Niamh Doherty

It’s the Weekend – Why Not Bake Your Own Bread?

In Baking on June 26, 2010 at 08:52

After wishing our lives away all week, the blessed weekend is here at last. And should you find yourself sitting in your kitchen, aimlessly sipping coffee and flicking through the papers, wondering what to do with your day, here is your solution – bake some bread.

There is something both sacred and scientific about baking bread. The rising of the dough satisfies our inner six-year-old, turning a simple act of baking into a Saturday-morning science project. Bread, it is said, is the staff of life. When we sit down to eat, we “break bread”. Better still, then, to be the one who actually provides this bread – both metaphorical and physical – with which to feed your loved ones.

To stretch the sacred metaphor even further, this recipe is taken from what I consider to be the Bible – at least as far as cookbooks go – Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course. It is expensive  – €45 or so, though I found mine for €22.50, and I know of people who’ve paid €12.50 for it in tk maxx, bargainous – but honestly, it’s worth it. If I had to pick just one cookbook – Sophie’s Choice – it would be this one. I have yet to come across a recipe that is not detailed in this book: the index alone is 27 pages long. If you come across a cut-price copy of this – or just feel like making an investment in your health and happiness – run, don’t walk, to the checkout.

As this recipe uses yeast, and requires several rises, it’s not something that you can throw together in a matter of minutes. It takes about 3-4 hours hours in total, but never mind. It’s the weekend after all. As I’ve said before, much of that time is spent rising or baking, so it’s not “your time” – the mixing and kneading of the dough demands only 20 minutes of your time. While the bread’s doing its thang, you could take a nap, go for lunch, visit your local farmer’s market and pick up some goodies with which to top your freshly-baked bread – think farmhouse cheeses, smoked meats, olives, sundried tomatoes and chutnies – take a bath, read a book…find something pleasant to do. Then you come home, put the bread in the oven, and inhale the gorgeous smells emanating from your kitchen, before devouring the still warm loaf.

Ballymaloe White Yeast Bread (taken from The Ballymaloe Cookery Course, by Darina Allen)


(Makes 2 x 450g (1lb) loaves)

425ml lukewarm water

20g fresh yeast OR 10g dried yeast

700g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting

2 teaspoons salt

10g sugar

25g butter


1. Put 150ml (¼ pint) of tepid water into a Pyrex measure. Crumble in the fresh/dried yeast and leave in a warm place for about 2–3 minutes. Sieve together the flour, salt and sugar in a large, wide mixing bowl. Then rub in the butter and make a well in the centre. Pour in the yeast mixture and most of the remaining lukewarm water. Mix to a loose dough, adding the remaining water or a little extra flour as needed.

2. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, cover and leave to relax for about 5 minutes. Then knead for about 10 minutes or until smooth, springy and elastic (if kneading in a food mixer with a dough hook, 5 minutes is usually long enough). Put the dough into a large bowl and cover the top tightly with clingfilm. Yeast dough rises best in a warm moist atmosphere; 27°C  is optimum, but a slower rising is preferable to one that is too fast.

3. After about 1½–2 hours, when the dough has more than doubled in size, knead it again for about 2–3 minutes to redistribute the yeast in contact with the dough so it will have a more even crumb. Cover and leave to relax for a further 10 minutes.

4. Shape the bread into loaves, plaits or rolls, then transfer to a baking tray and cover with a light tea towel. Leave to rise again in a warm place, until the shaped dough has again doubled in size (about 20–30 minutes). Preheat the oven to 230 degrees Celcius.

5. The bread is ready for baking when a small dent remains if the dough is pressed lightly with the finger. Brush with water and dust with flour for a rustic looking loaf or brush with egg wash and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds for a more golden crust. Bake for 25–35 minutes, depending on size. When baked, the bread should sound hollow if tapped underneath. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

This dough is extremely versatile, and can be used for a loaf or plait of bread, pizza bases, or breadsticks.

The baked loaf can be used for sandwiches, bruschetta, toast – basically any way you would use shop-bought bread. I slathered it with honey and butter while still warm, and enjoyed it with a cup of tea. It is really, really good toasted for breakfast. Enjoy!

  1. I can almost smell the bread baking away there Niamh. Lovely start to the weekend:-)

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