‘Once you have mastered this classic white loaf, the bread-making world is your oyster!’ says Neven Maguire in his cookbook ‘Neven Maguire’s Home Economics for Life’. This loaf will stay fresh in an airtight container or wrapped tightly in tin foil for up to three days or can be frozen for up to one month. His book is published by Gill Books, priced at €22.99 and available in all bookshops and online now.
Makes 1 x 900g (2lb) loaf
Rapeseed oil, for greasing
500g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
1 x 7g sachet of fast-action dried yeast (that’s about 1 tablespoon in total)
1 teaspoon salt
About 350ml hand-hot water
1. Lightly grease a 900g (2lb) loaf tin.
2. Place the flour in a large bowl with the yeast and salt. Stir to combine, then make a well in the centre and pour in most of the water. Quickly mix it with your fingers for 2–3 minutes, then knead to incorporate the flour, scraping the sides of the bowl and folding the dough over itself until it gathers into a rough mass. The dough should feel slightly wet and pillowy but workable. If it doesn’t, add a splash more water if necessary.
3. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and lightly flour your hands. Knead for at least 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and pliable. The dough will be very sticky at first, so keep your hands and the work surface lightly floured to prevent it from sticking and building up on the work surface. As you continue kneading, the dough will become more elastic and easier to handle.
4. Either way, shape into a loose ball, then return it to an oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Leave to rest in a warm, draught-free place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
5. Turn the dough out again onto a lightly floured surface and knock it back by tipping it back and pushing the air out. Knead the dough for a few seconds, until it becomes springy and smooth. The gas bubbles will be redistributed so the final loaf has an even-textured crumb.
6. Shape the dough into a rectangular ball using the length of the prepared tin as a rough guide. Place in the prepared tin, smoothing down the sides. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to prove in a warm place for another 30 minutes, until slightly risen. Dust the top of the loaf with a little more flour and slash with a sharp knife if you want.
7. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220C (425F/Gas 7).
8. Bake the loaf in the oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 190°C (375°F/gas mark 5) and continue to bake for 30 minutes more, until the loaf is a deep golden brown. To check that the loaf is done, carefully tip the loaf out of the tin using oven gloves and rap the underside with your knuckles. If the loaf sounds hollow, like a drum, it’s done. If you just get a dull thud, return the loaf to the oven, putting it straight on the oven shelf, and bake for another 5 minutes, then test again. Transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool completely before cutting into slices.
NEVEN’S TOP TIP
Once you have mastered the basic recipe, the dough can be flavoured with 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs, such as thyme or rosemary. For a more pronounced taste, add up to 4 tablespoons of chopped fresh mixed herbs, such as a mixture of flat-leaf parsley, basil and chives. For a completely different flavour, try adding 2 tablespoons of basil pesto.
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