We all love the idea of baking our own bread, but it's daunting when you're standing alone in the kitchen, poking a finger at your dough and wondering if it's ready.
Fortunately help is at hand - follow these simple steps devised by Real Bread and get it right every time. There's something almost magical about baking, both in the process and the final results, and that gorgeous smell that fills the kitchen is almost reward in itself.
BUY THE RIGHT INGREDIENTS
Real bread is made of only four ingredients - flour, yeast, water and salt. Choose the best flour you can afford, and always go for strong bread flour. The yeast is key so look for dried active yeast, rather than fast-acting varieties. Any other extra ingredients, such as seeds or dried fruit, must be natural.
WEIGH AND MEASURE
Always follow the recipe, having the correct ratio of ingredients is crucial for making great bread. Invest in electronic scales for accuracy and make sure you weigh everything - even the warm water because measuring jugs simply aren't accurate enough.
USE YOUR MUSCLE
Kneading the dough is essential to release gluten and bind the bread. The easiest way is to repeatedly push and pull the dough while listening to three or four songs on the radio.
The best way to tell if it's ready is to pinch a piece of dough and pull it away from the rest of it to make a thin 'window' - if you can see the light through it, it's ready for the first rise.
Great bread takes time. Cover the bread with a clean tea towel and leave it in a warm place - next to the radiator or in the airing cupboard for the first rise - until it has roughly doubled in size and feels full of air.
If you want to leave your dough while you go out for a few hours or even overnight, for example, just pop it in the fridge to slow the yeast down.
There's no need to flour your work surface unless your dough is sticking to it, and then dust it lightly. Shape your bread any way you like.
Cover the dough with oiled clingfilm or a shower cap for the second rise, or prove. It's easy to see when it's ready - the dough should have expanded and it springs back when poked.
Put the loaf onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. Slicing a cross or scoring lines in the top will control where the bread expands when it's in the oven and stop it bursting at weaker points elsewhere. You'll know it's done when your loaf looks golden brown and if you tap the bottom, it sounds hollow. Leave your bread to cool, then enjoy with lashings of butter. That's the best bit.
"Don't be afraid to experiment, and don't let one flat loaf ruin your day," says Jen. "If possible, get someone to show you how. You may be surprised to find how many friends or relatives are secret bread bakers!"
Want to make your own bread? Start with our best bread recipes