There’s this twitter account dedicated solely to posting, every Friday, a brief clip of actor Daniel Craig announcing musician The Weeknd on Saturday Night Live, and though I don’t follow this account, every seven days enough of the people I do follow force it onto my timeline through their retweeting, and because time has become gelatinous and meaningless I seem to encounter this tweet at ever-shortening concentric cycles, though I understand a week is still seven days despite my perception of it being something much smaller. Anyway, the specific way the actor Daniel Craig says “Ladies and gentlemen: The Weeknd”, with this air of resigned gratefulness – with unabashed yet just faintly bemused gravitas – so moved by that which he is announcing – with his arms stretched wide and his head shaking in appreciative disbelief – his arms which say everything his mouth cannot – well, that’s the only way I can talk about this recipe. It’s the best bread I’ve ever made, it’s the best bread you’ll ever make, there’s nothing more that can be said, not by me, not by Daniel Craig, not even by Daniel Craig’s arms.
It would, however, be failing the very concept of a food blog to imply nothing can actually be said about a recipe. And I’d be failing myself because I never miss an opportunity to over-explain. So here we go. This recipe comes from Nigella Lawson’s most recent book, Cook, Eat, Repeat, a soothingly expansive volume with essays that fluctuate into recipes and vice versa, and it’s the recipe I’ve made most from it thus far – in fact, it’s probably the recipe I’ve made most this year full stop. I’ve enacted some small changes to make Nigella’s recipe vegan – replacing the spoiled milk or sour cream with soy milk curdled by apple cider vinegar, the acid of which I believe has a spectacular effect on the airy crumb of the resulting loaf; I also use refined coconut oil instead of butter, since it bears a buttery flavour and has a similar melting temperature. Other than that, the recipe remains hers, via the chef Dan Lepard, although I only just realised – after having made this recipe countless times this year – that Nigella offers her own vegan option (using almond-soy yoghurt and vegetable shortening) in the book? I’m baffled at how I missed that extremely relevant detail, but that’s ADHD for ya I guess. What sets this bread apart from other methods is the on-off process of kneading for ten seconds and letting it rise for ten minutes – somehow these incredibly brief bursts of agitation make the dough flourish and swell like an inflated bouncy castle.
I’ve made numerous loaves of bread in my time – recipes of mine, of Nigella’s, recipes ancient and modern, but nothing has ever knocked me clean off my feet quite like this one. It’s so light and soft, and crisp-of-crust, and perfect, the sort of bread the Famous Five would take to an island to eat while fighting crime (it’s a while since I’ve read any Enid Blyton and I may be conflating some storylines here), the sort of bread Da Vinci himself would’ve come up with had he devoted himself to baking instead of art and invention, it’s like finally realising a sublime dream you didn’t quite know you’d been chasing your entire life, and you know what else?
It slices up a treat. The importance of this aspect cannot be overstated! The knife melts into the crust and peels away clean slice after clean slice without the slightest squashing – you can rest your hand squatly on top of the loaf to steady yourself as you cut with confidence that you’re not going to immediately flatten it like an old air mattress. Even I – someone who can normally only carve diagonally, producing great wide-hipped triangles of bread – can cut thin elegant sandwich-ready slices from this, mere minutes after it leaves the oven.
Set aside a day and make this recipe. Soon enough you’ll be wandering around, arms outstretched, saying “Ladies and gentlemen: this bread!” in a resonant and impassioned voice to anyone who will listen.
The Best White Bread
Lightly adapted – by which I mean this is now vegan bread – from Nigella Lawson’s Old-Fashioned Sandwich Loaf in Cook, Eat, Repeat. This is simply the best loaf of white bread you’ll ever make, and worth every minute of the rise time.
- 500g strong white bread flour (also called “high grade”)
- 2 and 1/2 teaspoons instant dried yeast
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt or 1 teaspoon regular table salt
- 125ml (1/2 cup) soy milk
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 150ml cold water
- 100ml water from a just-boiled kettle
- 3 heaped tablespoons soft/room temperature refined coconut oil
1: Place the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in your biggest mixing bowl – this dough needs plenty of space to rise.
2: Pour the soy milk and apple cider vinegar into a measuring jug and leave it for a minute to curdle. Then add the cold water, followed by the hot water from the just-boiled kettle (might as well make yourself a cup of tea while you’re there) and stir the coconut oil into the jug. It doesn’t matter if the heat from the liquid doesn’t totally melt the oil. (If you can’t work out how to measure the 100ml and 150ml water – which falls outside of regular cup measurements – you can weigh the water on the scales you used for the flour, as 1g = 1ml.)
3: Pour the wet ingredients into the mixing bowl and stir briefly to combine. Form into a rough ball and cover the bowl with plastic wrap or, more sustainably – as per Nigella’s suggestion – a shower cap. I hope you don’t need me to tell you that it should be new and unused. Leave the dough for ten minutes.
4: Remove the plastic covering and knead the dough for ten seconds. You can do this on the kitchen counter, I prefer to do it inside the bowl to save on cleaning. Either way, it helps to put a little oil on your kneading hand to stop the dough from sticking to you as you push the dough away and pull it back to you. Cover the bowl again with the plastic wrap, and leave for ten minutes. Repeat this ten-seconds-on-ten-minutes-off step twice more.
5: After the third ten-second knead, form the dough into a ball, cover the bowl again with the plastic wrap, and leave for an hour to rise. Don’t worry about having it somewhere warm unless your house is especially freezing and draughty (which in New Zealand is, alas, highly likely.)
6: Lay a sheet of baking paper on the bench and tip the risen, puffy ball of dough onto it. Oil your hands again, press the dough into a rectangle shape about an inch thick (I have never once measured this step so don’t worry too much) then roll the dough up into a scroll, carefully shift it into the centre of the piece of baking paper, then lift the dough up by picking up the paper on either side of the dough scroll, and lower it all into a loaf tin, which should leave you with a loaf tin, lined with baking paper, and filled with dough. I hope these instructions make sense – the Tiktok video above gives a visual of what I mean – also Nigella’s recipe tells you to line the loaf tin with paper first and then pick up the dough directly with your hands, and you can, of course, follow this reasonable request instead of mine. Leave the tin-bound dough for one final rise of about an hour to 90 minutes, until it’s billowing over the top – I usually drape the same plastic wrap from the bowl loosely over it just to protect it from local marauding insects, depending on your location this may not be an issue.
7: Once the dough looks like it’s nearly done rising, turn your oven to 200C/400F. Dust the top of the loaf with a little flour, and bake for 45 minutes. I’ve never had to bake it for any more or any less, but I would suggest placing it fairly low in the oven because it does continue to rise and can scorch a little on top if it’s too close to the heat. Store wrapped in a clean tea towel.
Note: As I mentioned before, I somehow? Didn’t realise Nigella offers her own vegan alternative in the lead-up to this recipe, despite having made this so many times I just…completely missed it. She suggests using almond-soy yoghurt and vegetable shortening and I have no doubt this would yield excellent results.
Loveless by My Bloody Valentine – one of my utmost favourite albums – is finally back on Spotify after a long and parched time away. You really need to listen to it all at once, preferably lying down.
Bless Your Beautiful Hide by Howard Keel from Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. Keel really found his niche playing brawny scoundrels who were startlingly sexist even for the time period, who were constantly striding about in tight trousers insisting someone marry him (he sang a near-identical song, vibes-wise, in Kiss Me Kate) all of which should not give me cheer whenever he appears onscreen and yet! That tall man has undeniable charisma rolling off him in waves and the kind of river-deep baritone we regrettably don’t value anymore and no matter what hackneyed nonsense he’s singing, his sheer talent makes it incredibly riveting.
Shy Guy by Diana King. It’s so timeless and electrifying, and that bridge! A truly top-tier bridge (closely followed by the one in Lisa Stansfield’s All Around The World). Wherever you hear this song will instantly become a dance floor.
PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes (including this one, back in January!) reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.