As promised from quite a while ago, a homemade bread recipe that would be perfect to mop up the jus from the summery chicken recipe. Unfortunately, in truth the weather outside could not be further from summery! As I write it is pouring with rain and extremely windy outside; I think a thunder storm is approaching. But that is not in any way stopping me – sitting inside with the heating on, when I close my eyes and eat this bread, I am able to pretend that I am actually sitting outside in the Mediterranean sun.
Homemade bread isn’t actually difficult to make. It sounds like a challenge, but in fact bread is the ultimate ‘prep-and-part’ – most of the cooking process doesn’t involve you. It will take around ten to fifteen minutes of your actual time, and the rest the bread itself takes care of. It may not be convenient for every day use – but for a weekend treat or a special occasion, it is brilliant. Not only is there something distinctly satisfying about eating the fruits of your labour with your evening meal, or for use as a mid-afternoon sandwich, but the process is almost therapeutic. I actually heard on Radio 4 a few weeks ago about how making loaves of bread is used as therapy in some parts of the world – it is a great distraction to anything going on; a diversion culminating in a product you can be proud of. If you’re feeling stressed, there are worse things you could do than to treat yourself to a loaf or two of this!
Even though plain white, or crusty wholemeal bread, are enjoyable, what gives this loaf the edge is its Mediterranean flavours. The use of the oil throughout the cooking process – in the dough, on the clingfilm, as the grease for the tin – gives it a great flavour throughout. Adding pieces of tomato and chili give a stronger flavour in the parts of the bread they are found in; they are a segment of flavour available in every slice. These flavours lend themselves to any dish it is used alongside – this evening, for example, the bread was used in lieu of a usual seeded bun for beef burgers. The flavours of the tomato and chili from the bread added subtle extra tones to the beef burger, making it a far more enjoyable meal.
- 700g strong bread flour
- 1 sachet yeast
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 425ml hand-hot water
- Chilies and sun dried tomatoes, roughly sliced, to taste
- The oil from the chilies and tomatoes
- Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the yeast, sugar and salt and lightly fold with a wooden spoon.
- Push the flour mixture to the sides of the bowl, creating a small well in the middle. Add the hand-hot water, and drizzle in some oil from the chilies and tomatoes – stir to combine. If the mixture needs more liquid to combine, add more chilli/tomato oil; if it is too liquid, add a touch more flour.
- Add the finely sliced chilies and tomatoes, and stir. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured side. Knead the dough – starting from the centre of the dough, push outwards with the heel of your hand. Then, fold the pushed out side of the dough back into the centre. Rotate the dough clockwise and repeat the process.
- The kneading will be complete when the skin of the dough begins to have a slightly blistered appearance – this is the presence of the gluten network, which will make it rise and have a fluffy centre.
- When the dough has been kneaded fully, place it in a clean bowl. Lightly oil some clingfilm with some more of the chili and tomato oil; cover the bowl with the clingfilm oil side facing the dough. Leave to rise – it should double in size. This can be done overnight at room temperature, or, if you’re short of time, leaving it in a warm place can speed up the process. It is important to NOT leave the dough in too warmer area, because this can kill the yeast and it will not rise!
- When the dough has doubled in size, the air needs to be knocked out of it. You can do this by simply punching the dough (be careful of your hands if you consider yourself of above average strength!) in the bowl. This will cause the dough to return to its original pre-risen size.
- Then, transfer the dough to a lightly greased loaf tin. Cover the tin with the oiled clingfilm once more, and leave to rise again. This is called proving, and it will give the bread a better texture.
- Once it has risen, place in a preheated oven at 230 degrees and cook for 35 – 45 minutes. Pop the loaf out of its tin, and knock the bottom of the bread – it should make a hollow sound, and this will confirm it is cooked.
- Leave to cool, and serve in thin slices.