My basic wholemeal bread recipe is "Four, Three, Two, One":
Four hundred grams wholemeal bread flour
Three hundred grams warm water
Two teaspoons instant dried yeast (= 7 grams)
One teaspoon salt (= 7 grams)
This quantity makes 12 small rolls, 8 large rolls, 2 small loaves or 1 large loaf.
You can easily scale the quantities up and down in multiples of 50% -- eg 150% is 600 grams of flour, 450 grams water, 3 teaspoons yeast, and 1.5 teaspoons salt
Other recipes start with this basic formula and usually only vary the liquid:
280g water - white bread; pizza dough; baguettes
250g water and 30g olive oil - pitta breads
230g water and 30g malt syrup - bagels
150g water and 150g yoghurt - naan
This is a handful of helpful tips, rather than a strict method!
You don't need a lot of special equipment to make bread, but a few things help:
- Plastic dough scraper - A simple D-shaped thin plastic one is the best - the fancy metal ones are less versatile.
- Mixer - A stand mixer is helpful if you're going to make a lot of bread, but not essential.
Weigh things precisely! It's not difficult or time-consuming and it gives you consistent results.
The simplest way to do this is to stand a bowl on a set of electric scales and add the ingredients one-by-one, pressing the zero button between each ingredient. Add the flour first, then the rest of the dry ingredients (yeast, salt) and mix them together briefly, then add the liquid ingredients.
Add liquids slowly! Electronic scales can take a few seconds to catch up, which makes it easy to overshoot. When you've nearly added enough, add the rest drop-by-drop until you reach the right weight. It's hard to remove liquid from the bowl once you've added it! It can be helpful to remember that 1ml of most liquids is equal to 1g. So, for example, 300ml water = 300g.
1 teaspoon of salt = ~7g
2 teaspoons of instant yeast = ~7g = ~14g or ~1/2oz of fresh yeast
Mixing and folding
If you have access to a mixer, use it. Even a mixer can have issues, though. My KitchenAid mixer looks great but often has difficulty mixing bread properly - the dough will cling to the hook and spin around uselessly - it seems to be too sensitive to the amount and moisture content of the dough. I often combine mixing with folding during the proofing stage.
Don't knead - Fold! To fold dough, lift up one side of the ball of dough with your hand or a dough scraper and stretch it out before letting it drop over the other side. Turn the dough through 90 degrees and repeat the lifting and stretching. Do that 2 more times until the dough is back in the same orientation as you started with. You'll find that with each lift, the dough becomes stiffer until you can't stretch it very far without it tearing. Now leave the ball of dough to rest for 10 to 15 minutes during which it will loosen up and you can repeat the folding procedure again. Use this folding procedure 3 or 4 times while the dough is proving and you should end up with a well-mixed, elastic dough ready for shaping into rolls, loaves etc. with very little physical effort.
Relax and enjoy
Don't stress too much about trying to make the perfect, Instagrammable loaf. Bread is made for eating, not looking at. Professional bakers have all sort of specialist dough mixing and shaping equipment, and heated-floor, steam-injection ovens to make their products look perfect. You can't replicate that in your home kitchen, so don't even try.
The bread you make will be your bread - unique and exclusive to you, and not available from anywhere else. Fresh out of your own oven, it will be more rewarding and taste better than anything you can buy. Enjoy!