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Breaking Bread

I love bread and recently, I have learnt to bake bread and have fallen in love with this too. In its own way, it is meditative in process, a delight to share and such a treat to indulge in, fresh out of the oven.

It is also incredibly straightforward. You can mix it up and add some complexity to the process and the flavour but the fundamentals are simple.

A lot of you have seen my sharing of various bread bakes on Instagram and requested some recipes or tips and seeing as we're now all spending a lot of time at home, now is a good time to jot them down for you! So here we go...

Dry active? Naturally leavened?

If you're brand spanking new to bread baking, there are essentially two ways to get started (pun alert) - using dry active yeast (the stuff you buy in the supermarket aisle) or you can use a starter (think, the stuff that sourdough fanatics go on about all the time).

I'm obsessed with the latter but the former is a wonderful way to get going, so I'll share a few recipes for both. Starter is something that you can buy, especially from local bakeries but it is so easy to make from scratch so I will share a simple recipe for that too at the end.

Want more a more in-depth read on yeast vs starter?

What are my essentials?

Two things I can't live without in this process are my cast iron dutch oven (mine is a £30 pick up from Ikea) and a scraper. The dutch oven helps to create a super hot environment (as we are cooking circa 240ºC) which is as close to a bread oven as we'll likely resemble in our kitchens at home.

Other items I love to use but aren't essential are my shaping bannetons, kitchen scales, my mixer with dough hook and a scalpel for patterning - though a sharp knife will do just fine.

Right, essentials are ready - where do I start?

When I first got into bread making, I absolutely loved making this french style crusty white loaf. I would mix it up adding some fresh rosemary or olives and sea salt - don't be afraid to try out your own flavours just remember to balance things out if your ingredients are particularly wet, draining them well.

This recipe has an accompanying video and answers a number of FAQs, so a lovely place to start:

Mastered it? What about trying your hand at some pita bread? Once you've made these at home, you won't want to buy them from the supermarket again:

OK, let's get serious about sourdough

Excellent, let's do it. I was so nervous about getting started with sourdough. There is a lot of terminology that accompanies sourdough baking! And the process seemed temperamental and complicated as an outsider - Connie Consumes changed my mind on this and I haven't looked back. We now do at least one loaf a week in my house.

My biggest piece of advice is to give yourself plenty of time. Especially for your first bake. The process has a few steps to it, which will become totally second nature with a few bakes under your belt but giving yourself the time and space to work through them mean your first bake should be a total joy and a tasty success.

The method I started with?

The method I have fallen in love with?

Zoe Bakes has been doing a few bread baking IGTV sessions this week, which might be of interest to you too.

The second link gives you a good recipe for a starter but I'll also tell you how I make and maintain mine.

Starting your starter

Many people suggest you name your starter. Perhaps it helps you to remember to feed it, like a pet or plant or perhaps it's just more fun? Mine is still awaiting a name, so I'll happily take any recommendations! (Connie's is called Beyoncé - amazing.)

My starter:

15g rye flour

15g strong white bread flour

30g warm to the touch water

Give it a good and thorough mix and leave.

If you are building this from scratch, start with 50g flour and 50g water, 30g of each every feed thereafter. When you are building up your starter, feed it at the same time everyday for at least five days prior to the first bake. I use old bonne maman jam jars and whole earth peanut butter jars - find they are a good size with nice wide opening for ease of mixing your starter well each time.

If you are not using your starter for a while after baking, feed it (30g flour + 30g water) and pop it back in the fridge. When I am going to do a bake, I bring the starter out of the fridge the day before and give it a feed. The day I am baking, I feed it and 2 - 3 hours later, it will be nice and bubbly and ready to use. I take what I need (60g for most recipes I use), feed it and pop it back in the fridge until next week.

I have since portioned and shared my starter with a number of friends and it is so wonderful to see what they are baking with it now too! A wonderfully communal thing in its own way.

Keep me posted!

I hope this helps to get you going. Bread making is such a joy! I would love to hear your success (and horror - it happens to all of us) stories. Share them below and of course, any recipes that you have fallen in love with or devised along the way.

Happy baking!

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