Being in rural France means that we have access to fantastic french bread so you might think me mad to want to make my own, but bear with me. We missed traditional loaves that were good for making sandwiches and more importantly that english morning staple - toast!
This set me off trying lots of different recipes for loaves and after much trial and error (mainly error) I have settled on a combination of a few bits of recipes that put together allow me to churn out a great loaf every time and although you could adapt my recipe to kneed by hand I use a kitchen aid mixer and dough hook.
1 Large Loaf
1 x 7g sachet of fast action yeast
500ml warm water
1 x tblsp sugar
1.5 x tsp salt
Oil for greasing
Firstly pour a third of the warm water into the mixing bowl and whisk in the yeast granules and sugar until dissolved and set aside for 5 minutes to give the yeast time to activate. Next pour in the remaining water and then with the mixer set on the lowest speed add the flour and salt gradually over a period of 10 minutes until the dough comes together and is tacky but doesn't stick to your finger when touched.
Tip the dough into an oiled bowl big enough to allow room for the dough to rise whilst its covered but not touch its cover. I generally pop cling film over the top, but a tea towel would also do.
Leave in a warm draught free spot for 45 minutes for the first prove. Next move the dough into a lightly oiled loaf tin and lightly press into the shape of the tin and with a very sharp knife gently slice the top of the loaf lengthwise or a couple of time cross wise diagonally before setting aside to prove for a further 30 minutes.
Bring your oven up to a preheated temperature of 180 c. In the bottom of the oven place a roasting dish and immediately prior to putting you loaf in the centre of the even pour a couple of cups of boiling water fresh from the kettle into the roasting dish. This will instantly produced lots of steam which will give your loaf a really nice crust.
Bake the loaf for 30-35 minutes turning half way through for an even colour. When cooked remove from over and turn the loaf out onto a wire rack to cool.
The bread you bake and how it turns out depends critically on the timings in particular but also the flour you use. So stick to the timings but experiment with the flour. Also remember that the dough has to be tacky but not stick to your fingers so if its too wet add more flour.
If you are using a loaf tin that is on the smaller side (i.e. the dough comes right to the top of the tin) you might want to split off a quarter of the dough after the first proving and make a few bread rolls for soups etc. and let these prove on a baking sheet then bake them with your loaf but take them out a little sooner, turn them over and tap the bottom to hear a slightly hollow sound that hopefully means the dough is cooked.
This recipe works for me so I hope it does for you but if it does not come out quite right just keep practising until you find your go to recipe, fresh home baked bread is definitely worth the effort and once you have your recipe sussed its incredibly satisfying to know you knock out a loaf whenever you need one!