A good old crusty loaf

How many things scare you? Lots of things scare me. 

I never used to be this way. I used to go cage diving with sharks and para gliding with odd men and holiday alone in far flung mosquito ridden places. I even drank my coffee with sugar and drove on an empty petrol light, such was my fearlessness.

Then I had children and the fear set in. Now I see danger everywhere. I wish I didn't but I think it's irreversible. The world seems like a much more dangerous place now I love this much. 

Now bread has always scared me. Too many variables to get wrong. It never really behaved itself for me. Well, after extensive bread baking of late I think I've hit upon a recipe that works every single time. I want to share it with all you other fearful types out there. Enjoy, albeit in a safe manner. 

Makes 1 large loaf or 2 small ones

- 200g white spelt flour (I use Doves Farm)
- 300g strong white flour (I use Asda cheapo stuff) plus a handful for shaping
- 10g table salt
- 5g caster sugar
- 7g sachet of easy blend dried yeast
- 350mls water the temperature of a baby's bath

Take a large bowl and measure all the ingredients into it. Mix with a metal spoon until it comes together into a sludgy mess. Leave for ten minutes. Have a cup of tea or a quick tidy up of the toy boxes. 

Tip the sludgy mess out onto a clean work top. Remove your rings and any bracelets that might not benefit from being covered in dough. Then start to knead. Do it whichever way you want to. Kneading is personal. I push the centre down with one hand and use the heel of the other hand to push the dough to the 1pm position. Then I turn the dough 180 degrees and do it again. And so on and so forth. But do it any which way you choose. The dough should take about 10 minutes of kneading by hand to get to that elastic consistency that means the gluten has done its thing. 

A word on the work surface. Some people use a little flour, some use oil. I use nothing other than a dough scraper. You can buy them on eBay for a couple of quid. Once the dough is at the right consistency it should start to pick up all the little bits it's leaving behind resulting in an almost clean enough to eat your dinner off work surface, hence making oil/flour redundant for the first knead. But really, do what feels best. Beware adding too much flour though as it changes the ratios of the flour:water. You basically get a heavier, denser loaf if you add too much flour.  

When the dough looks silky and feels elastic pop it back in the bowl (some people wash and oil their bowl but I just can't be bothered most of the time) and cover completely with clingfilm. Make sure the clingfilm is tight and there are no holes. This helps the little yeasty beasts do their magic as the environment stays warmer. Leave on the side until the dough has doubled in size. Took about 40 minutes in my cold kitchen but beware spelt flour decreases the proving time so don't sod off and forget about it as you might have an escaping dough situation. 

Flour your work surface with a handful of flour then tip the doubled in size dough onto it. Flour your hands and push down the dough to release air bubbles. Do not knead vigorously! There's no need. (Ahem.) Just gently push down a few times and then start to shape your dough. For a long baton like the one in the picture I roll the dough into a rectangle and then start to push the long ends into the middle, as if closing a book. I do this a few times to create a backbone and then turn the baton over and place on a baking tray. This time I don't cover the bread. I leave it to double nakedly. Oh and if you don't have a good amount of flour on the top of the loaf now is the time to scatter some. 

Just as you notice the bread has doubled (another 30 ish minutes) turn the oven on to Gas 7 with a rack in the middle and one at the top. After 10 minutes (to allow for a little extra proving as most people do under prove in my humble opinion) slash the bread about half a centimetre deep with a sharp knife. Work quickly for the best slashes. Then place the bread on the baking tray on the top rack of the oven. Set the timer for 15 minutes. 

After 15 minutes move the bread to the middle of the oven and then bake for another 20 minutes or so. (Depends on the size of your loaf/ves.) You will know the bread is done when it's golden brown on top and sounds hollow when you knock the underneath with your hand. I often pop it back in without the tray (so direct onto the oven rack) for an extra five minutes just to ensure it's really well done and crusty. 

Leave to cool on a wire rack and enjoy with salty butter in a fearless I-don't-care-about-my-blood-pressure fashion. 
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