I must have been about 16 or 17 when I started baking with a passion – a passion which has admittedly grown all out of proportion in the decade since – but baking bread is a much more recent development for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge bread person; in fact, that’s probably the very reason I never thought to have a go at making it myself. I always assumed that I’d never be able to do justice to the stuff you buy in the shops. However, last year’s series of The Great British Bake Off (aka the best show on the telly) got me drooling over Chelsea Buns, brioche, focaccia, doughnuts…the list went on. And so began a whole new obsession (my poor parents, who I live with, are doubt despairing by this point. Sorry, Mum, you will get your kitchen back one day!). Anyway, this is a lovely recipe taken from, aptly, The Great British Bake Off: How to turn everyday bakes into showstoppers. It’s nice and simple for bread novices like me, but the key is it doesn’t look it. It’s super-pretty and, just as importantly, tastes fantastic. Enjoy it fresh or toasted, with lashings of butter, as Enid Blyton would say. Then bung any sliced leftovers in the freezer for a weekend treat that will keep you going for weeks.
500g strong white bread flour
1.5 tsp salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 x 7g sachet fast-action dried yeast
175ml milk (full-fat if possible)
50g unsalted butter
1 large egg
50g caster sugar
1 tsp plain flour
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1. Mix the bread flour, yeast, salt and 2 tbsp sugar in a large bowl.
2. Gently warm the milk with 125ml water and the butter until the butter has just melted (the liquid should be lukewarm). Remove from the heat and beat in the egg, then add the mixture to the dry ingredients. Work together to form a very soft but not sticky dough (if like me, you're forced to manage without an electric mixer, a wooden spoon and your hands work just as well, plus it will save you going to the gym! Woohoo!). If the dough is too dry, add more water or milk one tbsp at a time. If it's too sticky, do the same with flour.
3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about ten minutes (this is where the work-out really comes in), or knead in the mixer with a dough hook on low speed for 5 minutes. The dough should be smooth and pliable. Return it to the bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour.
4. Cut a long strip of baking parchment and use it to line a 900g loaf tin, going over the sides at both ends (you will use these to lift the bread out after baking). Mix together the cinnamon, plain flour and 50g sugar in a small bowl and set aside.
5. When the dough has risen, punch it down with your fist to deflate, and then knead again on a lightly floured surface for a few seconds. Pat out to a rough rectangle (it will be very rough, but don't worry, this just means you've got good dough!), about 2cm thick. Cover lightly with cling film and leave to rest for 5 minutes.
6. Lightly flour a rolling pin and roll out the dough to about 48cm and the same width as your tin. Brush liberally with milk, then sprinkle over the cinnamon mixture, leaving a 1cm border at one of the short ends. Starting at the other short end, roll up the dough as tightly and neatly as you can, pinching the seam together to seal (a bit of extra milk helps with this).
7. Lift into the tin, tucking the ends under to make a neat shape. Slip the tin into a plastic bag and inflate slightly to leave room for the dough to rise, then tie the ends together. Leave until just doubled in size (not too long, I'd say about half an hour). Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
8. Brush the dough lightly with milk. Bake for about 35 minutes until a good golden brown. The loaf should sound hollow when you tap the underneath (put it back in the oven for a bit longer if it makes a 'thudding' sound instead).
9. Whilst the loaf is hot, rub a knob of butter all over its surface to give a glossy finish. Cool on a wire rack and wait until cold before slicing (if you can resist!).