I’ve been experimenting with various bread recipes off and on for a couple of years, trying various different methods, all without a bread making machine. Some just seem to take too long, too many steps – we’re talking rising at 4 am to make bread for breakfast – some others just did not seem to work, but now I think I’ve found a winner.
A friend of mine shared this basic recipe a few months ago and I’ve played around with it a lot. I’ve experimented with it as a pizza base, a whole meal loaf, a flat salted and seeded bread and a calzone. It works as a plaited bread, flat bread or a round or tin loaf… it is so easy! I use a few cheats, which save time more than anything, as it’s tricky baking with two littlees, you never know when you may have to dash off.
Here are the instructions for the basic large loaf, I frequently halve it if I’m baking for my little family. Half makes plenty for pizza bases, depending on how thick you like it, making enough for two large pizzas, a calzone, or a couple of small plaited breads.
Into a large bowl, pour one cup of just boiled water, stir in three tablespoons of honey, stirring until the honey has dissolved and the water is just warm. Sprinkle with one tablespoon of active yeast, cover bowl with a clean cloth and rest bowl in a shallow bath of hot water in your sink. This seems to speed up the yeast, and in about ten minutes, more or less, you’ll have a bowl of frothy yeasty honey goodness. I use just boiled water so it is still warm by the time the honey is well dissolved.
While you’re waiting for this to happen, you might like to sift three cups of flour, I usually use half wholemeal, half white, and a good pinch of salt into another bowl. You can also add a few tablespoons of dried herbs, basil, oregano what ever you like! A whole meal herby bread makes the best pizza base. Once the yeasty honey has frothed up, add about three tablespoons of olive oil and the sifted flour. Mix to combine until it is ready to turn out on the table to kneed.
I have used flour on my hands and the table, but I have also found using extra oil for kneeding works really well too, it also seems to make a smooth stretchy dough. So I just use oil these days, which ever you use, kneed the dough for a while, until it feels smooth and elastic, shape it into a roundish ball, place back into the slightly oiled or floured bowl, cover with the tea towel again and allow it to rise for a few minutes. I place the bowl on my stove top, just near or over the oven vent. If you haven’t turned your oven on do it now! (For a whole meal loaf I bake at around 180-190 degrees, for an all white loaf, I bake at about 200-210, no set time, just until the bread is lovely and golden).
Once the dough has risen, it might be twice the size, or just a third bigger, take it out, and gently give a kneed and shape. Roll or pull it out for a pizza base, fold it over and flatten for a flat bread, or divide into thirds and stretch it out to plait, or just shape it into a nice oval as above. For a calzone, I roll out into a very large oval, fill with a tomatoey lentily sauce, chopped mushrooms, sweated onions or shallots, cheese, whatever you like, fold over and twist edges. For a yummy flat bread, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with rock salt and cumin seeds. Sometimes I let it sit again for a couple of minutes covered with a tea towel before I put it in the oven… in no time you have a delicious bready meal!!