This loaf, based on Pierre Nury's Rustic Light Rye in Dan Leader's Local Breads, is our standard weekly bake. It has adapted itself over time: we now usually make it with white flour rather than rye (or with only a scattering of rye anyway), though this varies. The bread has all the qualities needed for a routine loaf: it is easy, flexible enough to fit in with our other routines, and it tastes good.
This week is a special bake, however, as we have brought back from Paris some flour from the Poilane bakery on rue du Cherche-Midi; I know you can get this flour in London now, but somehow it feels different, more authentic, to have lugged the bag back on the Eurostar.
And I am sure it makes better bread: waxier in texture, fuller flavoured, altogether more of a French loaf.
500g strong white organic flour
200g sourdough starter (50% water, 50% flour)
In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, starter and water to form a rough dough and let it stand for 30 minutes to hydrate.
Turn it out and knead it for 10 minutes (no need for flour on the work top or hands); it will starts out very sticky, but will gradually become smoother and begin to come away from your hands and the work top. Leave the dough to stand for 2 minutes - I use this time to clean out and lightly oil the mixing bowl. Then knead the dough for a further 5 minutes, by which time the gluten will have developed to become stretchy and elastic.
Place the dough back in the mixing bowl, cover and leave in a warm place for two hours. The refrigerate for 18 - 24 hours.
Remove the dough from the fridge and leave to stand for 3 hours - it won't rise much.
An hour before baking, place a baking stone or tray in the oven and heat to 250 degrees.
Just before baking, prepare some floured baking paper, and sprinkle your work top with more flour and turn out the dough; scatter a little more flour on top of the mound of dough. With minimum handling, form the dough into a rectangle and cut it in half. Pick up the first half and stretch it to about 12 inches as you place it on the baking sheet. Repeat with the second piece of dough.
Slide the loaves onto the baking stone, still on the floured parchment; place a dish of ice cubes in the bottom of the oven to create steam. After 5 minutes turn the oven down to 200 degrees. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the crust is walnut brown.
Slide onto a wire rack to cool.
Eat while still warm. It needs no more than a smear of unsalted butter - French of course.