Is there anything in a baker’s repertoire that smells quite as homely and delicious as fresh bread? I don’t think so. But, I am also an incredibly lazy cook, and only make things that require minimal effort and are very difficult to mess up.
Over the years I’ve stolen a few exceptional bread recipes from friends and family, the kind that were scrawled down years ago in fading ink on the back of a well-worn piece of card. One of them was so well-used and loved that I had to get my friend to note down it down from memory so that I could recreate it.
American “English” Muffin Bread
This bread is deliciously light and fluffy—it’s an American recipe that my mother-in-law gave me, and is incredibly easy and quick to make, you just have to remember to allow enough time for it to rise. I love this one served with thickly spread set honey, and while it’s best eaten up the same day that you made it, it also tastes great if you store it in an airtight container and cut it up to toast it for breakfast. This recipe makes two loaves.
Prep time: 15 mins // Rise time: 45 mins // Bake time: 30 mins
3 tablespoons cornmeal (this can be hard to find in the UK, so I’ve used semolina flour, which works well)
6 cups/1 lb 11oz all purpose flour
2 envelopes active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons), or instant yeast also works
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups (16 1/2 fl oz) milk
1/2 cup (4 fl oz) water
Lightly grease two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf pans, and then coat each pan with one tablespoon of cornmeal.
Mix 3 cups of flour with the yeast, sugar, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl.
Heat the milk and water until it’s warm but not boiling, stir it into the flour mixture. Then stir in the remaining flour, divide the mixture in two and spoon it into the two pans. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining cornmeal. Cover the pans and leave them to rise for about 45 mins, until they’ve doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 400 F/200 C, and then bake the risen loaves for 25-30 mins, until they are just starting to turn slightly golden on top. Allow them to cool on a wire rack for 5 mins or so, before loosening them from the pans with a knife, removing them from the tins, and allowing them to finish cooling.
Traditional Irish Soda Bread
The joy of this genuine Irish family recipe is that it doesn’t use yeast, so there’s no waiting around for it to rise. Mix up the dry ingredients the night before, then finish it off and put it in the oven while you have a shower in the morning, and you can have delicious fresh bread for breakfast.
Prep time: 10 mins // Bake time: 35 mins
12 oz stoneground wholemeal flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 pint of buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 400 F/200 C, then mix all of the dry ingredients together in a big bowl. Make a little dent in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk. Give it a quick mix then briefly knead it all in the bowl – the trick is to do this quickly and get the bread in the oven before the bicarbonate has kicked in.
Once you’ve done that, shape the dough into a fat round loaf and pop it on to a floured baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, cut a cross into the top of the bread.
Bake the loaf for around 35 minutes – you will know when the bread is ready if you tap it on the base and it has a hollow sound. Leave it to cool slightly, but serve fresh and warm if possible, broken in to fat wedges with lashings of salted butter.