I make this bread regularly, and always wish I made it more often. The recipe is from Nigella Lawson but I’ve adapted it over time and experimentation.
Your starter first needs, well, starting. If you don’t know anyone who already has one who’s willing to give you a scoop, then you can get one going easily enough by just leaving some wholemeal flour and water about in an open bowl. It turns out the entire world is covered in yeast, just looking for stuff to grow in.
Once it’s got some bubbles in it, transfer to your jar and leave for a week or so to get established.
When you think you’ll want some bread a couple of days time (this is not a recipe for the spontaneous) then take a half-cup of starter out and mix well with 1 cup of strong white flour and 1 cup of water at room temperature. Feed the starter with a half cup of wholemeal bread flour and half a cup of room temperature water.
I make the sponge in a Pyrex measuring jug, cover the top with cling film and leave on the worktop overnight. I leave the starter out overnight as well unless it’s the height of summer, then put it back in the fridge.
The dough is wet and a bugger to knead, so I do it in a stand mixer with a dough hook. I put the mixer bowl on the scales, tip in the sponge and add 300g of white flour, 7g of salt (about two heaped teaspoons) and a good glug of olive oil. I also add a small amount of dried yeast at this point – I’ve found this gives a better texture to the finished bread and I care far more about quality than authenticity.
When it’s done you should have a clean bowl and a lovely ball of dough, which you can press with your finger without getting covered in it.
My mixer has a clear lid that fits over the bowl so I take the dough hook out and close the mixer up so the dough has a nice, draught-free place to rise.
If you make all this racket at breakfast time, you can be eating the crusty end bit for supper. Alternatively, do it without the extra yeast and cook it the next morning.
This part does require some equipment. To get a proper crisp, crackling crust, which to be honest is the entire point of this loaf, you need to cook it in a hot, humid environment. This allows the loaf to rise properly in the oven before the crust gets made.
You can either buy a super expensive steam oven, which I’m sure works very well, fanny about with trays of water in your normal oven, which in my experience makes rivers of brown water pour onto the floor whenever you open the door, or do what I do and use an oval enamelled cast iron casserole. Put it in the oven, and turn it to 225 degrees (Celsius, naturally).
Once everything is super hot, take the casserole out, take the lid off and throw some flour about in there with a dredger.
Take the lid off, feel immediately proud of yourself.
You might need to shake the casserole a bit to free the loaf. Tip it out onto a rack to cool, but before too long ensure you cut one end off, butter it and devour before anyone else realises you’re getting the best bit.