It's become a bit of a Spring Cottage tradition that Christmas day kicks off with mugs of tea, some kind of fresh-from-the-oven baked good, the unwrapping of presents, and then a casual brunch some time later in the morning. I thought long and hard about what to bake this year, and eventually decided to produce my own fruit bread.
It was to be my first loaf. It was also, as a few friends pointed out, a bold choice to experiment with bread making while entertaining all my in-laws for the most important meal of the year. I went on ahead anyway, but did pick up a bag of thick cut raisin toast at Woolies on Christmas Eve to hide in the freezer just in case I stuffed the whole fresh baked thing up and felt on the verge of ruining Christmas.
I found my super simple bread recipe on Freunde von Freunden, though if I'm honest it still managed to trip me up a bit. My dough turned out very sticky… so sticky that it was incapable of being kneaded into a smooth, elastic ball. I added quite a bit of extra flour and eventually formed a loaf-shape ball by patting the outside with flour. I set it in a tin to rise over night then popped it in the oven in the morning to bake… without ever greasing the tin. That was a mistake because we couldn't get the loaf out to slice, but the only points deducted were for presentation.
The bread, torn roughly in hunks, was heartily dense in texture and particularly delicious on account of the chopped dates, walnuts and pinch of cinnamon I added in. Fresh out of the oven, moist and steaming, it was glorious when adorned with glistening butter and apricot jam.
So we got there in the end. I polled my family for a list of adjectives to describe my first loaf of homemade bread. They came up with: rustic, chewy, healthful, and 'it toasted well'. I had to use a metal spatula like a hatchet to get each slice out of the pan, but basically, I'm calling my first loaf a success.
Beginners Bread Recipe
500g plain flour one pack (42 g) of yeast 1 table spoon salt 500ml lukewarm water extra goodies … as much or as little as you like, all to taste ***
1. Mix all ingredients and knead into a dough.
2. Allow the dough to rise.
3. Heat oven to 180ºC and bake in a greased tin or a parchment lined baking sheet for 40 – 60 minutes
* If the dough's consistency is sticky, pat flour around the outside of the ball and form it into a loaf as best you can. It can be baked in a greased oven dish if it won't hold it's shape, or if the dough is more firm you can just twist it on a baking tray.
** Dough for this bread can easily be prepared the evening before so that it can proof overnight. Bake the next morning for a super fresh bread, perfect for Sunday brunch with friends.
*** All kinds of nuts, dried fruits and herbs can be mixed and matched, depending on personal taste such as walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, wholemeal flour, spelt flour or even oat flakes, olives, dried tomatoes, rosemary, thyme, basil, parmesan – in fact anything you feel like.