Baking bread and focaccia: it's easy and delicious, and your friends will think you're a bit of a genius.
For a simple bread recipe, you'll need:
1.1kg of plain flour
2. three 7g sachets of dry active yeast
3. 30g of honey
4. 30g of salt
5. 600ml of tepid water
That's it! No tricks here.
Dissolve honey in the water. Mix flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl, or on any flat surface. Make a well in the centre, slowly add water, mixing in a circular motion with your fingers. Don't be afraid to adjust quantities of water/flour, different flours need different amounts.
Time to knead: this part is all about 'the feel'. Sounds elusive, but you'll soon develop the knack. Push, pull and knead the bread for 5 minutes to get the gluten going, you'll feel the dough becoming elastic. If it's too dry or too sticky, adjust with a dash more flour or water until you get the consistency just right.
Iíll let you in on a secret. I suffered the crushing disappointment of dough that didn't prove (rise) a few times, before I discovered the following: when recipes tell you to put the dough 'somewhere warm', they mean 'somewhere really hot'.
In summer, I lightly greased the dough with olive oil, popped it in a wide, deep bowl, covered with cling wrap, draped a tea-towel over the top, and stuck it in the hot car parked in the sun. The perfect environment for gorgeous dough. You'll be stunned by how perfectly it rises. In winter when the car is cool, turn the oven on high and blast some heat for a few minutes. Turn it off, put the bowl in there for an hour/45 minutes and you'll get the same effect. Retrieve the dough from the car or oven. Stand back and marvel at how it's magically grown to more than twice its size. Then, punch it down. Literally jab your fist in and feel the air escaping ó it's my favourite part.
Knead again for a minute, the dough will feel silky and elastic. Split the dough and shape into two loaves, round is fine, slash twice across the top with a knife, dust with extra floor. It now needs to prove a second time, so make sure conditions are again nice and warm. When itís doubled in size, time to bake. Be careful with it, you donít want to knock out the air and spoil your efforts. Time to bake in a moderate oven until itís cooked, you can check by tapping the bottom. If it sounds hollow, itís ready. Bread!
For focaccia, follow the basic bread recipe. Split the dough and roll into an oval shape about 1.5 cm thick. Rub with loads of dried oregano, crushed garlic, push some pitted olives into the dough, sprinkle with sea salt and chilli flakes, then let it prove for 45 minutes. Bake, devour.