Yes, it’s the recipe for THAT loaf: an easy-to-make, no-knead wholemeal loaf that’s ever so nutritious and tastes superb. The timing is a little fussy, but this really is one of the easiest breads ever—the hardest part is lining the tin!
4 standard cups stoneground wholemeal flour (560g)
2 slightly rounded teaspoons salt (preferably finely-ground sea salt)
½ sachet (1 heaped teaspoon) fast-acting yeast
2 heaped teaspoons brown sugar (preferably dark muscovado)
450 mls (16 fl. oz.) water (in total)
You’ll also need a one-pound loaf tin, a little oil to grease the tin, non-stick baking paper, and cling film (food wrap). A digital timer isn’t strictly necessary, but it helps!
First, 24 hours before you plan to bake, make what’s called a “sponge”. It’s this whole day of fermentation that gives the loaf its superb flavour. Measure 2 cups of the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt and yeast. In a measuring jug, dissolve the sugar in 100 mls (4 fl. oz.) of boiling water then top up to 450mls (16 fl. oz.) with cold water. Pour half of this into the flour and start incorporating it with a wooden spoon. Gradually add the rest, beating it well until you have a smooth(-ish) batter. Cover the bowl with cling film and set it aside at room temperature for a full 24 hours.
Mixing and rising:
When the sponging time is up, grease a one-pound loaf tin with a little oil, then line it with non-stick baking paper—EVEN IF IT’S A NON-STICK TIN. This really is the hardest part, but unfortunately it’s necessary; the loaf will be impossible to remove if you don’t.
A sediment will have formed at the bottom of the bowl, so start to break this up with a wooden spoon, then beat the batter until it’s fairly smooth again. Add the final 2 cups of flour and begin to stir it in thoroughly; by the end there should be no lumps of dry flour left. Scrape the mixture into the lined tin and level it out with the back of a clean metal spoon. Cover the tin in a tent of cling film or a plastic bag (you don’t want the plastic to touch the top of your loaf) and set it aside to rise. This generally takes anything from 35 – 55 minutes at normal room temperature. Keep your eye on it towards the end; you want it to come up almost to the lip of the tin…NEVER above it.
The oven needs to be good and hot for when that moment comes, so, a good 10 minutes before the dough is fully risen, pre-heat your oven to gas mark 6; 400 degrees F.; 200 degrees C (*see below).
Time to bake! Because the mixture’s fairly wet, the loaf needs quite a long cooking time. Remove the cling film and place the tin gently on a shelf about halfway up the oven. Close the door and start timing it; it will take 1 hour 15 minutes (*see below). It’s worth using a digital timer if you have one; it allows you to get on with other things without constantly having to watch the clock. The smell will be fantastic, but resist opening the oven door! When the time is up, carefully remove your loaf from the tin, peel off the paper, and place it back in the oven—upside down—to cook for a further 10 minutes.
If it’s cooked, it should sound hollow when you tap on the base. If in doubt, whack it back in the oven for another 10 minutes.
For a slightly softer crust, wrap the loaf in a clean tea towel—but not one that’s been highly scented with conditioner. Set it to cool on a wire rack. Once cool, slice, spread with butter, and enjoy! Trust me, you will.
You may find that the top of your loaf has split away from one of the sides; this is normal, as is the occasional overly-large air hole in the middle of the loaf. Unfortunately this loaf doesn’t keep very well so I tend to slice it up and freeze it on the day I make it, removing slices to defrost as I need them. They’re great toasted, and make excellent breadcrumbs for savoury crumble toppings; just add grated cheese and dot with a little butter.
*Temperatures and timings:
Temperatures can vary from oven to oven. Under UK guidelines, a cooker may be out by up to 15 degrees Celsius either way and still be considered fit for purpose. That’s a range of 30 degrees Celsius! Celsius! If yours is on the hot side, choose a slightly cooler temperature (e.g. gas mark 5; 375 degrees F.; 190 degrees C.) If like mine, yours is on the cool side, choose a slightly higher temperature (e.g. gas mark 7; 420 degrees F.; 210 degrees C.) Equally, the timings might vary. Hot ovens may require less time; cool ones a little more. If you find yourself having problems, please contact me.
Note for anyone using scales: Traditional wisdom has it that 4 cups of flour weighs approximately 500g. According to my scales, it actually weighs something like 560g, so if you’re using scales, that’s the figure to go for.
I developed the recipe for THAT loaf for inclusion in my upcoming novel Octopus—and between now and when it’s published in the spring of 2016, you have a chance to name it. The name chosen will be the one that we’ll use in the small collection of recipes at the back of Octopus when it's published.