How to bake your own bread

| 10th August 2009
How to bake bread
Photo by Tracey Smith
Move over Delia, Tracey Smith tells us how to bake no-fuss fabulous flatbread, hand made with minimal ingredients, including leftovers.

I reminisce about my first bread-maker with a smile.

It was shiny with glowing orange controls and a beep so shrill it rocked the wax out of your ears. The 'whoo, whoo, whoo' paddle whizzed around for what seemed like a lifetime and I didn't mind the occasional 4am alarm-call as the timer kicked in and the 3 1/2-hr process echoed down the hallway.

I knew there was a decent loaf of bread in it for me, free from preservatives, free from flour enhancers and additives. It was one of my first stabs at living sustainably; my bread, my way and I wanted to have my bread-makers' babies, I loved it so much.

Until it broke.

We were broke too and I couldn't afford a replacement. I scanned the classifieds and eventually found a new/old machine but in the interim, thought I'd just give it a go 'by hand'. I unlocked the door to my imagination and have never looked back or used a bread machine since. The by hand method is a much quicker, more connective and fulfilling experience. It can be quite a sensual affair too (think 'the pottery scene' from 'Ghost', then think naked pizza).

I found handfuls of leftover cooked, cooled rice and pasta to be a thrifty weight-for-weight flour substitute. Both nice and starchy, they gave the dough an even better and quicker rise, resulting in lighter bread that stayed squeezy-fresh for days. I used a good quality organic flour and added my choice of nuts, seeds and grains if I wanted to go posh.

If you're a virgin baker, cut your teeth on my easy rubbish flatbreads and follow the 'How To' video on This recipe can be pulled together by hand or in a mixer using a dough-hook. If you've no cup measure, use a small tea-cup.


1 cup of cooked, cooled, chopped pasta or rice (including peas/corn/etc)

5 cups of plain all purpose, or strong bread flour

2 cups warm water

2 tablespoons oil

1½ teaspoons fast-action dried yeast

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon sugar or honey



Electric mixer (optional)

mixing bowl

rolling pin

large frying/paella pan


2 tea-towels

1. Pour the water into the bowl and before you add yeast, ensure the water is still warm! Too hot and it'll kill the yeast, too cold and it won't rise.

2. Add the oil, yeast, salt and sweetener. Agitate gently.

3. Add room-temperature leftovers to the bowl, if using pasta, chop well. Now add the flour.

4. Pull it all together gently. If using a mixer, select a slow speed and do something else for a few minutes; fill the dishwasher, ring your mother, make a cuppa, put the washing out.

5. Just keep an eye on it during the early moments to be sure the mixture isn't too wet or too dry and adjust it accordingly, adding more warm water or flour if necessary. Only add a little at a time until you get a nice clean ball of dough that comes away from the sides of the bowl. The reason this sounds a bit vague is because you are adding varying amounts of additional liquid to this recipe via your cooked foods. It's not an exact measurement or science, but have patience, be confident and you'll soon get to grips with it.

6. Lightly flour a clean work surface and your hands. Hold the dough and with the base of the palm of your other hand, push and stretch the dough away from you, pull it back onto itself, give the dough a little quarter turn and repeat at an easy pace, for as long as it takes for a song to play out on the radio.

7. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover and leave somewhere warm for an hour or so (on a shelf in the sunshine, on top of the work-surface above the dishwasher or washing machine if it's doing a load, or on a hot-water bottle).

8. Once it has doubled in size, bring back to a lightly floured work surface, flour your hands and rolling pin (or use a bottle if you don't have one) then break off a ball of dough (bigger than golf, smaller than tennis). Flatten it out roughly with your hand, then roll out uber-thin to fit your pan.

9. Place your flatbread in the dry pan over a medium heat and give it a bit of a shake so it doesn't stick. The flour will divorce it from the surface and as long as you keep it on the move every now and again, you'll be fine. Cook for a minute or two until you see bubbles in the bread then check the underside, it should be light brown, now flip it over and cook the other side. Turn your delicious flatbread onto a plate and place a clean tea-towel over it while you are rolling and cooking the rest. Funnily enough, it takes about the same amount of time to roll one out as it does to cook one, so enlist the help of whoever you are feeding!

10. Serve with a line of whatever filling rings your bell, wrap it up and cut in half. Try homous and sweetcorn, grated cheese and salad with a lavish spoonful of mayonnaise and sprouting seeds, or chicken, chutney and roasted red peppers. Or go sweet with a mushed-up, bruised banana and a spoonful of toasted almonds, wrapped and drizzled with honey and served with ice cream - heaven!

This dough could also be plaited into torpedo rolls, or baked into a large loaf. Move with the seasons with your fillings and ingredients and if you get 'into' it, buy 16kg of flour from a local mill or bakery (about the size of a bed-pillow) save money and shopping hours too.

Tips for fantastic flatbread:

Grate limp carrots or courgettes that are on the turn for textured, funky flatbread.

Use the vegetable water, potato water is excellent, leaving you with almost zero-waste from cooking Sunday lunch.

Bake bread in a solar oven for the ultimate in low-carbon cooking.
Source a bread-maker from Freecycle

Other Sling-In Rubbish Ingredients

Porridge and jam
Cooked lentils, pulses or beans
The scrapings from a jar of yoghurt, creme fraiche or cream.
Dried-up cheese, grated.
1/2 a cup of tea.

Dregs of a bottle of fruit-juice

Tracey Smith is the author of The Book of Rubbish Ideas and a sustainable living writer/broadcaster.


The Ecologist has a formidable reputation built on fifty years of investigative journalism and compelling commentary from writers across the world. Now, as we face the compound crises of climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and social injustice, the need for rigorous, trusted and ethical journalism has never been greater. This is the moment to consolidate, connect and rise to meet the challenges of our changing world. The Ecologist is owned and published by the Resurgence Trust. Support The Resurgence Trust from as little as £1. Thank you. Donate now.