Make Bread

Last week the NYT published a piece on how to make supremely excellent bread at home with minimal work and maximum reward. Luisa of Wednesday Chef attempted it and her results look marvelous. But the other day I wanted home-made bread and I wanted it then and there. The NYT technique requires 12 hours of resting and I was impatient, so what could I do?

The reason I wanted fresh bread so bad was because earlier in the day I received a gift from dedicated Madison, Wisconsin reader Joe B:


That’s a cheese-eating grin on Joe’s face and his gift was, indeed, cheese:


I’m sure he can tell us in the comments what cheeses they are, specifically, but one of the cheeses was recently voted best cheese by the National Dairy Counsel (or something, again: Joe, fill us in!)

Craig was most eager to eat these cheeses right away because Craig is a cheese nut. “Let’s just buy crackers,” said Craig and I heard the words, “Let’s give up on life and be losers who don’t care about anything.” In other words: I needed to make bread from scratch.

“Wait,” I told Craig, “I’m going to make bread from scratch.”

“But that’s going to take forever,” said Craig. We were home at this point and he already tore the plastic off the first cheese.

“Well nibble on that but I have a recipe that’ll be done in just a few hours.”

The recipe I had in mind comes from none other than the subject of my interview from a few weeks ago: Nigel Slater. It’s in his book “Appetite” and the recipe is for “A Really Good and Very Easy White Loaf.”

This is a recipe that should send you leaping out of your chair, into the grocery store, and straight to your kitchen. It’s a recipe that makes it inexcusable not to make bread from scratch. I implore you, oh reader, if you’re the least bit curious to make this bread—just for the tactile experience of making your own bread dough, kneading it and then watching it rise and finally baking it. The house fills up with the warmest of aromas and you’ll be glad to be alive.

I’m so eager for you to make this bread I’ll make you a deal. If you make this bread and take a picture of yourself with the end product, I’ll post it on the site. Just send it to amateurgourmet AT gmail DOT com. Here’s what you need:

8 cups white bread flour

2 packages rapid-rise active dry yeast

4 teaspoons salt

3 cups water

Here’s Nigel’s instructions:

Take your largest, widest mixing bowl and tip in the flour, yeast, and salt. Pour in almost all of the water and mix to a sticky dough. Keep mixing for a minute or so–the dough will become less sticky–then add a little more flour until you have a dough that is soft and springy and still slightly sticky to the touch.

Generously flour a large, flat work surface and scoop the dough out onto it. Work the dough with your hands, pushing it flat with your palms, then folding the far edge toward you and pushing it back into the dough with the heel of your hand. Continue pushing and folding the dough. WOrk firmly but gently, with none of that brutal banging people tell you about, folding and pushing the ball between your hands. It should feel soft, springy, and alive (which, of course, being full of yeast, it is). The technique is less important than you may have been led to believe. What is important is that you carry on gently but firmly pummeling the dough. As you do so, you will feel it get lighter and more springy. Keep this up for almost ten minutes. If you find it exhausting, then you are pushing the dough too hard.

Place the ball of dough back in the bowl, cover it with a clean tea towel, and put it somewhere warm, but not hot, for an hour or so. It should be well out of a draft. An airing cupboard is ideal. I don’t have one, so I end up balancing the bowl on a thick towel over the radiator. The dough should almost double in size. The time this takes will depend on how hot or moist your room is, the exact type of flour you have used, and the age of your yeast, but it will probably be about forty-five minutes to an hour.

Once the dough has doubled in size, you need to tip it out onto the floured surface again, scraping out the dough that has stuck to the bowl, and give it another short session of pushing and squeezing; a couple of minutes will do fine. Bring the dough into a ball again and place it on a floured baking sheet. Dust it heavily with flour, then cover with a tea towel and return it to its warm place to rise again. Set the oven at 500 F. After an hour or so the dough will have spread and somewhat alarmingly. You want it to be twice its original size–or as near as damn it. Gently, and I do mean gently, tuck it back into a neat, high ball,


then place it softly in the hot oven. Don’t slam the door.

Leave the loaf to bake for ten minutes, then turn the heat down to 425 F. After 25 or 30 minutes you can check the loaf for doneness. It should sound hollow when you tap its bottom. Like a drum. Let the loaf cool on a wire rack. Try not to cut straight into it; give it time to settle before slicing.

25 thoughts on “Make Bread”

  1. The bread is beautiful! Like a pumpkin! I read the article last week as well, but find myself lacking in the tools with which to make my own. :/

  2. When I want bread now, I usually try to make my sig. oth. go and get it, which works out just fine, and doesn´t take 12 hours. My home made bread sucks, pretty much.

  3. Wow, that is one round loaf. Gorgeous! And I agree that baking bread is one of those things that makes you glad to be alive. As does reading Nigel Slater ;)

  4. Yum! I wish you’d have shown it sliced, though – I want to see the texture of the bread!

    As another resident of Madison, Wisconsin (albeit not as cool a resident as Joe, obviously, since I have not as yet mailed you any gifties), I am also curious to know how you enjoyed our state’s lovely cheeses?

  5. I am so glad that you have discovered Nigel Slater. I live in the UK and he is one of my most favourtie food writers. He alone was responsible for my gaining a stone and a half! (now gone) The Kitchen diaries is a beautiful book and filled with lots of doable yummy receipes.. long live Nige!! My other fav is Real Food, try the indian chicken baguette, so tasty… not to mention the sausage pasta..

  6. Hey Adam… I look like a total dork in the picture :-). The Cheeses are: Roth Kase Grand Cru Gruyere Surchoix from Monroe, WI; Hook’s Blue from Tomah, WI; and Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Dodgeville, WI. The Pleasant Ridge is a raw milk cheese in the gruyere style. It has twice won Best of Show from the American Cheese Society and also won the US Champion title at the 2003 U.S Championship cheese contest. It’s the only cheese to have won both titles.

    And Adam, you would not believe how crappy my flight back was. To hell with United!

  7. Wisconsin, represent! I’m shocked that Joe-from-Wisconsin did not send you cheese curds, as they are a way of LIFE out here. I just moved here from NJ with my husband and they sell them everywhere: the gas station, the grocery store, the liquor store, the department store. Just about everywhere you go, you can buy fresh curds.

  8. Funny that you comment on these two breads. I’ve been experimenting with breadmaking myself! I saw the NY Times post too and made the bread, and 2 weeks ago I made Nigel’s. For me, the NY Times bread made a crisper crust with a more open crumb, very like the ones you get from nice bakeries. Nigel’s was a softer more dense loaf. I’m curious to see how your results turn out! How do you compare them?

  9. Jim Lahey, of Sullivan St Bakery, the bread baker Mark Bittman wrote about in the NY Times, has been answering questions in the comments area on

    The page is an announcement of his bread baking classes, but the questions have been about the Times article. It’s my site, if you’ll excuse the self promotion.

  10. By the way, even if that’s not Jim’s recipe, it’s a hell of a good looking loaf. Was it as round as a pumpkin as it appears in the photo?

    New Yorkers can get the Uplands Farm Pleasant Ridge Reserve raw cow’s milk cheese from Dodgeville, WI at Saxelby Cheesemongers in the partially rejuvenated Essex Street Market on Manhattan’s lower east side. For those who think Wisconsin cheese is limited and bland, this one is a surprise with a real character. It’s one of a few cheeses Anne Saxelby “imports” from the midwest. All of the cheeses she carries are American however, and all tend to be exceptional artisanal farmstead cheeses.

  11. I think Murray’s carries Pleasant Ridge Reserve too. I’m a Wisconsiner and we keep Pleasant Ridge Reserve as our house cheese. Very tasty and versatile and we love how the flavor of the cheese changes throughout the year. Adam, I love your style, as in cooking, eating, and writing.

  12. The bread looks good indeed, and at one time, when I first moved to Colorado from the East Coast, I would have been tempted to try my hand at it. Now, we have artisanal bakeries in every city, resort town and even several smaller communities.

  13. The bread is gawjus! I resort to Ye Olde Breade Machine for the mixing, kneading, rising, and take it out for the final rise and oven bake. Not as organic a process, but voila: bread in 4 hours, start to finish.

  14. I use Ye Olde Breadmaker too, but I just mix and rise the dough in the machine and bake it in the oven. 2 hours and 20 minutes for a beautiful 1kg loaf. And it costs 40c Australian.

  15. Felicity-Anne Vanstone

    Hi Nigel,

    That bread looks gorgeous and I cant wait to attempt to make it. My dad and me decided just now that we want to start making our own bread and when i put a search in google you were the first to pop up so think of all the people in the world who will see your bread recipe if they use google…!! wow!! By the way im from Wales so maybe I could give you a delicious recipe for welsh cakes??

    See ya from Felicity

  16. Other easy recipes for bread… check out Steve “the bread guy” at …. his recipes and techniques are easy and quick to learn and for those who like to expand on recipes once they learn them, his are a great stepping stone. (I am not paid or otherwise involved with him, just found he is great at showing you how it’s done) ENJOY!

  17. Hey there! I know this post is years old, but I’m hoping someone could tell me how much yeast is in a package, as listed in the ingredients of this recipe. I’d love to make it but I just want to make sure I get the measurements right. Thanks!

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