I bake bread on a weekly basis. I make gluten-free sourdough for me, wheat sourdough for my husband and boys, challahs for Shabbat for my guests and simple yeasted bread when I don’t have time or patience to make a sourdough.
I won’t lie to you, it’s much easier to knead dough in the mixer (with the hook attachment). I’ve been looking into buying a used one but there’s something humbling and therapeutic about kneading by hand. Plus it’s a good arm workout. You should hear how I pant when I press the dough or punch it with all my strength. Besides, I don’t have room in my kitchen for a mixer and what if we move again?
Three things you should know before you start.
- The dough needs time to proof, rise, and double its size. At least 1½ hours in a warm cosy environment. Some people put it in the oven with the light on. I don’t because I’m worried I’ll forget about it and put the oven on and burn the plastic bag that covers it. You can put it on the fridge, on a high shelf in the kitchen, or at the window threshold but not with direct sunlight. It will rise too fast and will make your bread taste yeasty.
Another option is to let the dough proof overnight in the fridge.
- Don’t skip second proofing. It’s important to give the dough and yeast time to release their glasses, which makes the bread more airy.
- If you don’t have a dutch oven, put it in a stainless-steel pot or in a loaf pan and cover with a bigger pot upside down.
Simple yeasted bread
- 4 cups spelt or all-purpose flour + extra for dusting
- 2 ¼ teaspoons instant dry yeast
- 1½ cups lukewarm filtered water
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Sesame seeds or/and poppy seeds - optional
- Nuts and seeds such as walnuts - ½ cup crushed, sunflower seeds (½ cup toasted), flaxseeds (¼ cup)
- You can add rosemary - 2-3 sprigs or 1 teaspoon dry or caraway seeds (1 teaspoon).
- Put the flour into a big bowl, add the yeast, and stir with a big whisk or wooden spoon until well combined. Mix the salt with 1 cup warm lukewarm and pour into the bowl.
- Using one hand, mix it. Add ½ cup of the water and continue to mix the dough to combine. The dough should be sticky. It would get less sticky as you knead it. If you decide to add nuts or seeds, do it now.
- Kneading. Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a clean, floured surface. Make sure it is at a height where you are comfortable working. If the dough is too stiff, add a little bit of lukewarm water. If the dough is way too sticky, sprinkle additional flour over it.
- Gather the dough into a pile and begin pressing it together. Press the heels of your palms firmly into the dough, pushing forward slightly. Fold the far edge of the dough upwards, towards you, and press it into the middle of the ball. Rotate it slightly. Punch it. Work it. Repeat this press-fold-turn sequence for as long as your hands can go (about 10 minutes).
- shape the dough into a nice round ball, put it back in the big bowl, dust it with flour and cover with a plastic wrap or a moist clean kitchen towel. Set the bowl in a warm place (not too warm - not on top of a radiator or in the sun, in the winter I use a folded tablecloth over the plastic wrap to keep it warm - something my mom used to do) and let it rise until it doubles its size - about 1½ hours.
- When the dough has doubled in size, you need to knock the air out of it by pressing it down with your palm. Knead it for 1 minute and shape into a ball. Use a sharp knife or exacto knife to score the top of the bread. Put into a Dutch oven lined with baking paper. Dust it with flour and cover with a plastic wrap or moist clean kitchen towel. Let it proof until it doubled in size again, about 30 - 45 minutes. Second rising time will give it a great soft texture, so don't rush it.
- Preheat the oven to 450°F/250°C. Cover the Dutch oven with a lid and put it in the oven (middle rack). Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the pot from the oven, remove the lid and put the Dutch oven back for 15 minutes or until the crust is deep golden brown. lid . You can tell if the bread is fully baked by tapping it on the bottom, if the sound is hollow, it's baked. If not, put it back in the oven for a few more minutes in the lower rack.
- Let it cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Not easy to wait but if you cut the bread hot, it would hurt its texture.