- Yeast: If you do it right, bread-making can be the easiest thing in the world. For the very best loaves, fresh yeast is the way forward. But after it proved a challenge to buy in central London, I thought it prudent to suggest fast-action dried yeast for the recipes in this book. I know many people might have a bread maker - indeed, I was the owner of one for a spell - but I missed the tactile and magical experience that comes with being able to see every stage of the breadmaking process, and I'm now a firm believer in making it by hand.
- Water: Be brave with the water: the wetter the dough, the fluffier and lighter the loaf will be.
- Salt: Always measure out the salt precisely, as this one ingredient makes all the difference between a good-tasting loaf and a bad one. And be warned that lo-salt, whilst brilliant for other dishes, does not work well when making bread, because it doesn't impart enough flavour and the bread will end up tasting bland.
- Kneading: Accurately time the kneading process and knead the dough for the full time stated in the recipe. It really does make a difference.
- Rising: When leaving the bread to rise, it likes to be in a warm but not hot place. Most airing cupboards and tops of radiators are too warm. A warm, cosy kitchen is usually just fine.
- Testing: To test if the bread has risen enough, flour your finger and gently prod the side of the loaf. When ready, the dough should spring halfway back up.
- Cooking: Once a loaf is ready to bake, there are a number of ways to ‘glaze' it. Milk will give it a soft, matt look; eggwash will give a shiny, crunchy look; and sieving a little flour over the top will give it an authentic rustic ‘French bread' look.
- Steaming: Try to create a steamy environment inside the oven - this will give the bread plenty of time to rise up before the hard crust starts to develop. Throw some ice cubes into the bottom of the oven, use a water spray to create a mist, or put a roasting tin, half filled with water, on the bottom shelf.
- Testing: If the top of your loaf is done but the bottom is not (to check, turn it over and tap it. If ready, it will sound hollow), cover the loaf loosely with some foil to prevent it from colouring further while it finishes cooking.
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