The basic bread recipe

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The River Cottage Bread HandbookThis is my simplified bread recipe, which can be adapted to create a host of different breads. You will find more detail on the essential stages (highlighted in bold below) in the previous chapter. To begin, you need to measure the ingredients.

  • Yield: 2 large or 3 small loaves, or 12 rolls


  • 1 kg flour
  • 10 g powdered dried yeast
  • 20 g fine salt
  • 60 ml liquid (warm)
  • 2 handfuls of extras
  • A piece of old dough, or a ladleful of sourdough starter
  • 1 tbsp (a good slug) of fat
  • 2 handfuls of coating
  • 200 ml milk or water (if coating with anything other than flour)
How to Make It
  1. First, mix the dough. This is the one-stage method; you can adapt it for other methods. Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add smaller extras if you are using them (save nuts and dried fruit for after kneading). Add the liquid, and with one hand, mix to a rough dough. Add a piece of old dough or the starter if you are using one. Add the fat if you are including and mix it all together. Adjust the consistency if you need to, with a little more flour or water (or your chosen liquid), to make a soft, easily kneadable, sticky dough. Turn the dough out on to a work surface and clean your hands.
  2. Knead the dough until it is as smooth and satiny as you can make it as a rough guide, this will take about 10 minutes. If you are using larger extras, like nuts and fruit, stretch the dough out on the work surface, scatter over the ingredients, then fold, roll and knead briefly, to disperse them.
  3. Shape the dough into a round once you have finished kneading. Then oil or flour the surface and put the dough into the wiped-out mixing bowl. Put the bowl in a bin liner and leave to ferment and rise until doubled in size. This could be anywhere between 45 minutes and 1½ hours – or longer still, if the dough is cold.
  4. Deflate the dough by tipping it on to the work surface and pressing all over with your fingertips. Then form it into a round. If you like, leave to rise again up to four times. This will improve the texture and flavour.
  5. Now, prepare for baking. Switch the oven to 250°C/Gas Mark 10 or its highest setting, put your baking stone or baking tray in position and remove any unwanted shelves. Put the roasting tin in the bottom if you are using it for steam (in which case, put the kettle on). Get your water spray bottle ready if you have one, your serrated knife if using, an oven cloth, and your ‘peel’ if you are using a baking stone. Clear the area around the oven.
  6. Divide the dough into as many pieces as you wish (I suggest two large or three small loaves, or a dozen rolls). Shape these into rounds and leave them to rest, covered, for 10–15 minutes.
  7. Shape the loaves as you wish, and coat the outside with your chosen coating. Transfer the loaves to well-floured wooden boards, linen cloths, tea towels or proving baskets and lay a plastic bag over the whole batch, to stop it drying out. Leave to prove, checking often by giving gentle squeezes, until the loaves have almost doubled in size.
  8. Transfer the loaves for baking to the hot tray (removed from the oven), or one at a time to the ‘peel’. Slash the tops, if you wish, with the serrated knife, and before you bake the bread, spray it all over with water if you can. Bring the boiling kettle to the oven, if you are using it. Put the tray in the oven, or slide each loaf on to the stone, pour some boiling water into the roasting tin, if using, and close the door as quickly as you can.
  9. Turn the heat down after about 10 minutes to: 200°C/Gas Mark 6 if the crust still looks very pale; 180°C/Gas Mark 4 if the crust is noticeably browning; 170°C/Gas Mark 3 if the crust seems to be browning quickly. Bake until the loaves are well browned and crusty, and feel hollow when you tap them: in total, 10–20 minutes for rolls; 30–40 minutes for small loaves; 40–50 minutes for large loaves. If in doubt, bake for a few minutes longer.
  10. Leave to cool on a wire rack, or anything similar that allows air underneath. Bread for tearing can be served warm, but bread for slicing must be cooled completely.
  11. Look after your bread and enjoy it. After all, you have put a lot of work into it... and don’t waste a crumb.

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