I love this time of year. Early autumn, when the sun is still shining and the days are warm, but there’s a hint of the misty coolness ahead. Apples are ripening on the trees, and there’s a real sense of excitement about the cosy days to come.
Around the time of the Equinox (which this year was the 22nd September) I am always inspired to make bread. It’s a little tradition I’ve been having with myself for the past few years now, and never fails to make me feel grounded and settled. There’s nothing quite like waking up to a delicious breakfast of homemade bread with jam!
I always forget how easy and fun it is to make leavened bread. If you eat a lot of bread, it’s super easy to make more than one loaf at a time – you can then freeze the extra loaves for a later date. Bread keeps so well in the freezer! This is such a simple way to eat more simply and more zero waste, as most bread from supermarkets is packed full of preservatives and other additives, and comes in tons of packaging.
Some more top tips for achieving the perfect crusty loaf…
- Make sure you knead the dough for at least 10 minutes. When making a wholemeal loaf it’s sometimes harder to tell if the gluten has been prepared enough than with a white loaf, but you should still put a few good minutes of elbow-grease in! When the bread starts to look more elastic and you can pull out the dough a good few inches before it snaps, then it’s probably about ready.
- Make sure you prove the bread in a warm enough place – this helps it to rise really well. A sunny windowsill is perfect. It should at least double in size. If not, then either it’s not warm enough, or your yeast isn’t active enough.
- For a wholemeal loaf, it’s nice to still use half and half plain and wholemeal flour, otherwise the bread dough will be extremely tough.
I’ve used oat milk in my recipe below, as I find it adds a bit of sweetness to the loaf (oats are naturally quite sweet!), without needing to add any additional sweetener.
Perfect Staple Wholemeal Bread
1.5 cups strong wholemeal bread flour
1.5 cups plain white flour
310 ml unsweetened oat milk (you can use another type of milk, but I find oat milk has the mildest flavour)
1/2 tsp vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil (optional)
1 tbsp fast action dried yeast (about 7 g)
1/2 tsp salt
Add the oat milk and vinegar to a small pan, and warm gently over a low heat, until just warm (you don’t want the milk to be hot, or it will kill the yeast, but warm is fine!).
Meanwhile, mix the flour, yeast, and salt together in a large bowl with a fork, removing any lumps in the flour.
Remove the milk from the heat. Make a small well in the centre of the flour and pour in the milk and the oil, if using. Using your hands, stir the liquid through the flour mixture and begin to knead together into a ball. Depending on the exact flour you use, at this point you might need to add a little more liquid or flour in order to get a soft, but not sticky, dough forming.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a good 10 minutes, until the dough feels quite elastic and soft and you can pull it out several inches with your fingers without it snapping.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Place in a warm spot (such as a drawer, or a sunny windowsill, or above a radiator!) to rise for 1-2 hours. The dough should at least double in size, how long it takes will depend on the activity of your yeast.
Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and bash out the air. Knead the dough a couple of times (but not much!), then either shape into a round loaf shape, or add to a lightly oiled loaf pan and spread out in an even layer. Leave it to rise for a second time for 50 minutes to an hour.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220 degrees celsius. When the dough has finished its second prove, bake it for 10 minutes at this high heat, then lower the heat to around 180 degrees and bake for a further 30-40 minutes. If it’s in a loaf pan, it might take a little longer.
You can test if your bread is ready in two ways: a) insert a sharp knife or chopstick, and see if it comes out clean, and b) tap the bottom of the loaf – it should feel hollow.
Leave it to cool before tucking in – it will fall apart if you try and cut it while it’s still piping hot! Enjoy your freshly baked bread and bask in your own industrious-ness.