Bread Week in the Great British Bake Off tent can break many a strong contestant, especially those who are more comfortable cooking cakes and puddings. Suddenly the playing field changes and accuracy, knowledge and experience are more important than ever. They say you can judge a restaurant by the quality of their bread and the same is true of a baker. This is baking at its most scientific and there’s no buttercream icing to hide behind.
Having said this, making bread at home isn’t as complicated or as labour intensive as many people think – much of the important work is done in the proving process when you don’t have to do anything but watch the dough rise. Like all baking, there are rules to follow but with a good recipe and a little practice, perfect bread is within your reach.
Leavened breads (those that rely on yeast for their rise) are time-consuming due to the importance of proving but the satisfaction of producing your own bread makes up for the slow process. Start with a simple loaf like Dominic Chapman’s White bread or Kevin Mangeolles’ Rye bread; then, when you have mastered the basics, experiment with flavours and textures. Add herbs, garlic, malt, spices, saffron and cheese to give extra pep to plain loaves or incorporate chunkier ingredients such as onions, beetroot, olives, cranberries and nuts for an extra dimension. Pete Biggs’s Bacon, onion and cheddar flatbread is a great way to start a meal, as is Ollie Moore’s aromatic Allotment bread which is scented with lavender, rosemary, borage flowers, curry leaves and curry plant pollen. Adding root vegetables such as parsnip or potato to the dough adds extra moisture to the crumb and using different flours like rye, spelt, oat, wholemeal or granary all produce yet more interesting results.