‘Slow’ Cottage Loaf

This loaf is made in two stages beginning with a ‘pre-ferment’ which is made the evening before. The longer rising period helps the loaf to develop more flavour and reduces the amount of yeast that needs to be added.
300g Holgate Windmill wholemeal flour
200g strong white bread flour
½ teaspoon fast action dried yeast
1 teaspoon salt
325ml lukewarm water
25g butter
Stage 1: To make the pre-ferment put 150g of the wholemeal flour and 100g of the strong white flour into a baking bowl together with all of the yeast and 250ml of the water. Mix everything together using your hand or a metal spoon until it forms a thick sticky lump-free mixture, then cover with either a damp cloth or cling film and leave to rise overnight (approximately 12 hours).
Stage 2: The next morning pour the remaining 75ml of water into the pre-ferment (which should by now look ‘bubbly’) and mix it until you have a smooth batter. Then slowly work in the remaining 250g flour with the salt and the butter to make a soft dough. Flour the work surface, turn out the dough and knead it for 10 minutes or until it is stretchy and pliable. Place the dough in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth or place it in a tightly sealed plastic bag for around 2 to 3 hours until it has doubled in size.
Stage 3: When the dough is ready, line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Take the dough out of the bowl, punch down (knock back) the dough with your knuckles to deflate it and knead it gently for one minute. Shape the dough into a ball, and place it on greaseproof paper on a baking sheet. Cover with an upended baking bowl and leave to prove for 1 to 2 hours. (If it leaves a slight imprint when you press your fingers into it then it is ready for baking).
Stage 4: When the dough is ready, slash the top with a knife and bake it in a hot oven (250C) for around 30 minutes. To test if the loaf is done rap the base of the loaf gently with your knuckles – it should give a hollow sound. Take the loaf out of the oven and leave to cool.
Alison Leadbetter