1. I'm afraid it's a myth that bread making takes time. True, the bread itself needs its own time, but it will only take about 6-10 minutes of your actual time. I have come to the conclusion that it takes me less time than travelling to a really good baker and back. To make one large or two small loaves you will need 1 lb 8 oz (700 g) strong white bread flour, which should be warmed for about 10 minutes in the oven at its lowest setting. Then sift it into a bowl with 1 level tablespoon of salt (or less, according to your taste), 1 level teaspoon of easy-blend dried yeast and 1 level teaspoon of caster sugar. Make a well in the centre and add enough hand-hot water to make a soft dough – you will need about 15 fl oz (425 ml). Now you are ready to start kneading.
2. Simply place the dough on a flat work surface then stretch it away from you, using the heel of one hand to push from the middle and the clenched knuckles of your other hand to pull the other half of the dough towards you (both hands should move simultaneously to stretch out the dough). Then lift the edges over and back to the middle. Give it a quarter turn and repeat the process. It soon becomes a rather rhythmic operation, and the dough will then start to become very elastic. What happens here is you begin to feel the magic – the dough literally begins to spring into life as you push it away and it defiantly springs back to challenge you. When it's become very smooth and springy and begins to appear blistery on the surface, which takes about 3 minutes, it's then ready to rise. Alternatively, if you want an easier option, you can bring all the ingredients together in a food processor with a dough hook and knead the dough for 3 minutes on a low speed.
3. Place the dough in a clean bowl and cover with lightly oiled clingfilm. The mixture (which started out being a heavy lump of dough), if given the correct amount of time, will stretch and expand to twice its original volume. This process can be speeded up if the dough is put in a warm place, but the longer you leave it to rise naturally at room temperature, the better the bread. It will also rise at a cold temperature, so if it's more convenient, pop the bread in the lowest part of the fridge and let it rise overnight, ready to bake in the morning. Dough, when risen properly, should have doubled in size and should spring back, feeling very slightly sticky, when lightly touched with the finger.
4. Once the dough has risen, it needs to be knocked down by simply punching all the air out of it with your fist. Alternatively, if using a food processor, you can knead it again for 1 minute still on a low speed. Either way the dough will be brought back to its original size, ready to rise for the second time in greased tins – you will need two 1 lb (450 g) loaf tins or one 2 lb (900 g) loaf tin. Again, once in the tins, the dough needs to be covered, so place them inside a sealed oiled polythene bag.
5. This second rising is known as 'proving' and, as the name suggests, you're actually testing – or proving – that the yeast is still (we hope) alive and kicking. This ensures that the bread will have a more even texture than if it were proved only once.
6. Bake the loaves on the centre shelf of a pre-heated oven (gas mark 8, 450°F, 230°C) for 30-40 minutes, or 35-45 minutes for the larger loaf. Turn them out, holding them in a cloth, then give the underneath a sharp tap with your knuckles: if it's cooked it will sound hollow and not dense. Remember it's always better to overbake rather than underbake bread. Because I like an extra crunchy crust, I always put the loaf back in the oven without its tin for 5-10 minutes, to crisp up the underneath and sides, so if you do this it will ensure it is cooked through.