This long, crusty loaf gets its fabulous flavour from poppy seeds. Cut into thick slices, the bread is perfect for mopping up the cooking juices of hearty stews, or for absorbing good dressing on summery salads. A variety of seeds can be used to add flavour, texture and colour to the loaf- try seeds like sunflower or pumpkin seeds as an alternative to poppy seeds. Brushing the loaf with salted water before baking helps to give it a crisp, crusty finish.
675g/1 1/2 lb/6 cups
Unbleached strong white bread flour (gluten-free) optional
12.5ml/2 1/2 tsp salt
15g/1/2 oz fresh yeast
Poppy seeds for sprinkling
1.Lightly grease a baking sheet. Sift the flour and 10 ml/2 tsp salt together into a large bowl and make a well in the centre.
2.Measure 450ml/3/4 pint/scant 2 cups lukewarm water and stir about a third of it into the yeast in a bowl. Stir in the remaining water and pour into the centre of the flour. Mix, gradually incorporating the surrounding flour, to a firm dough.
3.Turn out on to a lightly floured surface and knead the dough very well, for at 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with lightly oiled clear film (plastic wrap) and leave to rise, at cool room room temperature (about 15-18 C/65-65 f), for 5-6 hours, or until doubled in bulk.
Knock back (punch down) the dough, turn out on a lightly floured surface and knead it thoroughly for about 5 minutes. Return the dough to the bowl and re-cover. Leave to rise, at cool room temperature, for a further 2 hours or slightly longer.
5.Knock back again and repeat the thorough kneading. Leave the dough to rest for 5 minuets, then roll out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle 2.5cm/1 inch thick. Roll the up from one long side and shape it into a square-ended, thick baton shape about 33 x 13cm/13x5in.
6.Place the loaf, seam side up, on a lightly floured baking sheet.
Cover with lightly oiled clear film and leave to rest for minutes. Turn the loaf over and place on greased baking sheet. Plump the loaf up by tucking the dough under the sides and ends. Using a sharp knife, cut six diagonal slashes on the top.
7.Leave to rest, covered, in a warm place, for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F Gas 8.
8.Mix the remaining salt with 30ml/2 tbsp water and brush this glaze over the bread. Sprinkle with poppy seeds.
9.Spray the oven with, bake the bread immediately for 20 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 200° C/400° f/ Gas 6. Bake for 25 minutes more, or until golden and its sounds hollow when tapped on the base. Transfer to wire rack to cool.