Remember the scene in About a Boy where Marcus accidentally kills a duck with his mum’s loaf of ‘healthy’ bread? My very first foray into the world of breadmaking wasn’t a million miles off. After purchasing my brand new copy of The River Cottage Bread Handbook, covering the kitchen in a blanket of flour and lovingly kneading a sticky, unresponsive dough, I ended up with just over a kilo of flour, water and salt, condensed into a heavy loaf the size of a small brick. The kind of thing Tony Soprano would be more likely to tie to the ankle of a recently deceased victim than eat for breakfast. With a mother’s love for her first born child, I duly munched my way through the whole thing, telling anyone who listened that it was a million miles nicer than the air-filled rubbish you can buy in the supermarket. It wasn’t.
But this didn’t deter me. The River Cottage bread book is a wonderful thing. With page after page dedicated to mixing, folding, kneading and coating, it’s the ultimate bread-lover’s companion, and I knew that with a little perseverance this little loaf could produce a larger loaf she was proud of. And could actually eat.
So here it is. My very first properly delicious loaf of bread. Crusty and textured on the outside, with a springy, slightly doughy crumb and a delicious nutty taste. Daniel Stevens, River Cottage bread guru, advises not to cut bread intended for slicing until it’s cooled. I defy anyone not to carve off a slab fresh from the oven, slather in butter, and eat whilst still warm. Yum!
Malted grain bread (adapted from The River Cottage Bread Handbook)
Makes 2 loaves of 12 small rolls
- 750g malted grain flour
- 7g powdered dried yeast
- 10g fine salt
- 420ml warm water
- 1tbsp olive oil
Mix a rough dough, combining flour, yeast, salt and water. Adjust the consistency if you need to, to make a soft, easily kneadable, sticky dough. Turn onto a work surface and clean your hands.
Knead the dough until smooth and satiny. This should take about 10 minutes (see step by step instructions in The River Cafe Handbook for beautiful results!).
Shape the dough into a round, flour the surface and put back into the wiped out mixing bowl. Wrap in a black plastic bag and leave in a warm place until doubled in size. This should take 45 mins – 1 1/2 hours, depending on how warm it is.
Deflate the dough by pressing all over with your fingertips, then form into a round. Leave to rise again. You can do this up to 4 times, but I found twice was perfect (and I’m not that patient!).
Now prepare for baking. Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees C/Gas Mark 10 with a baking tray or stone inside. Shape your dough into loaves or rolls and rest, covered in a black plastic bag, for 10 minutes til doubled in size.
Transfer loaves to hot baking tray/stone. Slash tops if you wish and put in oven.
Turn the heat down after 10 minutes: 200 degrees C/Gas Mark 6 if crust is burning, 180 degrees C/Gas Mark 4 if noticeably browning, and 170 degrees/Gas Mark 3 otherwise. Bake until loaf/rolls are browned and crusty and feel hollow if you tap them – about 10-20 mins for rolls, around 40 mins for loaves.
Leave to cool on a wire rack (if you can bear to wait!).