Method A uses the traditional flour to water ratio of 1lb of flour to 1/2 pint of water (500g flour to 315ml). I used this for many years - as did Elizabeth David. It was also the ratio used in the bakery where I worked for a while. The dough is mixed, kneaded for a short time, shaped and put to prove - or given two provings.
However, over the past couple of years I’ve become aware of the benefits of adding more water to a mix – the dough rises better and the bread also keeps longer.
There are two methods I use to get more water into a dough, these are detailed in Methods B and C.
Method B is a bit more ‘hands on’ – involving several short kneadings over a 30-45 minute period starting with a fairly sticky dough. Each time the bread is kneaded, the dough gets less sticky. Then the dough is left for an hour or so to rest before shaping and baking.
Method C is what I call the ‘No-knead, overnight loaf’, and is the easiest method of the three. The dough for this is simply mixed together, left to prove overnight and results in a loaf that’s full of flavour. For this I find a food storer with a snap-top lid is very useful. I use one which holds 2.8ltrs.
Method A. If I want to make one in a hurry – say in my sessions or I want to make one for a visitor to take away with them, I make this loaf:
500g strong flour, all white – or a mix of white and wholemeal. I use 400g wholemeal to 100g of white
1/2 tsp salt
1 dessertspoon fresh yeast or teaspoon of dried active or fast action yeast
315ml lukewarm water
2 tablespoons olive oil (optional, but improves keeping qualities)
1. Measure the water and stir in the yeast until it has dissolved. Place the flour and salt into a mixing bowl, pour in the yeast liquid, then add the olive oil if using.
2. Have a little water to hand to add if necessary, remember, it is better for your dough to be wetter (slack) rather than drier (tight). Begin to mix by stirring the ingredients together with a knife, cutting through the dough as it forms. When it gets too stiff for the knife, use your hand to squeeze the mixture together. As it forms into a solid mass, keep turning it over and pressing it down to pick up the flour at the bottom of the bowl – but make sure it stays soft. Don’t be afraid to add more water to keep it soft! When all the flour has been mixed in, wipe the bowl around with the dough, turn it out onto the worktop and begin to knead.
3. Knead by flattening the dough out, folding it over and flattening it again. If the dough is too sticky, instead of putting extra flour on your worktop, place some in the bowl, put the dough back in and turn it round to coat it all over. That way you keep the flour under control and you won’t be tempted to add too much. Knead until the dough becomes smooth – and then stop before you get fed up!
4. Oil a large loaf tin and have it ready, shape the dough by pressing it out into a rough rectangle and rolling it up tightly. Put the dough into the tin with the seam underneath.
5. Or: For a freeform loaf, shape the loaf by pulling up the dough at the sides with your fingertips and pushing it down in the middle; do that all round the dough. This will have the effect of smoothing the underneath of the dough. Then turn it over and shape it into a round. Place it on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment.
6. Cover with a dry tea towel and leave to prove on your worktop until it has grown appreciably in size. Bake at 220C, 425F or gas mark 7 for about 25-30 minutes.
7. The loaf is ready when it has browned on the sides and bottom. You may need to put it back in upside down, for a few more minutes. It is better overbaked than underbaked.
Method B. If I have more time, but I still want to make it in a morning, or an afternoon, I’ll use the ‘Several short kneadings over 30-40 minutes’ method:
Same amount of flour, salt and yeast, but 350ml of water.
This mixes into a fairly sticky dough.
Once it’s mixed together, pour some oil on your worktop and place your dough on top of it.
Pour some oil over your dough and begin to knead – but only for a short time – say 10-20 seconds.
Now place your bowl over the dough and scrape off all the dough from your hands, then 'washing' them in a little flour.
Leave the dough for 10-15 minutes and repeat the short kneading action, using oil to make it easier to handle. Once again invert the bowl over your dough and leave it for 10-15 minutes.
Repeat the above again, and each time the dough will be a little dryer and eventually, it will be manageable without the oil.
Leave it to prove for an hour or two on your worktop, still with the bowl upturned to cover. This period of rest gives the bread a better rise.
Form it into your preferred shape and go to Step 4 or 5 above.
Method C. But the best and easiest method is the ‘No-knead, overnight loaf’. This is left to prove for 8 hours or more and produces by far the most flavoursome loaf. For this I find a food storer with a snap-top lid is extremely useful. I use one which holds 2.8ltrs.
Once again, 500g flour to 350ml water, but use half the yeast.
Mix the dough together (I mix it in the food storer, so there’s less washing up) but don’t bother to knead.
Just put the lid on and leave it on your worktop. Generally I make it the following morning, but I have left it for over 48 hours in the past and it’s been fine.
When you’re ready to bake it, place it on your worktop and fold it over several times. It should be quite manageable. If it’s too wet, you may want to knead in more flour – say 25g at a time.)
Then continue from Step 4 or 5.
Note: There’s no doubt that more flavour develops the longer flour and yeast have to mature together. However, in my experience it takes at least 4 hours for the difference in taste to become apparent. That’s why I haven’t included an initial proving time in method A.
I find an all wholemeal loaf too heavy for my taste, so I always include some white flour in the mix just to give it a bit of a lift.
Recently I've begun to add flaxseeds to my bread for the Omega 3 they contain. I'm aiming to consume 5g with each bread roll, so, to a dough made with 700g of flour, which makes 12 rolls, I add 60g of ground flaxseeds. (They need to be ground to get the full benefit of the seeds - left whole they just slip through the system!)
This means I need to add around 35g of water to the 500g of water I usually use. This still gives me a soft, sticky dough.