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This recipe is simple and very easy to follow. It uses just 5 ingredients and doesn’t need any fancy kneading or dough shaping skills.
The only thing you do need is a bit of time, as instead of kneading, the dough is developed through a long rise and proving period – I tend to prepare the dough just after breakfast and then let it do it’s thing all day, and pop it in the oven after dinner when the oven is still hot. Alternatively it can be done in the evening and left overnight and cooked in the morning.
The other key is having something to cook the loaf inside – the lovely crust is created by cooking the bread inside an enclosed space which creates steam from the moisture in the dough. In my experience, modern fan ovens are not good for baking bread, as the hot circulating air dries out the skin of the dough, restricts the rise in the oven, and gives a very poor crust.
Almost anything with a lid would do the trick. I’ve used a large stainless steel stock pot with a glass lid and metal handle in the past, and now use a terracotta ‘chicken brick’ as it gives a more loaf shaped loaf. Whatever you use, just needs to be able to stand being in your oven at maximum temperature as you will be cooking it at 240-250c
Right, the ingredients.
600g bread or plain (all purpose) flour
1/4 teaspoon of dried instant yeast
1 teaspoon of salt
390ml (390grams) of warm water
Notice that this is quite a lot less yeast and salt than you would normally have in this much dough. That’s because the flavour develops throughout the long rise period.
You can scale this recipe up or down quite easily, just adjust the salt a bit. The quantity of yeast doesn’t seem to matter that much either. The only bit that is important for consistency, is the ratio by weight of flour to water. Personally I’ve found that 65% works well. Much less makes it harder to combine the dough initially, much more makes the risen dough very sticky and a bit of a pain to handle.
First get your yeast woken up by mixing it with the warm water. The water temperature isn’t critical, just make sure it’s not cold or too hot.
Add the flour and salt to your mixing bowl and stir to distribute the salt through the flour.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry and start mixing. There’s no special technique here, you’re just looking to end up getting all the flour and water combined into a roughly even looking lump without any obviously dry bits. Personally I like to use a strong silicone spatula (my blue ‘spudger’ as I call it) to do all the mixing. It’s good for working around the bowl to get everything scraped down and the dough doesn’t stick to it to badly. Just work around the bowl (I just gradually turn the bowl) turning the mixture into the middle by scooping the outside up, over and into the middle. Eventually you will end up with a roughly even looking ball.
That’s it, no kneading as such, no need to make a mess of your counter top, and if you are good with your spatula, your hands will even stay pretty clean.
Cover the bowl with cling film and just leave it alone for a good few hours. I usually leave mine all day from just after breakfast until around 6pm, so around 10hrs.
Next you do your shape and final prove before baking. Flour a working surface and scoop your dough out onto it. Shape the dough by simply folding the outside edges into the middle so the sticky surface is turned inside and the outside is slightly floured. Turn it over so the bits you have folded over are underneath and pop it into a proving basket. I line mine with parchment paper which I scrunch up and flatten back out as this makes it shape to the basket better. You can them lift the dough using the paper and pop the whole lot into whatever you are using to bake it inside.
Bake your loaf covered with your oven on its highest setting 240-250 centigrade for about 70mins before turning it out to cool.
I’ve experimented with taking the lid off whatever container I’m using and to be honest, I find I get just as good a result leaving it covered for the whole of the cooking time, plus of course you reduce the risk of burning your loaf.
That’s it. Turn it out, try and resist cutting into it for at least an hour to cool, and then enjoy with some butter!!
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