This recipe requires some commitment time wise, but if you remember that whilst it's in the fridge or whilst it's proofing you can go about your business as usual, then the actual time spent on the bread is minimal. This recipe is also scalable - should you want to scale up or scale down the amount of dough here are the percentages: Changeable amount - Flour, Yeast =2% total weight of flour, Salt = 2% total weight of flour, Water = 60% - 65% total weight of flour (1g = 1ml). Whilst some people may want to reduce the salt because of health reasons, the salt acts an as inhibitor and stabiliser of the yeast during the proofing period, and is actually an essential ingredient in the bread. Try eating the bread with other foodstuffs that have are low in salt instead of altering the bread recipe. Once you feel you've mastered this recipe you can try it with a 50% whole wheat 50% white flour mix (though you may need to add more water as whole wheat is more absorbent). I would also encourage you to experiment with water percentages. 60% hydration would be a normal/dry loaf with quite a tight crumb, whereas 80% hydration (not recommended for hand mixing) would be like a Ciabatta.
400g Strong Bread Flour
8g Instant Yeast
Measure the water and weigh out the flour, salt and yeast, taking care not to allow the yeast and salt to touch, as this will kill the yeast. I use Instant yeast, but if you use active yeast make sure to premix it with lukewarm water to activate it.
Mix all ingredients in a bowl until a dough has formed, then knead for 5-10 minutes. By the end time the dough should be soft and slightly sticky. Take note: If you can't stand the sticky dough on your hands DO NOT add extra flour, as you will end up with a dry, dense bread - wetting your hands will help.
Put the bowl of dough in the fridge for at least 8 hours (preferably overnight). This step is called retardation, since the cooler temperature slows down the yeast reaction but allows the flavour to continue developing.
Take the dough out of the fridge and let it rise for around 3 hours (2 1/2 if it's a very warm day). If you're like me it can be tempting to shorten the proofing time, but underproofing will result in an ugly loaf that tears along the sides when you put it in the oven.
As the 3 hours are coming to a close, thoroughly clean a section of work surface, and use a silicon brush to lightly oil it with any flavourless oil (I use sunflower oil). In addition prepare a baking sheet by covering it with baking parchment and sieving a liberal amount of flour (semolina flour if you have it) onto the parchment. Don't put the flour away, you'll need it in a second.
Deflate the dough on the section of oiled work surface and shape it until it is roughly the shape you want. Once you have achieved the shape you would like sprinkle a handful of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough in it until it is covered.
Place the dough seam side down onto the baking tray and cover with a clean, linen tea towel to rise for a further 1hr 30 (1 hr if it's a very warm day). 20 minutes before the time is up preheat the oven to 230 degrees Celsius.
Once the second proofing time is up, remove the tea towel and use a sharp knife (or serrated, if you prefer) to score three diagonal lines about 1/4 inch deep widthways across the bread, wetting the knife between each score. Try to be gentle with the dough so you don't deflate it.
Do your final shaping of the dough, (gently use the palm of your hands to shape the sides of the dough) then place the bread into the middle shelf of the oven, immediately turning the heat down to 200 degrees Celsius. Set the timer for 40 minutes.
Once the bread is done, take it off the baking parchment and put it onto a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes, making sure not to burn yourself.