in a warm moist place. Half deflate the dough and fold into thirds along the width, and then along its length to form the shape of a loaf. This process (knocking back and rising again) can be repeated a few times if you have more time and want more structure in your loaf. If making into a baguette, knock down only once and shape, making sure to pinch the seam well. This will ensure the loaf retains its shape. Keep the seam on the bottom and let rise again.
Heat your oven to its maximum temperature and place a plate of water on a rack. When ready to bake, slash the top of the loaf with a sharp knife and sprinkle with flour. Put the risen loaf into the oven and splash some water on the sides of the oven to form steam.
When the loaf looks cooked and the crust has formed, about 15 minutes in, turn it upside down to cook the underside too. Be careful not to dent the loaf.
Keep in mind these tips:
- Let the flour and water rest for half an hour before kneading
- Use as wet a dough as you can
- There's no need to punch the dough down fully. Half deflating it works better.
- Fold the dough so that the surface is taut, this gives the loaf its shape, else it will flatten in the oven.
- Use as hot and as humid an oven as you can
- Use a bread or pizza stone / cast iron pot