Lockdown may be coming to an end but will the nation’s newfound love for bread making disappear with it? I truly hope not. Whilst I confess to not having tried my hand at sourdough, I have come close with various attempts at wholemeal rolls, seeded loaves and even French baguette! The latter was due to a moment of year abroad crisis when all my plans for a summer in France began to, and continued to, crumble in my fingers. So much for strolling through lavender fields, gorging myself on honey and swimming in the Med. Oh, and not to mention, emerging fluent in French! Well, you know what – who needs France when you can recreate their most renowned export in your very own kitchen?!
While it can’t be disputed that a couple of slices of Hovis make for a speedier sandwich, there is something incredibly therapeutic about kneading, shaping and tucking up your dough as it rises plump and proud beneath a tea towel. And containing just flour, yeast, water and a dash of salt, this recipe definitely makes you question the extortionate price tags of Paul’s bakery.
For all the lengthy proving sessions, these French flutes are remarkably simple, especially when compared to the seven-day sourdough palaver. No feeding a starter here, just yourselves when the bread emerges crusty and warm from the oven!
Douse it in honey or layer up with butter and jam and you’ll be transported across La Manche to a sunny breakfast in Provence. Tear apart and stuff with cheese or parma ham and you could as well be on the beach after a blazing swim. Or – and this one’s my personal favourite – slip into the crusty interior a few squares (or rows!) of dark chocolate and find yourself… in heaven!
300g strong white bread flour
200g plain white flour
1 x 7g sachet fast-action dried yeast
300ml lukewarm water
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp salt dissolved in 4 tbsp cold water, (for brushing)
- Mix both flours in a large bowl then tip half of the mix into another, smaller bowl.
- Stir 1/2 tsp of the yeast into the flour in the large bowl, then work in the lukewarm water to make a thick, smooth batter.
- Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave on the worktop for 3-4 hours until the surface of the batter is speckled with bubbles.
- Uncover the bowl and stir in 1 tbsp lukewarm water.
- Mix the rest of the salt and yeast into the flour in the smaller bowl. Then work this mixture into the batter to make a soft dough. (Add a little more flour if it’s sticky).
- Lightly dust your hands and the worktop with flour then turn out the dough and knead for 10 mins until smooth and stretchy.
- Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise for an hour until doubled in size.
- Lightly dust your hands and the worktop with flour again then turn out the ball of dough. Use a sharp knife to cut it in half.
- Without handling the dough too much, shape each half into a rough ball. Then cover loosely with a dry tea towel and leave for 15 mins.
- Now take one ball of dough and dust your rolling pin with flour. Gently roll out into a rectangle about 25 x 30cm. Roll up the rectangle quite tightly from one long side to the opposite edge, (like a Swiss roll). Then tuck in the ends and pinch the seam firmly together.
- Move the dough to an unfloured part of the worktop and gently roll back and forth to make a sausage-shaped loaf, about 40cm long.
- Lay a large, dry tea bowl on a tray. Gently lift the shaped loaf onto it whilst you repeat the process with the second half of the dough.
- Then partly pull up the tea towel as a barrier between the two loaves and cover loosely with clingfilm to rise for another 45mins.
- While the loaves are rising, preheat the oven to 230C and put a baking sheet in to heat up. Also, place an empty roasting tin on the floor of the oven.
- When the loaves are ready for baking, remove the hot baking sheet from the oven and slide the loaves onto it. Brush them with the salty water and make several slashes with a sharp knife.
- Put the baking sheet back in the oven. Then pour a jug of cold water into the roasting tin to create steam. Shut the oven door quickly.
- Bake for about 20 mins until golden brown and crisp.
- Cool on a wire rack (if you have patience enough to wait..good luck with that)!
Image credit: Alice Hopkinson-Woolley