So here are some photos from my last batch of bread for you to browse through!
When you have combined all your ingredients, you will have a sticky dough. Place it on a large work surface to knead.
It will stick to the surface, but don't panic - this will actually help with the kneading process and do some of the work for you!! It will also become less sticky as you knead, so have patience and wash and flour your hands every few minutes to help.
When you are kneading, if you are right handed, place your left fingers into the nearest part of the dough, and push the rest of the dough with the knuckles of your right hand away from you as far as you can go (or vise versa if you are left handed!). Scrape the dough back towards you, turn 90 degrees clockwise and repeat. Knead for about 15 minutes.
This will get easier with time, and eventually you won't even think about it!!
Shape into a round, oil a bowl and the dough and place upside down in the bowl. Leave to ferment in the bowl with a black bag around it and tucked underneath the bowl (keep it loose though, the dough needs room to rise!!) for about 30 minutes, or until it has doubled in size.
Now is the stage called 'beating back'. However, as Daniel Stevens says in the River Cottage Handbook, this is far too violent a description, and that you have loved your bread up until this point, don't ruin it now! Most recipes suggest giving it a good punch, however a better and more gentle method is to prod it with your fingers until the air is pushed out and the dough rather flat.
Bring the edges into the middle to create a round again. You can leave the dough to rise another 2 or 3 times by repeating this process, which will make the dough softer and more pillowy, and result in an easier bread to digest, and I've found, a lighter bread.
Next you need to shape your loaves however you want. My favourite is this short loaf. To do this you need to press out all the air as before, then roll it tightly towards yourself, pressing on the seam to seal. Then flatten out lengthways so that it is three times as long. Fold in the left third, then the remaining right third on top of it. Press down again so that you have a fairly square shaped dough. Then roll tightly towards yourself again and press the join gently to seal. If you want to coat your loaves, now is the time. I love oats, but it's the same method for any coating. Roll your loaf in little milk or water all over, then transfer onto a plate or work surface covered with oats (or whatever yoy are coating your loaf in). Roll in the oats then transfer onto a board to prove for the last time before baking. Wrap loosely in a black bag and leave to prove until it has almost, but not quite, doubled in size, and the dough bounces back lightly when you give it a gentle squueze. I usually leave mine for about 30-40 minutes, but every dough is different, so follow your instincts.
Place a baking tray in your oven while it preheats to the top temperature, and one at the bottom of your oven, deep enough to hold some water. Boil the kettle. When your dough is ready, take the preheated tray out, place the loaves on it and if you want, make some slashes in the dough about a centimetre deep, then place the tray in the oven. Pour some water from the kettle into the bottom tray before closing the oven door. Bake at the top temperature of your oven for about 10 minutes, then if the bread is browning quickly turn to 170 degrees, if it's visibly browning turn to 180 degress, or if it's still quite pale turn to 190 degrees, and bake for a further 30-40 minutes. To check if they are done, tap the bottom with your knuckle, if they sound hollow, they are ready!!
Leave to cool for 20-30 minutes, then slice gently, apply lashings of butter, and devour!!