If you want to make good bread yourself, how should you start? Fancy books, machines, ovens and ingredients might seem important. You could get a bread maker, but the results will be strangely cubic, and handling the dough is most of the fun.
Fortunately, these days there are plenty of good videos to look at, which provide both accurate recipes and good advice on technique.
If you have a dutch oven, you can follow Jim Lahey and Mark Bittmann along the route of no-knead bread (one of the most popular recipes ever published by the New York Times). The bread that comes out is quite amazing.
Another way to a spectacular loaf is to follow the method illustrated by Richard Bertinet. There are two excellent videos demonstrating simple white bread in the French style – that is, with a lot of water in the dough. You can see Richard when he was a bit younger in this clip from his DVD, with a bit more explanation. The shaping and kneading techniques on display here were a revelation to me.
Paul Hollywood (boo, hiss!) has an excellent video where he teaches new bakers how to make a bloomer. Again, dough shape and handling is key.
(Two of the videos I’m linking to were produced by Waitrose, obviously with the idea of selling flour. But they are not really commercial at all.)
Beware! There are also videos online that follow the same “Keep it simple” mantra but in the end get lost in irrelevant details. This quite strange one from “The Crafty Gemini” has 2 million views! So much odd advice that it’s hypnotic. If I hadn’t read Daniel Leader’s book, Local Breads, I wouldn’t have known how backwards most of the ideas presented here are. It’s everything that Richard Bertinet advises against. The bread that comes out at the end looks pretty bad. But, maybe you prefer that. Leader’s book gets a lot of stick for “inaccurate recipes” – I never had problems – but it’s revelatory about how wet dough can (should) be.
Overall, breadmaking is a fascinating mix of culture, science and technique. As Richard Bertinet and Paul Hollywood suggest – dive in, and give it a go. With a bit of practice you can make loaves to be proud of. You won’t regret it.