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500g Plain Flour
40ml Olive Oil (or vegetable oil)
1. Place the flour into a bowl and make a well. Place the salt on one side of the bowl and the yeast on the other side. Pour the water and the olive oil into the centre of the well and mix together until …
2. Pour a little oil onto the work surface (oil works better than flour as it will stop the dough from sticking to the surface). A wetter dough is harder to handle at first but produces better bread. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes (or longer if you’re a beginner). It will become less sticky and eventually turn into a smooth ball with an elastic texture. The time this takes depends on how vigorous you are with the dough. It is ready when it is really stretchy: if you pull a piece of the dough between your fingers you should be able to stretch it to at least 20cm.
3. Put the dough in a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover it with cling film or a tea towel and leave to rise until tripled in size – at least ½ hour, but it can take up to 3 hours depending on the temperature of the room. A slow rise develops a better flavour, so don’t put it in a warm spot. The ambient temperature in most kitchens is between 18 degrees and 24 degrees, which is perfectly adequate.
4. Place the risen dough on a lightly floured surface. You now need to ‘knock back’ the dough by folding it in on itself several times and pushing out the air with your knuckles and the heels of your hands, do this until all the air is knocked out and the dough is smooth.
5. To shape the dough into a bloomer, first flatten it into a rectangle, with a long side facing you. Fold the long side furthest from you into the middle of the rectangle, Then fold the long side closest to you into the middle, on top of the other fold. Turn the loaf over, so you have a smooth top with a seam along the base. Tuck the ends of the loaf under to make a rough oval shape. Rock the loaf gently so you form the loaf into its bloomer shape.
6. The bread is now ready to prove. This second rise of the shaped loaf is one of the secrets of great bread, enabling the dough to develop even more flavour as the yeast ferments and giving it a lighter texture. Put the loaf on a baking tray (lined with baking parchment or silicone paper if it isn’t non stick) Leave the loaf to prove or rise again until doubled in size; this will take about 1 hour. To check when the bread is ready for the oven, gently press it with your finger; the dough should spring back. While the bread is proving, heat your oven to 220 degrees and put a roasting tray on the bottom shelf to heat up.
7. Lightly bush the load with water and dust with a handful of flour, smoothing it all over the top of your loaf with the palm of your hand.
8. Using a very sharp knife, make 4 diagonal slashes across the top of the loaf, 2-3cm deep and at 45 degrees angle. This gives your loaf the classic bloomer finish.
9. Just before you put the loaf in the oven, pour about 1litre of water into the roasting tray at the bottom of the oven. This will create steam when the loaf is baking and give it a crisp crust and a slight sheen. Place the loaf on a tray in the middle of the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Lower the oven setting to 200 degrees and bake for a further 10-15 minutes, until the crust has a good colour. Hold the loaf in a tea towel and tap the bottom, if the loaf sounds hollow then it’s ready.
10. Put the loaf on a wire rack and leave it to cool completely and serve.
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