I know, I know… it´s an awful pun but I simply couldn’t resist it! And I´m still giggling at my own witticism, believe me, I´m quite silly that way 😉
But before I´m at risk at being too much in awe of myself, I´ll swiftly come to the point of this post:
In my mind baking is an art in its own right. It doesn´t matter if you’re baking cookies, a cake, meringues, an elaborate gateau with several layers of cream and icing or simply bread. Who can ever resist the smell of freshly baked bread? As far as I know no one, at least not me.
I have been “studying” the art of baking bread for over ten years now. All of them were edible even the very first ones, but to be honest, it took a while till they not even tasted good but reeeally good, and even longer until they looked the part too.
I should add at this point that I´m quite finicky when it comes to food and I blame my parents who are both great cooks – my dad even owned an Italian Restaurant when I was little. But none of them was any good at baking bread, so I started to teach it to myself.
The thing about baking bread, like with everything else really, is that no matter how carefully you handle your recipe, it takes more than that. It takes feeling and sensing when your dough is good enough to let it finally rest so it can double.
Time is also an essential factor and should under no circumstances be underestimated. A good bread really needs time. When I was younger, that was my main mistake. I was too impatient to wait and put the bread into the oven long before it was ready for it. Just because I was so keen of eating it I guess 😉
I have often read that it takes about 10 years of practice to develop expertise at whatever it is you want to be really good at. I´m not sure if that´s true but I for one know that it really took me a long time to master the skill of baking bread and that it was worth every second.
Many might think these days where you can buy bread in every store and supermarket this is an unnecessary skill, but I honestly don´t think so. For one I definitely know what exactly my bread is being made of (no added conservatives or artificial flavorings and colorants) and for another I always know that my bread is indeed fresh.
So, if I have inspired you now to get your hands dirty and start making your own bread, here´s my recipe for Italian White Bread.
Italian White Bread
– about 500 g baking flour
– 1 tsp dried yeast
– 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp sugar
– about 200 – 250 ml warm water
For the following I always recommend to use your hands instead of a blender.
Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl, form a little hollow in the middle in which you pour the water.
Slowly blend together the water in the middle with the flour lying around by doing slow circles with one hand.
When the flour and the water are mixed the kneading begins! The longer you need, the better the result will be, so take your time, add extra flour when the dough gets sticky and knead away! About 5 minutes. When the dough feels like the velvety skin of a peach (or in Jamie Oliver´s words “like a baby bottom” – I´ll never forget that one 😉 ), you´ve reached your goal.
Now cover your dough with a clean kitchen towel and leave the bowl in a steadily warm place – in winter I use a little trick: I fill a hot-water bottle half with hot water, wrap it in a towel, put my bowl on that and wrap another towel around it all. Leave for about 1 – 2 hours.
When the dough has visibly risen, knead it now back again with a bit of flour. Leave it again in a warm place for about 2 hours.
Before you put your dough in the oven (about 200 degrees Celsius), you knead the dough one last time and form it in whatever shape you like. Make incisions with a sharp knife to help it rise in the oven.
Bake for about 30 minutes, make sure that the bread sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom. Let it cool down on a rack – or simply tuck into it 😉
Bon appetite! 🙂