Enjoying a freshly baked loaf of bread is one of the simplest and greatest pleasures of life. Indeed there is nothing remotely exotic about a loaf of plain white bread, nor is there any great challenge in its preparation; there is, nonetheless, a certain pride that can be attained only from baking with yeast. A cake comes to life only when it is consumed by the heat of the oven. Bread, on the other hand, comes to life before your very eyes on the kitchen bench. The dough, nurtured by the gentle touch of your hands and guarded carefully by your watchful eyes, miraculously grows, doubling in volume. It is the closest thing, I can only imagine, to raising a child; the only difference being that we tend not to eat our children once they are grown.
This recipe is 'The essential white loaf' from Nigella Lawson's How to be a domestic goddess. Nigella suggests using potato water for its excellent starchy properties. I, however, didn't have any potato water on hand, so I substituted some similarly starchy pasta water and reduced the quantity of salt to 2 teaspoons. It has a lovely crumb and the ratios seemed to be spot on.
One thing Nigella doesn't mention is how best to shape the loaf. You can of course have the loaf in any shape you desire. One thing I do suggest is that wherever you seal the dough together (make no mistake- there will be a seam somewhere), be sure to place that seam face side down on the tray or in the loaf tin. This way you can slash the bread with a super sharp knife/blade before it goes in the oven and you won't have any un-slightly cracks from seams, but lovely big slashes only where you want them to appear. I like lots, but 2 or 3 would be ample. Now what are you waiting for? Go on- get baking!