Once upon a time I lived in a glorious share-house, with beautiful blankets for curtains and only a few weeds growing through the floor. I shared with two girls and when we weren’t occupied with weeding the floor or breaking the bathroom fixtures, we had a great time guzzling red wine and fitting in a bit of study. It was during this time that my almost-compatible interests in DIY and gardening began. The DIY was essential for jobs like repairing the garage door with old vertical blind pieces (after I broke it with my motorbike) and sticking down kitchen floor tiles with excessive grout (I didn’t break those, I suspect they were running away). The gardening was mainly for fun and survival – if the grass stayed short we could play cricket and we couldn’t lose drunk friends down the bottom of the substantial block. Being poor students, we were in possession of a motley collection of tools, including a very useful hammer and the world’s smallest electric whipper snipper. We did not have a lawn mower. So, the only thing to do was find someone to mow for us. As luck would have it, not long after we made this decision a harassed and muddy lawnmowing man materialised on a neighbour’s front lawn. I dragged him round to our back yard so he could give us a quote for a regular mowing gig. He glared hard at the large block and the overgrown driveway, muttering to himself. Reluctantly, after a few minutes, he said “I can do it for twenty bucks, but I won’t do nothing fancy”. Deal.
Just like his mowing, this bread is nothing fancy. It is white, medium sized, soft in the middle, crunchy on the outside when just baked and simply tasty. Even small children only accustomed to eating wonder-soft-sliced-in-a-packet bread will eat this. Originally a Domestic Goddess Nigella recipe, I’ve tweaked it slightly.
Just White Bread
500 grams of bread flour
8 grams of dried yeast (1 7g sachet will also work fine)
1 tablespoon of rock salt
~350 mls of very warm water
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter at room temperature
Bread tin optional – you can just make a loafy shape and bake it on a tray
Preheat oven to 200 deg Celsius
Tip onto your lightly floured bench top, add the butter in little blobs and knead. This will take 5-10 minutes, depending on your individual style. I love this bit, but I also sing the praises of laundering cloth nappies and knitting socks, so if it’s not your thing just use the dough hook on your mixer and judge by appearance rather than feel. When the dough has been kneaded enough it will be smooth, springy and only slightly sticky. Put the dough into a large, buttered bowl (I just wash out and reuse the original bowl), turning once so the upper surface has a sheen of butter. Leave to rise. at this point you have a choice – put the bowl in a warm place for about two hours, until the dough has doubled in size; leave it overnight; or use my mum’s quick-rise trick like I do. This involves putting a hot heat pack in the bottom of a plastic bag, resting your bowl on the heat pack and tying up the bag on top. This will get your dough risen in about one hour.
Next, the fun part: knock back the dough. Yes, actually punch it down. Then put it back onto your lightly floured bench and give it a brief knead. Shape it or put it in your tin. Cover loosely with a clean tea towel. Leave to rise again for an hour or so.
Then bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on your oven. Ours is fan-forced and quite quick. To test for readiness, tip it out of the tin and knock on the bottom of the loaf – it should sound hollow. Slather the hot bread in butter, or dip it in soup, or weigh it down with scrambled egg and freshly picked parsley, or sandwich baby spinach, goat’s cheese and beetroot between its slices, or just toast it for breakfast and enjoy with a big hot mug of earl grey tea.