A few weeks ago, I had the sudden urge to bake my own bread. I longed for a thick slice of crusty white toast with butter and honey – and that cathartic release that only bashing about a lump of stretchy dough can bring. Plus I’d read somewhere that supermarket bread is often full of sugar and other nasties so I wanted to create as naked a loaf as possible.
So I had a go, using the first recipe that Google brought forth. Truth be told, it wasn’t very good. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t golden and crusty and chewy and tasty in the way great bread is supposed to be. Then lo and behold, my prayers were answered when Great British Bake Off’s finest, Paul Hollywood, goes and gets his own BBC TV series called Bread and the very first type of bread he make is a white bloomer loaf. Watching the episode I was amazed at how different Hollywood’s recipe and technique were to mine, and I resolved to replicate them. The resulting loaf far exceeded my previous paltry attempt, and my subsequent two loaves have been even better. I can’t recommend it enough.
So, here’s Paul Hollywood’s bloomer recipe as interpreted by yours truly, with all his excellent tips from the TV show thrown in.
500g strong white bread flower, plus extra for dusting
7g fast-action dried or quick yeast
40ml olive oil, plus extra for oiling
1. Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other (they can’t mix yet or it kills the yeast) then add the oil and 240ml cool water and mix it together using your hand in a claw shape (dinosaur growling sounds optional at this point). Gradually add in the rest of the water until you’ve got a sticky dough.
Paul’s tip: You might not need all the water. Stop adding it once all the flour is absorbed.
2. Knead the dough by working it firmly on the work surface until it has turned from a rough texture (a bit like cellulite to be honest) into a smooth and springy ball.
Paul’s tip: Use about a tablespoon of oil on the work surface to stop it sticking and make it easier to knead. Just don’t use too much or it absorbs into the dough and makes it too sticky.
3. Put the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm until it has tripled in size, which will take up to three hours.
Paul’s tip: The dough doesn’t need to go somewhere hot to rise, between 18 and 24 degrees will do. (My house is freezing though so I put it on a tea towel on the radiator in winter).
It should go from this:
4. Take the risen dough out and ‘knock it back’ by tipping it onto your work surface and simply bashing it flat into roughly a rectangle. To shape it into a bloomer, fold the ends into the middle, flatten it again, then fold the other ends in and flatten again. Curl the ends under and you should end up with an oval loaf shape.
Paul’s tip: try and get the dough into a nice fat oval so that it rises up rather than out in the oven (my first bloomer was flatter than it should have been for this very reason).
5. Put the dough on an oiled, floured tray and cover with oiled cling film suspended over a couple of mugs on the tray. Leave it to prove (that’s what they call the second rise) again until it’s doubled in size, about an hour.
Paul’s tip: You’ll know the bread is ready to bake if it springs back when you press it with your finger.
6. Preheat the oven to 220ºc/gas mark 7 and put a roasting tray in the bottom of the oven. Lightly spray or sprinkle the dough with water and then flour and make a few diagonal slashes across the top with a sharp knife.
Paul’s tip: The water and flower will help create a nice crust, while the slashes stop cracks forming anywhere else. (But you need a VERY sharp knife to make them, I tried with a less than sharp knife and ended up significantly deflating my loaf).
7. Just before the loaf goes in, pour a litre of water into the roasting tin to create steam around the bread. Bake for 25 minutes then lower the temperature to 200ºC and bake for 10-15 minutes more. You’ll know the bread is ready if it sounds hollow when you tap the bottom. Put it on a wire wrack to cool.
Paul’s tip: Don’t worry if the crust browns very quickly. I thought my loaf was done because it had gone very brown but I realised after taking it out of the oven the bottom was still slightly damp and had to put it back in for another 10 minutes.
And you should end up with something that looks a bit like this…