My weekends are inevitably linked to bread baking these days; the only time when I can guarantee the stretch of 36 – 48 hours needed to mix, ferment, proof and then proof again. The satisfaction is immense though and the knowledge that I’ve got a proper handle on ongoing bread management for my family even more so. Although… of course all is relative. I had to get creative this week when my mum-in-law came to stay for a few weeks and suddenly we’re going through much more bread than usual.
But I digress, like I often do. This bread is one of these slow developing formulas which taste better with every minute the final dough takes before it is ready. The aroma of fennel is beautiful and the bread pairs well with cheeses and summer salads. We made some fresh baba ganoush to go with it and it was glorious.
As always, I’m looking for ways to improvise even where there’s nothing to improve to the recipe. In this case, I used nigella seeds to balance out the strong flavour of the fennel, while the porridge oats help soak some of the hydration and make the dough easy to handle. Definitely one to make again soon.
Start the liquid levain approx 10 – 12 hours earlier. You’ll need:
73g strong white bread flour
15g 100% hydration sourdough starter, fully matured
Mix sourdough starter with water, then add the flour. Combine well, cover with plastic wrap and allow to ferment in a draught-less place for 10 – 12 hours. The liquid levain is ready when the surface is covered in little, soap-like bubbles. This results in total liquid levain: 181g, 125% hydration.
Start your soaker mix also approx 10 – 12 hours ahead. You’ll need:
50g porridge oats
20g fennel seeds
20g nigella seeds
140g boiling water
Place all seeds in a bowl and mix lightly. Pour boiling water on top. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to soak.
For the final formula, you’ll need:
160g strong white bread flour
74g wholemeal bread flour
181g liquid levain, as above
all soaker quantity
Mix water and the two flours until well combined.
Cover and leave to autolyse for 30 – 40 minutes.
Add liquid levain, soaker and salt, then knead in the bowl of your mixer for 5 – 6 minutes.
Try to resist adding more flour. You can increase hydration if you like.
Place in a lightly oiled bowl and leave to proof.
Plan for 3 stretch & fold interventions, at 30 minute intervals.
Once first proofing is complete, turn onto a floured surface and shape into a loose boule.
Allow to sit for 10 – 15 minutes before final shaping into preferred form, then place into a banneton or bowl covered in well-floured tea towel.
Leave for 1 hour at room temperature, then place in fridge for 8+ hours or overnight. Alternatively, give it 4 – 5 minutes at room temperature. Be aware that flavours in the seeds develop more the longer they’re fermenting though.
After cold / room temperature fermentation, pre-heat oven on max (240 – 250C depending on oven make), placing a tray on the bottom shelf of the oven. Boil a kettle of water too.
Turn the dough onto a baking sheet covered in parchment paper and sprinkled with semolina or bread flour.
Score in your chosen pattern then place in oven. Pour boiling water into the tray at the bottom and close oven as soon as humanly possible to get the much needed steam for lovely crusts going.
After 15 minutes, turn oven down to 230C and remove the water tray.
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes more, until bread is dark golden all over.
Leave to cool on a rack for as long as your patience allows. For once in my life that was the next morning as this beauty came out of the oven close to midnight…
Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy and have a gorgeous weekend!