I've done my time in bakeries over the years. As a child, I had a friend whose parents owned a bakery, and it was great fun for us to get up insanely early and "help" him at work for the day. Never mind the naps on the sacks of flour come mid-morning...! My first job was at a bakery, for a major Australian bakery chain, who pulled some highly illegal workplace manouvres (AWA, anyone?) and produced what I consider to be mediocre bread. Definitely not worth the money you're paying for it, anyway.
Despite that experience, which severely clouded my opinion of bread and the wonder of its scent for several years, I still love bread. Give me a crusty loaf, with a soft (unsoured) centre, and I'll happily tear off hunks to dip in olive oil and devour. The amount of bread that I can put away is something phenomenal. I know that I've always had a huge appetite, but bread is something else entirely. Some people always have room for dessert, but I always have room for carbohydrates.
The unsoured part is beginning to be important. I'm living in a continent where the vast majority of bread is sourdough. Not to say that I don't love sourdough bread, because really, I do. (The only thing I don't have the time of day for is Pumpernickel, actually.) But finding a wholemeal or seeded loaf of the non-square variety, unsoured, is nigh impossible. I just want round bread, dammit! Or plaited bread, or something that's not conveniently sliced for my toasted. Besides which, the "toast bread" here is terrible - dry and crumbly, and not adequate for making a sandwich. The American flag on the packaging of the major brand also repels me.
I can, however, get seedy bread rolls, and I can always buy turkish bread when I want delicious bread capable of soaking up some oil. But every so often, I feel the need for something different, and on those occasions I make it myself. My kitchen isn't warm enough to allow bead to prove (rise) so I have to put it into my oven, which is on the lowest possible setting - 50 degrees C. Two rises later, and however long the poor oven takes to bake the loaf, and I'm devouring hot bread faster than I should admit to on a public blog. As with all my baking, I didn't really follow a recipe, but it's a simple process. Sure, it takes a little longer than nipping to the shops to buy a loaf, but it's an awful lot more fun.
1 sachet instant yeast (sufficient to rise 500g flour)
500g flour - spelt, rye or wheat
1 cup warm water + extra
1 tsp sugar (or honey, if you prefer)
2 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup seeds of choice (optional)
herbs / spices to flavour (optional)
Mix the yeast, sugar, and warm water in a bowl, until the yeast is no longer lumpy. Allow to sit in a warm place, about 10 mins, until the mix is frothy. This means your yeast is alive, which is important to check, when you're in a strange country and don't have trusted brands like you do at home.
Sift the flour into the bowl, mixing as you go, forming a dough. Throw in the flavourings (seeds, herbs, spices) here so they get incorporated into the dough. Add the olive oil and any extra water that you need to bring it all together - I used spelt flour last time, which was dryer than the wheat flour I've used previously, so you're going to have to take a gamble here. You want to be able to roll it around without it sticking to the bowl.
When you have a ball, knead it for a good ten or so minutes, to develop the gluten in the flour. If your dough sticks, sprinkle it with a little more flour, but remember that the flour in the dough will eventually absorb more moisture, so it's better to be a touch too sticky than too dry.
Leave the dough in a warm place (such as your oven, set to the lowest temperature - 50 degrees was fine) for about 45 minutes, until doubled in size. Read a good book (or blog) and drink a cup of tea in the meantime.
When the dough has prooved sufficiently, knock it back with another quick knead. Shape the dough as desired, into a plait, ball, or bread rolls, and arrange on your oven tray. I use oven paper to keep the dough from sticking, but you could flour or oil the tray if preferred. Let it sit for half an hour or so, to rise a little more, before baking.
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. Place a small, oven-proof dish with a few cups of water in the bottom of your oven, to create a moist environment for your bread to bake. This keeps the loaf from tearing apart as it expands and bakes.
Bake for between 25 minutes (bread rolls) or 50 minutes (round loaf). Keep an eye on your loaf, while you sit around drinking another cup of tea, and when it looks nicely browned, pick it up (with an oven mitt, unless you have asbestos hands) and tap on it. If it sounds hollow, then it's ready to eat. Otherwise, bake it for another 5 minutes, and check again.
Eat hot, slathered with the meltable spread of your choice, or cooled slightly, dipped into good olive oil.