The Incomparable Toast

Rare are the times when you pick up a toast, butter it generously and bite into it to be instantly transported to a better time in a worse off world, i.e. the past. The soft crumb turned a golden hue, the crisp crust and the taste of natural goodness, in short a bead with substance and integrity. But before I turn into Charles Dickens, let me tell you there’s a recipe in this. In my early morning, when I had the house to myself in contemplative silence, I fancied a buttered toast and stuck the commercial bread I keep in the freezer into my sunrise orange toaster, buttered and bit into it and thought to myself: “What a piece of crap! Why am I eating this??” and why indeed?

It’s laziness, of course and a lack of time. So I devised to remedy the first and dedicate a bit of the second to the manufacture of a good, simple bread to turn into toast. Eddie had asked me for fluffy bread to eat sambal hae bee with (more on that another time), so trying to kill two birds with one stone, I set out to study a little. My most excellent bread book by Eric Kayser (The Larousse of Bread) has wonderful recipes, but they all take hours to make. I want a bread I can make in less than 2 hours, start to finished loaf. And I’m happy to say; I managed it 1 hour and 30 minutes! Now don’t let the idea of 1½ hours work frighten you. You’re mostly going to be loafing around, cup of coffee in hand while your loaf does its own thing. It really is no work at all. If you have a stand mixer. If not, go buy one!

Fluffy, with a crisp crust and it’s easy to slice too!

This loaf is everything you want in white bread. It has a soft, well aerated crumb and a crust that stays crisp, even if you wrap it in cling film or put it into a plastic bag. It also tastes great and it’s done in three easy steps.

Perfect White Sandwich Bread

Makes one natural sandwich loaf (my tin: L 26cm, W 10cm, D 8cm, about 2 litres)

For the instant poolish:

  • 100g plain flour, preferably organic and unbleached
  • 10g instant yeast
  • 100ml water at room temperature

To finish the loaf:

  • 400g plain flour, preferably organic and unbleached
  • 20g caster sugar
  • 4g / 1 tsp fine Brittany salt
  • 250g water

Step One – 5 minutes work, 30 minutes rest:

You’re making a pre-ferment, which will add a little acidity and a deeper, more developed flavour to your bread. This is where we cheat and pretend it’s been a long drawn out process.

Take out the bowl and hook attachment of your mixer. Mix 100g flour and 10g instant yeast in the bowl and stir in 100ml water straight from the tap and if you’re the filtering kind, make sure your water is at room temperature. Mix well, cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise for 30 minutes. When I say damp cloth, I mean one that you have quickly held under the water without getting it sodding wet. It’s wet, but not dripping. Do NOT cover the bowl with the plastic cover the manufacturer may have provided. You need air to get to your ferment.

You’re done, go make a cup of coffee and read the newspaper for half an hour. There’s no need to go check, just set your alarm.

That’s how sticky, gluey your dough will be.

Step Two – 15 minutes work, 20 minutes rest:

Add in the rest of the four, the sugar and the salt and switch on the mixer with hook attached. At the lowest speed, slowly pour in 250ml water, again at room temperature. Once the dough has come together, increase the speed to the next level and leave to knead for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, butter and flour your tin and preheat the oven to the max. If it says 250ºC on the dial it will probably give you just about 230ºC on the thermometer, which is what you want. You need your oven to be very hot!

Note the depressed middle?

Once the dough has been kneaded for 15 minutes, it’s time to slap it into the tin. The dough is going to be very wet and sticky, so use a scraper, or a spoon to heave it into your buttered and floured tin. Try to keep it in one piece. It’s going to want to stay in a lump in the middle, so dust it with flour and squeeze it to make it fill the tin. You want to have a depression at this time, but only in the bread. See picture!

Dust with more flour, cover with the cloth and go have a 20 minute shower. Make sure your oven is heating up!

Step Three – 0 minutes work, 20 minutes baking time:

Your bread should by now be trying to leave the tin and fall off the sides. Put the bread into the oven and bake it for 20 minutes. It should be nicely browned and sound “hollow” when you tap it. Take it out, turn the tin to get the bread out and leave the thing to cool down. You will be able to cut a slice in about 15 minutes, but it will be at its best in a couple of hours. If you want to keep it for the next day, make sure it is completely cooled before wrapping it in cling film.

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