Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Every journey starts with the first step…

#1 Page 76  -  The basic bread recipe, River Cottage Handbook No.3 Bread

The basic bread recipe

An old boss of mine, used to have the saying “Every journey of a thousand miles, starts with the first step”.  I don’t think I will ever forget that, as it was drilled into us each day.  But this is my first step of this journey, my River Cottage Bread Journey.  Although it’s not quite a thousand miles, it is 55 recipes – with a few variations along the way!  Whether it feels like we have travelled a thousand miles, we will have to wait and see.

First step is ‘The basic bread recipe’, which Dan describes as his simplified bread recipe.  One by which you can use as a starting point or basis to create many different types of bread.  I would like to hope that by the time I have worked my way to the end of the book, I will be able to create some of my own breads.  In fact I already have a few ideas, but hey, lets hold on a minute.  Running before we could walk would not be a good idea.

One of the reasons I got this book, was because of the depth that it goes into on the ingredients, process and equipment.  Which gives you a great understanding of what you are about to do and why you are doing it.  The theory of why you put salt in, the types of flour you have to use right through to why you need a water spray bottle!

2 loaves of bread - The basic bread recipe

Just as I was getting the ingredients and equipment ready, one thing alarmed me.  The recipe calls for 20g fine salt.  Now reading it, it didn’t bother me that much.  When I was weighing it out – that was a different matter.  It looked like a ridiculous amount of salt, which made me a little concerned and dubious to honest. 

Mixing the dough was easy, in fact very easy.  Well what's difficult about that.  Kneading the dough however, if you are not used to regular exercise it will cause your arms to ache….FACT!    The bit I didn’t find quite so easily, was shaping the dough into a round.  When first left to ferment, once you have deflated the dough for the first time and when you shape the loaves.  I decided to make 2 x 800g loaves (although I wouldn’t say I divided the dough exactly in half), both of them being round.  When I got them into the round shape and turned them over, the base looked like the Grand Canyon was running through it (wish I took a picture to show you).  No matter what I did, I couldn’t make it look better.  I just hoped and prayed when it came out the oven, it would look good. 

The basic bread recipe

Once it came out of the oven, I was impressed with way it looked.  This will sound stupid but it actually looked like bread.  Even the Grand Canyon in the base had gone.  It had risen magnificently in the heat of the oven and the steam you create in the process.  The smell was lovely and the crust was great.

When I sliced the bread, it had a lovely thickness of crust that was nice and crusty.  The loaf inside looked nice and soft, it wasn’t doughy or crumbly.  So far it smelt, looked and felt good.  The next was the taste.  It wasn’t fantastic, but it was good.  The texture and taste of the crust was really great, with the crumb of the bread tasting good.  I felt that it was just a little bit dense still, so maybe 5 minutes more kneading next time.  The only downside to this bread, was I thought it was a little bit salty.  Which was a concern I had at the beginning, and it made we wonder if next time I could reduce the quantity of salt.  But I have decided that next time, I will stick with the 20g of salt and give it another chance.  Overall I was pleased with the result.  The time and effort was well worth it, and the satisfaction you get at the end, will put a large grin on your face.  I used the bread to make some really nice ham salad sandwiches.  Everyone that had one, commented on how good the bread was.  Homemade bread is definitely the way forward.

The basic bread recipe

If you have tried and/or posted about the basic bread recipe, I would love to hear how you got on with it.  If you are following along, it’ll be great to share experiences.  You can even tweet along with #rivercottagebreadjourney. 

Next up is a variation on the basic bread recipe:

#2 Page 78 – Malted grain bread

River Cottage Handbook No.3 Bread by Daniel Stevens


  1. Beautiful! Under-salted bread isn't nice either, so I'd only reduce the amount a tiny bit to begin with.

  2. Wow it does look really nice!
    Will need to try this recipe soon.

  3. Thanks two hippos, I was pleased how it look too!

    Foodycat - thanks for the advice, I'll take it down a small amount first.

    Raluca - I can't wait to try the other types of bread. They are all different variations of this basic recipe.

  4. i really love the river cottage approach to food-- simple, prepared with love and ingredients around you! bread sounds much more advanced than a "first" step though haha, you've done a brilliant job!

  5. "This will sound stupid but it actually looked like bread." - that's something I say everytime I bake bread and take it out of the oven, so no, that's not stupid at all!

  6. That bread look absolutely stunning! Just need an extra mature cheddar or a stilton to go with it and you'll be tickety-boo!

  7. The bread looks wonderful. I have made his bread rolls and they too are amazing - used the mixer though!

  8. 'It's a dangerous business going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.' :)) This remind me Bilbo Baggins of the LOTR
    Saw your blog on the blog "A Slice of Cherry Pie" and like here a lot :)
    Just wanted to say hi, and I'll be coming back again :)
    Cheers from Istanbul

  9. Hi James
    I finally got round to starting to work my way through the book on Sunday. Despite the slight disaster of my oven breaking and having to race the dough at proving stage up the road to my mum's, it went well. My loaves looked pretty similar to yours, though I must say I didn't find them too satly (perhaps plain old saxo isn't as strong.
    I will move on to the next one as soon as I have a new oven!

  10. Wow! Delightful and yummy!
    Thanks, James!

  11. That River Cottage: Bread book is fantastic. I've probably baked almost all of the recipes in it and it hasn't failed me once!

  12. Hey Scott - I have completely neglected this recently, BUT will be picking it back up again this weekend. What I have done I have loved.

  13. So how is the bread journey going? I love the River Cottage Bread book - the first 60 pages really give you an understanding of what is going on when you combine flour, water, yeast and salt. Have you tried baking sourdough yet? Once tried you'll be hooked!

    1. Hello Ray. It is a great book isn't it. To be honest a little slow, other things have taken over recently. Have a post to put up on the white bread, then really need to get back into it.

    2. that's how it goes sometimes... when the time is right... I've joined the mellow Bakers who are planning to bake their way through Dan Lepard's The handmade loaf, 3 recipes a month but no pressure to try to do it all if you have time constraints. Could be fun.

  14. Hi James, you definitely need to try and carry on your journey if only so you can tell me if the book is any good!

    I'm trying to make more of my own bread so I'm on the look out for a really good bread book I can use as a bible.