Homemade bread making is one of my favourite and most relaxing activities during the weekend. Making bread from scratch can be therapeutic, a sort of stress-buster which is at once invigorating and soothing and above all a triumph for my palate when it’s ready.
If someone woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me that there are some fragrant slices of bread with cherry tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, salt and a pinch of oregano waiting for me, I would jump out of the bed. That’s how much I love it. Nothing more to be said.
A big potato (about 300 g)
500 g of strong white bread flour
1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 X 7 g sachet of fast action dried yeast
175 ml of lukewarm water
Put the potato in a pan and cover it with cold water until it is completely submerged. Then turn on the heat and bring the water to a boil. Once it starts boiling, you may reduce the heat to low and allow the potato to simmer for about 30 -35 minutes in a soft boil. Check if it’s done by pricking it with a fork. It is ready when you encounter no resistance all the way through the centre. Drain it, leave it to cool and then peel off the skin.
Put the flour into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour a bit of lukewarm water into the well, then add the yeast, sugar and salt and stir with a fork.
Using a potato masher, crush the potato adding it to the mixture. Pour the remaining water and with your hands start mixing the flour to make a soft dough.
Place the dough onto a floured worktop and dust your hands lightly with some flour. This prevents the dough from sticking to your hands. With a bit of elbow grease – this is really therapeutic if you are upset, believe me – knead the dough thoroughly for 10 minutes.
A quick technique to knead the dough is to stretch it flat in front of you with the heels of your hand; hold one end of the ball of dough with the heel of one hand while you use the heel of the other hand to stretch out the dough away from you.
Then fold it back over itself, give the dough a little turn and repeat the previous step a few times – getting into a rhythm listening to a cool song may be helpful!
Keep folding over and kneading the dough until it feels firm and elastic and looks silky and smooth.
Return the ball of dough to the bowl, cover it with a tea towel and wrap it with a wool blanket to keep the heat in. Place it in a warm spot and leave it to rise for 3 hours until doubled in size.
Turn out the risen dough onto a floured worktop, dust your hands with some flour and knead very gently for a minute. Shape the dough into a ball and slash the top of it with a sharp knife.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place your bread dough on to a flour-dusted baking tray and then into the preheated oven. Bake it for 40- 45 minutes until golden brown. You can tell if it’s cooked by tapping its bottom – if it sounds hollow it’s ready, otherwise put it back in to the oven for a little longer.
Once cooked, place on a wire rack and allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes.
To add a punch of flavour add some chopped fresh rosemary to the dough.