Place the flour in the biggest mixing bowl you have. Add the salt and crumble in the yeast, keeping them on separate sides of the bowl. The salt will destroy some of the effectiveness of the yeast if they come into direct contact at this point.
Add most of the water and mix with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes to form a sticky but spongy dough.
If the dough looks a little dry, add the rest of the water and mix for a further minute. If the consistency looks right, flour the dough liberally and turn it out onto a floured surface. Using your hands, tuck the sides of the dough under to form a tight ball.
Knead the dough by pushing it away from you with the palms of your hands and then folding it up again.
Continue kneading for 10 minutes, working firmly but gently. After kneading, the dough should be firm, spongy and elastic in texture.
Place the dough back in the bowl and cover it with a damp, clean tea towel. Place the dough somewhere warm but not too hot to prove.
The dough should double in size in 45–60 minutes. Do not be tempted to proceed until the dough has risen properly.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, scraping out any that has stuck to the side of the bowl and adding it to the rest. Knock back the dough by dimpling it with your fingertips and then knead it for another minute or so.
To shape your loaves, tuck the dough into two tight balls, place them on baking trays and sprinkle with a little flour or semolina.
Cover with a clean, damp tea towel. Allow to prove again for another 45 minutes until the loaves have doubled in size once more.
Preheat the oven to 240ºC. Sprinkle the bread with flour or semolina and place it very gently in the oven. Do not knock the trays as this will cause the dough to fall.
Quickly splash about ¼ cup (about 50–60ml) of water onto the base of the oven and immediately close the door, without slamming it.
This water will turn to steam and give your bread a wonderful crisp crust.
Bake the bread for 10–15 minutes. Don’t open the door to peek during this first cooking period as the steam will escape.
Reduce the oven temperature to 220ºC and bake the bread for a further 30 minutes. To check if the bread is cooked, turn it over and tap it on the base. If it sounds hollow, it is ready; if not, return it to the oven for a further 5 minutes.
Cool the bread on a wire rack.
Don’t be tempted to cut your first slice from the loaf until it is almost completely cooled.
Easy to say but hard to do as that evocative smell drifts through your kitchen.