My family has run a bakery and pastry shop since 1990, in which I was basically born, raised and utterly happy. I had the luck of getting up in the morning to the aroma of fresh bread, to run out the door with a steaming-hot croissant in my hand, to come back from school and have a piece of cake waiting for me. Obviously, this was not the most healthy environment for a child with a sweet tooth. But boy was I happy. Now that I have been living in Italy for the last three years, I kind of miss all of that. But I’ve tried to recreate the things that I love, of which bread is number one. It’s the love when you knead the dough, the rest you give it to develop itself, the satisfaction when a good-looking loaf comes out of the oven, the crackling of the crust when the bread is cooling down, the sight of butter melting smoothly on the surface of a fresh, warm slice.
Here I have for you a fairly easy recipe for making homemade bread. It might be a bit different than what you’re used to, but I believe that we all have our own preferences when talking about bread. And this is how I like it.
To do the day before
This recipe uses a poolish or sponge. This is a type of preferment, a part of the dough’s ingredients that is fermented separately in advance. It’s a mixture of flour, water and a tiny bit of yeast that will ferment for 12 up to 18 hours, and which will create a bunch of flavor in our bread.
So if you’re planning on making bread on your day off, make this poolish the evening before. If you want to make bread after work, make the poolish before leaving the house.
- 150g of strong flour (flour with a high gluten/protein content – white or wholegrain)
- 130g of water (around 20°C)
- 2-3g of dried yeast (let the yeast dissolve in some water before adding to the rest)
Mix the ingredients until thoroughly combined. Use a container that is big enough, i.e. the dough can expand to twice or thrice its size so make sure you give it room. Close the container with a lid and place it in a room at ambient temperature (20-25°c) for 12 up to 18 hours. You’ll see that the poolish will expand at first, letting you know your yeast is alive and working, and after a while it will collapse.
The bread making
First thing to do: open the container of your poolish and enjoy a banana-y, beery, slightly vinegary aroma. A bubbly texture and a smooth consistency, that’s how it should look like. Okay, now we can start working.
- 285g of poolish
- 450g of strong flour (white or wholegrain, as you prefer)
- 5g of salt
- 270g of water (warmish)
Mix all the ingredients together into a soft dough. Here’s a personal trick: knead with one hand all the ingredients until everything sticks. Take up the dough from the bowl with both hands and start stretching it in front of you, like if you would play the accordion. It will be tough at first, but you will feel that the dough becomes stretchier and easier to deal with. After 5 to 7 minutes, your dough should be soft and silky enough. Cover the bowl with a plastic bag and leave it rise for one hour in a warmish room.
Now comes the special bit. Home ovens are not the best to make bread in for various reasons, but here’s a trick: the dutch-oven technique. You need a cast iron (or similar material) pot, with a lid, for this method.
When the hour has passed, turn on your oven to 230°C and put in the pot with the lid. Meanwhile, punch your bread down, give it its final shape, cover it with a plastic bag and leave it to rise for another hour. I normally use a pot of a similar size to the one that’s heating up in the oven to give the final shape. When your bread is proofed, pull the pot out of the oven, transfer the proofed dough into the warm pot, cover it with the lid and put it all back in the oven. After 15 minutes, remove the lid and turn down the temperature to 210°C. Leave the bread for another 30 minutes.