Rachel Allen was brought up in Dublin and left home at eighteen to study at the world-famous Ballymaloe Cookery School. Rachel is now a busy ...
425 ml (15fl oz) warm water
10 g (1/3oz) caster sugar
21/2 tsp dried yeast or 20g (3/4oz) fresh yeast or 11/2 x 7g sachets of fast-action yeast
700 g (1lb 9oz) strong white flour, plus extra for dusting (optional)
2 tsp salt
25 g (1oz) butter or 25ml (1fl oz) olive oil, plus extra for greasing
1 egg, beaten, and poppy or sesame seeds (optional)
In a measuring jug, mix the warm water with the sugar and yeast and leave to stand in a warm place for 5 minutes or until the mixture is creamy. If using fast-action yeast, there ?is no need to let the mixture stand.
Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl, or the bowl of an electric food mixer fitted with a dough hook. Rub in the butter (if using) and make a well in the centre. (If using olive oil instead of butter, pour it into the yeast mixture.) Pour the yeast mixture (mixed with?the olive oil, if using) into the well and mix to a loose dough, adding extra water if needed.
Knead by hand for about 10 minutes (5 minutes in the food mixer) or until dough is smoothand springy to the touch. Grease the bowl with olive oil and put the dough back into it, then cover the top tightly with cling film and place somewhere warm to rise for up to 2 hours (up to 3 hours on a cold day) or until doubled?in size.
When the dough has more than doubled in size, knock?back and knead again for 2–3 minutes. Leave to relax ?for 10 minutes before you begin to shape the bread.
Divide the dough in half and shape into two loaves, then transfer to a baking sheet and cover with a clean tea towel. Allow to prove in a warm place for 20–30 minutes or until the dough has again doubled in size. When fully risen, it should leave a dent when you gently press the dough with your finger.
While the bread is proving, preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F), Gas mark 7.
Dust the top of each loaf with flour or gently brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds (if using), then bake in the oven for 40–45 minutes. Turn the heat down to 200°C (400°F), Gas mark 6, after 15 minutes for ?the remaining cooking time. When cooked, the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the base. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.