I was prompted to post this by  a few of the comments left during the last week. Some of you admitted a fear of yeast cookery while others professed a love for home made bread and make it often but added that because of time constraints, you rely heavily on your bread machine to achieve this. Nothing wrong with that - if it prompts you to make your own bread, I say power to it. But, handy as they are, bread machines have always left me cold. I never could get into the dump everything into the machine, press the button and presto-chango, out pops a loaf of bread a few hours later method.

I love dumping dirty clothes and soap into my washer and having fresh, clean laundry at the touch of a button, but when it comes to bread, I like to get down and dirty (with dough, the DOUGH!) and nothing makes me happier than shaping, slashing and just feeling the dough in my hands. Breadmaking is a sensuous, tactile, creative, seductive and completely addictive undertaking. One where the journey is as rewarding as the destination, and, if you use a breadmachine from start to finish, I can't help feeling that you're missing half the equation.... 

The feeling of proofed dough is almost indescribable. It's warm, incredibly soft and satiny (like the softest, most delicate human skin you can imagine) and it actually grows before your eyes! It feels so alive, that sometimes, when I put loaves into the oven, I just stare through the glass door and imagine the tiny yeast cells inside, piteously screaming in their last agonising death throes. Bread lover and yeast murderer ;)

Going back to your comments - you added that you would like to wean yourselves off your bread machines and try making "real" bread. I couldn't be happier about your breadmaking aspirations, so, this recipe is specially for anyone who's a breadmachine junkie or yeastphobe (you know who you are). It requires no kneading, just a quick mix and overnight refrigeration, then shaping and a little more waiting before you put your loaves in the oven. It's still more involved than a using a bread machine, but then, that is the idea, isn't it? It also takes longer but one of the greatest secrets to great tasting bread is time. You really can't rush great bread.

Your comments also got me wondering about the definition of real bread. To me, it's bread made with a short list of ingredients, none of which has ever seen the inside of a lab. It matters little if you made it entirely by hand or had a little mechanical help along the way. If you're comfortable with your breadmachine, there's no reason to stop using it. Since it does a bang up job of mixing and kneading, let it, then tip out the dough and take over from there. Get your hands a little dirty and get to know those little yeasty beasties, up close and personal. I promise, they don't bite and there's every danger of it being the start of a beautiful and obsessive relationship . I hope this recipe will prompt you to plunge in and try hand made bread or to try making bread at all - it couldn't be more uncomplicated and it yields a very flavourful, slightly chewy and deliciously fragrant loaf.

Prep Overnight        Cook 30 minutes        Makes 2 small loaves (12 slices each)

350 g (3 1/2 teacups) bread flour
150 g (1 1/2 teacups) medium oats
2 level tsps sugar
1 1/2 level tsps salt
3 level tsp instant yeast
350 ml (1 3/4 teacups) water
3 Tbsp flavourless vegetable oil or 2 Tbsp soft butter
Extra oats for topping

Combine flour, oats, sugar and salt in mixing bowl and stir thoroughly with a whisk. Stir in yeast until well distributed.

Pour in water and oil and stir thoroughly with a large, sturdy wooden spoon or mix in standmixer for 3 minutes.

Scrape dough down into bowl and cover securely with cling wrap or a well fitting plate. Refrigerate for 12 hours.

Remove dough from fridge and turn out onto a lightly greased surface.  Divide dough equally into two and shape into two tight, smooth circles or blunted ovals.  Place seam side down on a parchment lined baking tray. Spritz loaves with water and sprinkle with oats. Spritz loaves again so oat flakes stick.

Cover each loaf with a tented, clean grocery bag and leave to proof for 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours. Nothing much will happen for the first hour as the dough is cold but it will rise noticeably in the last 30 - 40 minutes, so, don't worry.

Twenty minutes before loaves go into oven, preheat at 250 C (480 F).

When loaves are ready for baking, slash then give each loaf a few spritzs of water again. Bake for 10 minutes then reduce temperature to 200 C (375 F) and continue baking for 15 - 20 minutes more or until crusty and golden.

Remove from oven and immediately place on cooling rack. Slice when completely cool.

Note : If you prefer an all white loaf, omit the oats and use 500 g (5 level teacups) bread flour instead of 350 g. If you'd like a light wholewheat loaf, use 300 g (3 level teacups) bread flour and 200 g (2 level teacups) wheatmeal (coarsely ground wholewheat). If you have the time and patience, reduce the amount of yeast to 1/2 tsp with all other ingredients remaining the same and leave the covered dough out on the kitchen counter for 18 hours instead of in the refrigerator for 12 hours, for an even better flavour, before proceeding according to the recipe.