There’s something fundamental about bread, if you live in the west. For all the whinging about carbs, we all know that bread is the stuff of life, which is why I always bake it when people are ill, or have a new baby, or are bereaved. Bread is sensible and practical and delicious. If I had to live on one foodstuff, it might be bread.
This recipe is for my mum’s bread, which means it’s older than I am. Here is my mum:
When I tried to get her to write the recipe down a couple of years ago she didn’t know any of the quantities, so she just gave me the list of ingredients and told me to experiment until I worked out how much of everything to use, which means I don’t know any of the quantities either. But the good news is, it doesn’t much matter: every single one of my experiments produced an entirely edible loaf.
This is a really dark, moist, flavoursome bread: as a child desperate for white sliced bread I used to try to avoid it, but now it’s one of my favourite things to eat. There are only two of us at home so I tend to make a smallish loaf, but you could up the quantities if you wanted to.
1lb wholemeal bread flour
A biggish dollop of molasses or black treacle
A handful of caraway seeds
Lukewarm water (less than half a glassful to begin with – you can add more as you, ahem, knead it)
A biggish pinch of dried yeast
Pour all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix them with your hands until you have a ball of quite sticky dough. Cover the bowl with clingfilm or a tea towel and leave it somewhere warm for 30-60 minutes, or until the dough has roughly doubled in size (but don’t worry if it doesn’t expand that much – as long as it has perceptibly risen by the time you put it in the oven, you’ll be OK).
Grease the inside of a 1lb bread tin and transfer the dough into it. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t sit perfectly level in the tin; wonky edges are part of the charm of home-made bread. Put the tin in an oven preheated to around 200 degrees for twenty minutes, then turn down the oven to 160ish for another half an hour.
(You might want to fiddle with those temperatures and timings depending on your oven: mine is a fan oven, so increase one or the other if yours isn’t. Turning the temperature down partway through cooking seems to prevent the crust from becoming too tough.)
After around fifty minutes, take the bread out of the oven and tip it out of the tin (you may need to employ a knife here if the greasing hasn’t done its job properly, in which case try not to scrape the coating off the inside of your tin, or it’ll be even stickier next time). Tap the underside of the loaf with the edge of a knife or the back of a spoon: if it sounds hollow, it’s cooked. Leave it to stand on a wire tray (I use the grill tray because my bijou kitchen doesn’t have space for anything that isn’t multifunctional) for at least twenty minutes. Eat while still warm with salad and gooey French cheese for a perfect summer supper. Then toast it the next day for breakfast: you’ll need your grill (or toaster, if you are one of those people with space for a toaster) turned up high, because the moistness of the bread means it’s fairly resistant to heat.
Caroway seeds are Mum’s original flavouring and are great, but you can experiment with other additions: black onion seeds, for example, give it a lovely hint of fire. I’d like to try it with dried chillis, too, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet.
Here’s this morning’s loaf: