If using fresh yeast, pour all the liquid into a bowl, add the yeast and stir with a fork until dissolved. If using dried yeast, stir the caster sugar into 2/3 cup of the water and whisk in the yeast. Cover the bowl and leave to stand in a warm place for 15 minutes, or until frothy, then stir in the remaining water.
Sift the ﬂour and salt into a large mixing bowl and, using your fingertips, rub in the butter or margarine. Make a well in the centre, pour in the yeast liquid and mix to a soft dough. Turn out on a lightly ﬂoured surface and knead well for 10 minutes, or until the dough is very smooth and elastic in texture and no longer sticky. Alternatively, mix for 3 minutes with an electric mixer, using a dough hook at low speed.
Put the dough in a lightly ﬂoured bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave to stand in a warm place for 1–1 1/2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size. Turn the risen dough out on a lightly ﬂoured surface and, with clenched fists, punch it back to its original size. Continue to knead for a further 2–3 minutes, or until smooth.
See footnotes for various ways to shape the bread.
The dough must be proved – left to rise – after it has been shaped. Loosely cover the tins or baking trays with lightly oiled plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for about 30 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size and will retain a small dent when pressed lightly with your fingertip.
When it has doubled in size, either leave the dough as it is or, for a soft-topped bread, sprinkle it lightly with ﬂour. To give a delicious crusty finish to the bread, dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in 1/2 cup of water and brush over the top of the dough. For a golden sheen, brush the top with milk.
Before baking, the dough can be sprinkled with cracked wheat, rolled oats, sesame seeds or poppy seeds. Bake large loaves in a preheated oven at 220°C for 35–40 minutes, smaller ones for 20–25 minutes and rolls for 15–20 minutes. To check if the bread is done, tap the loaf on the bottom with your knuckles. It is done when it sounds hollow.
When the bread is cooked, remove the loaves or rolls from the tins or baking trays and cool on a wire rack.
Preparing Rolls and Baps
*Rolls: Cut the dough into pieces the size of an egg and shape into smooth balls by rolling firmly on the bench with your cupped hand. Put the rolls on greased baking trays. *Baps: Shape as for rolls, then ﬂatten each with a rolling pin.
*Tin Loaf: Put the dough into a large, well-greased loaf tin, or divide it equally between two smaller ones. *Cob Loaf: Shape the dough into a neat round. Place the round on a greased baking tray and mould in the bottom edge to plump up the shape of the loaf. *Coburg or Scofa Loaf: Shape the dough as for a cob loaf but, halfway through the proving time, cut a deep cross in the top. *Cottage Loaf: Cut off one-third of the dough and shape it into a ball. Shape the other piece of dough into a larger ball. Place the larger ball on a greased baking tray and lay the smaller ball on top. Lightly ﬂour the handle of a wooden spoon and push it down through the centres of both balls to join them together. Twist the handle slightly and pull it out. *Plaited Loaf: Cut the dough into three equal pieces and roll each piece into a strand about 45 cm long. Lay the strands side-by-side on the work surface and, working from the centre of each strand, plait them together, then pinch the ends to seal. Carefully turn the strands around, from top to bottom, and plait the other ends. Place on a greased baking tray. If preferred, cut the dough in half and make two smaller plaits.