How to bake perfect bread

Each according to his knead, says Sally Clarke

"The basic ingredients are strong flour, liquid, salt, baker's yeast and a warm atmosphere. How much liquid depends on the flour and the weather, and you could use milk or olive oil instead of water or all three. A rough guide is 2lb strong white flour, 1lb wholemeal flour with 14 pint of milk, 114 pint of warm water, 2oz fresh yeast and 1 tablespoon of salt.

In a jug, dissolve the yeast in the liquid. Allow to ferment until it bubbles and foam sits on top - it could take half an hour. Make a well in the flour and salt and pour in three quarters of the liquid. Using one hand, mix until smooth. Add more liquid if necessary, but not in one go, in case there's too much. Keep mixing until the lump becomes soft - it should not be sticky or dry. Turn the dough on to a lightly floured board and knead with both hands.

Lift the dough from the outside and push into the centre, turning the dough at the same time. Keep going until you can press your finger gently on to the surface and it springs back readily. This takes five or 20 minutes depending on how fast you are. Alternatively, you could throw the dough in the Kenwood mixer with the `bread hook' attachment on low. Put the dough back in the bowl. Cover with cling wrap. Allow to `prove' until it is almost double in volume. It may take half an hour or three and a half, depending on the atmosphere in the kitchen. Then `knock back' the dough, which means knead three or four times to expel the carbon dioxide that's been created. It will reduce in size and the texture will be more firm. Shape the dough and place in a heavy tin. Cover and allow to prove again for an hour or two. When it is half again in size, put on your oven at 230C. When the temperature is almost reached, place the tin on a medium height shelf to bake for 30-35 minutes. Test whether the bread is ready by knocking with your knuckle. If it sounds hollow, it is ready, if there is dull sound it is too moist and needs more time"

Sally Clarke is the chef and owner of Clarke's Restaurant and the wholesale bakery `& Clarke's Bread'

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