Learn the secrets of a really well made dough and then make and shape it into a cob, a classic bloomer and a baguette. Bake your chosen one ready to take home and impress!
Place all of the dry ingredients in a bowl and combine. Add the water, which should be roughly blood temperature, and bring the mixture together using a dough scraper. Tip the dough out on to your work surface and work it by stretching the dough right across the surface and folding it back together. This process should be repeated until you have a smooth elastic dough. Shape into a tight round, place in a clean bowl, cover with a plastic lid and leave to rise until roughly doubled in size.
Lightly flour the top of the dough and turn out onto the work surface. Cut a piece any size you like and lay it in front of you, smoothest side down. You can lightly flour the underside of the dough or the worktop, but don't flour the top - it needs to be sticky.
Gently press the dough just to even out the thickness and encourage it into a slightly circular shape – you mustn‘t press all the life out of it. Use two fingers and a thumb to pick up an edge, fold it into the middle and press down. Repeat all around to give a fat, rounded shape. Turn over and use both hands to tuck it into a really tight ball, sealing it well underneath. Flour generously all over and under and leave to prove on a floured cloth or, ideally, upside down in a floured proving basket.
Gently press the dough just to even out the thickness and encourage it into a slightly squared shape – you mustn‘t press all the life out of it. Fold the two farthest corners in at an angle and press to seal. Fold the farthest edge in, then roll up towards you, finally pressing firmly all along the seam to seal. Smooth the ends into a rounded shape (or you can taper them – see below). Flour generously all over and under and leave to prove on a floured cloth or, ideally, upside down in a floured proving basket.
Press the dough out (a little more firmly than in the two methods above) to a squareish shape. Roll up tightly towards you and press all along the seam to seal. Use both hands to roll out evenly, pressing gently to start with and working from the centre out. As you get towards the ends start to press down more firmly, rolling and stretching the ends into tight points. Flour well and leave to prove on a floured cloth (ruck up the cloth to create channels if you are making several).
Heat the oven well ahead of time to 250c, with your heaviest baking tray in it. When the dough has doubled in size, remove the tray and transfer the loaves to it. Slash the tops (if you have made bloomers or sticks, long slashes down the length of the loaf, or on a slight angle, will open out much better than short, lateral cuts). Spray all over with water and place in the oven, working fast to minimise heat loss. Check after 6-8 minutes (don't open the door before this as it will affect the rise). You may need to reduce the heat (anything down as far as 180c) depending on how quickly it is browning. This really depends on your oven, and on how dark and crispy you like your crust. Baking time will be 12-15 minutes for thinner baguettes, up to an hour for a 1kg cob. Cool on a wire rack before slicing.
«Bread is all about the flour, so buy the best you can - we use Shipton Mill Organic No.4, which is high in protein and makes really strong dough.»