Lucy Cufflin
14 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Jacqui Melville

Kneading, proving, resting, sponging and so the yeast dough jargon goes on – fear not – if you are a novice to bread making I hope this chapter will encourage you to have a go and to dispel some old baking myths. If you are an expert, I hope this chapter will have some fresh ideas that will inspire you to bake something different. My aim for bread making – less chore, more amour – hope you like it! Make sure you read my tips on making great bread below before you get started.

For the love of bread

Read this before you try my bread recipes...

The thing about yeast-based bread is that you need to enjoy making it. I learnt to bake bread when I did my chef training but without a love for it I was never a successful baker. I now believe it was simply for that reason – it is not about loving bread in itself, as I am not a big bread eater but it is about loving the process. It’s the sheer joy of the perfect rise, the satisfaction of baking bread your way and there is little in this world to beat the heady, yeasty smell as it cooks. Follow the tips here before you start baking.

Bread-making can seem a mystery: proving, sponging, kneading, resting – so much technique, where is the room for love? So much later when I learned to bake bread again – this time in France – there seemed less mystery and a bit more ‘amour’ to it all.

I don’t want to bake bread every day, nor do I want to have to plan my baking, I just want to make bread when I fancy it. So my aim was to create some recipes that did just that. I use ingredients I can store and have simplified my bread to several core recipes that can be varied to make a number of different bakes.

The kneading is quite different in France and although you may find traditional British kneading a better process for you, I have found the French way excellent in preventing me from adding too much extra flour to the dough and so I get a lighter, better risen loaf.

Something to learn early on is that the temperature in which you leave bread to rise is critical – it simply takes much longer if it is cold – so I also suggest places to let dough rise and tips to find out how best to make bread in your home no matter where you live. Above all it is my aim to remove some of the fuss and allow bread-making to seem more accessible to those unfamiliar with all that ‘baking with yeast’ business.

I am sure there are some traditional and expert bakers whose hair will stand on end at some of what I say and do. But, hey ho, this is the way I make my bread and it’s the way I’ve learned to love it. I hope very much that if you have never been tempted to try, then this will encourage you to give it a go and grow to love it too.

Included in this section are also some of the other Lucy’s soda breads which are just fantastic – no yeast, quick bakes that are deeply and instantly satisfying. They have no rules, they are just mix and bake! These are great recipes to start with as you’ll see almost instant results. To kick off your yeast bread-making, I’d recommend the polenta bread to make a focaccia, and potato and onion seed loaf.

My golden rules for making great bread

1. Always weigh out your ingredients carefully and accurately. I am convinced this is important. I use digital scales and also I weigh my liquid. I don’t measure it in a jug as I think it is hard to be accurate in volume, so all my recipes have liquid as a weight not a volume measurement. If you don’t have digital scales just use the same quantity but in millilitres. So if I call for 250 g water, you can measure 250 ml.

2. Never use ordinary cake-baking flour – you really do need strong bread flour. It contains more gluten and releases this more easily so your bread takes less kneading to get the elastic textured dough you need for it to rise well.

3. Never add extra flour when you’re kneading. Adding more flour than the recipe calls for makes bread heavy and solid. If you are getting in a really sticky mess, just use a bit of oil on your hands and work surface (not much, just a drop).

4.What yeast to use? I have listed fast-action dried yeast in all my recipes. This is because where I live it is not easy to buy fresh yeast and these are storecupboard recipes. If you have fresh yeast, simply rub it into the flour using your fingers and thumbs until it is like breadcrumbs before adding the rest of the ingredients. I use the same weight of fresh yeast to fast-action dried yeast and it seems to be fine.

5. Temperature – yeast is alive. Baking bread at a hot temperature kills the yeast and stops the bread rising, so you want the loaf risen to its full height before you bake it. You can stop the yeast working by freezing it, but this does not kill it. So fresh yeast and sourdough starters can be frozen, defrosted and brought back to room temperature then they will continue to do their job where they left off. At temperatures in between freezing and killing, yeast will create bubbles and the speed of this process is determined by the temperature. You need to allow this to happen – called proving – to make your bread rise. If you want your bread as soon as you possibly can, then place the bread to prove (rise) in a warm room, the airing cupboard, somewhere near an Aga-style oven, on a shelf over a radiator or even on a floor if under-heated – all perfect. My house is a little cool for making bread so I heat the oven to its lowest setting. Gas ovens don’t go that low but you can set it to 1/4 and leave the door slightly open. Put the dough in there and it will happily double in size in about 30 minutes. If you have a busy life and need to divide your bread-making into smaller time slots, you can easily let your dough rise in a cool place or the fridge overnight. By altering the temperature of the ‘rise’ you can fit bread-making into almost any lifestyle.

6. Kneading – see my tips on kneading below, but the aim is to develop the gluten in the bread to give a supple, elastic, non-sticky dough.

7. Some breads don’t need a second rise. You can simply knead, shape, prove, then bake some bread dough, but usually you allow the dough to double in size, ‘knock’ it back to the original size then shape and allow the dough to rise again before baking. This helps the texture of the bread.

8. Your oven – I prefer a fan oven for best, even results but I have put normal temperatures in the recipes to suit everyone. If you have a fan oven, use it and reduce the temperature accordingly.

9. Bread is cooked when it sounds hollow when you tap it with your knuckle on the base of the loaf. If you do not get a hollow sound, pop it back into the oven for a few more minutes.

10. The crust of the bread is always better if you put a ramekin or similar small ovenproof dish of water in the oven with it while it’s baking.

11. Hot bread straight from the oven – what could be better? But advice suggests you should always allow the bread to cool, on a rack, before eating – the crusts are crustier and I actually think that the texture of bread is better if the loaf is left uncut till it’s cool. You can always warm your bread to serve!

Bread making step-by-step

1. Mix the ingredients together loosely with a fork in the mixing bowl so they begin to hold together in a rough dough.

2. Turn the rough mixture onto a clean work surface and use your hands to draw it together into a dough. It will be sticky.

3. Hold the dough in one or two hands and throw it towards the work surface keeping hold of the end nearest you so that it slaps down and extends away from you. It will be a sticky thwack.

4. Scoop the dough up, fold it over on top of itself to form a rough ball then keep repeating the throw and fold for about 7 minutes until smooth and elastic.

5. Start to shape the dough into a ball. Hold the edge away from you and lift it and bring it to the centre pressing it down to stick onto the rest of the dough. Turn the ball about 15 degrees and do the same, then work your way round the piece and you will have a neat ball.

6. Flip the ball over and put it back in the mixing bowl to rise or shape it for your sourdough mould or loaf. Cover with a tea towel and leave to prove. If the recipe states, re-knead then shape and leave until doubled in size again.


Good bread dough is wetter than you think. This is the best way to knead dough, to keep that essential moisture locked in.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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