A couple of people with whom I have shared the recipe for black pepper rye have said that it is hard to turn the ingredients into a dough, despite the very clear tips in my write-up. So this week I thought, with 3.3kg of the dough to make, I would also make a video of how it comes together under my hands. I jury-rigged a support for the phone on the shelf about the counter, set the time-lapse video going and got to work. As I got stuck in, however, I forgot all about the camera, and of course my head kept getting in the way, so the resulting video is not quite as informative as I hoped it might be.

When I complained about this to a dear friend, customer for the bread and marketing expert, she pooh-pood my reluctance to expose my ineptitude and told me to share it anyway. “It makes you more human. You’ll get a load of followers.”

Well, I’m not really after a load more followers, but what the heck.

And the black pepper rye did turn out really well.

The problem was of my own making. A bit of bad planning meant both that we were due to run out of bread on Saturday and that my schedule for Saturday was very full. Certainly no time for any of my normal loaves. But a somewhat new approach saved the day with a stunningly good loaf on Sunday morning which, I swear, took me no more than 5 minutes in total on Saturday, and it was all totally serendipitous.

In one sense, my saviour was Jeremy Shapiro. On Friday, he wrote about Do-Nothing Bread, which I read because I read everything he posts. That was about an approach detailed in a book called Respectus Panis, written by a group of bakers called Les Ambassadeurs du Pain (in French, obvs., with the most intensely annoying automated music to boot, which is why I immediately went in search of details elsewhere).

I failed to run down anything very detailed, but that didn’t bother me as the whole thing looked to be pretty simple. Tiny quantities of inoculant, minimal amounts of salt and lots of time. In other words, not unlike Lahey’s no-knead formula. Just the thing, possibly, for a busy-day bread.

Ingredients & Method

10g sourdough starter, 100% hydration, straight out of the fridge
400g water
8g salt
400g white Manitoba flour
50g whole wheat flour
50g whole rye flour

Disperse the starter (you could use just a smidgen of yeast instead) in the water, add the salt and the flours and stir enough to mix all reasonably well. Cover loosely and go out for the day.

Come back and give it a set of stretch and folds in the bowl. Worry that nothing is happening.

Go out to the movies, giving another set of stretch and folds in the bowl before you leave. Continue to worry.

Come home, prepare a banneton, give the dough a final set of stretch of folds and then a coil fold directly into the banneton. Try to persuade yourself that there does seem to be a bit of activity. Cover loosely and go to bed.

Wake up, remove loose cover and marvel at the rise. Pretend you never had any doubts. Preheat the oven and a casserole to max (about 220°C). Gently tip the dough onto baking parchment, slash quickly, worry that it is spreading too fast and get it into the casserole, pronto.

After 27 minutes, remove the casserole lid and marvel all over again. Bake for a further 27 minutes. Remove and allow to cool before digging in for lunchtime. Give thanks to fellow bloggers and bakers.

Overnight rise

Slashed and spreading fast

Baked

Great oven spring

Soft, light crumb. Crisp crust. Oodles of flavour

And, of course, yesterday’s issue of the Bread magazine newsletter had a little story linking to Jeremy’s original post and some detailed versions of recipes. Mine was not exactly like any of those, but it was very fine. Do I now need to wait for another super-busy day to repeat? Probably not.

Lately I’ve started baking in greater bulk to satisfy my slowly growing list of people who pay me the ultimate compliment of paying for my bread. That could make sharing recipes here a little bit tricky, because not everyone wants to handle four loaves worth of dough at a time.1 Anyway, thanks to the miracle of baker’s math, I can give the quantities for a single loaf just as easily, so here goes.

Pre-ferment

I use my 100% hydrated leaven to start the pre-ferment, and as I store it in the fridge between bakes, that requires two builds to get it good and active, starting the morning before I want to start baking. To about 10g of starter I add 25g of flour and 25g of water, leaving that for about 12 hours to double. I then feed again with 25 g of flour and 25g of water, leaving it overnight. Next morning, I take 10 gm into a clean container and feed again with 25g flour and 25g water. This stays out on the counter for about 6 hours then goes into the fridge for storage.

The active starter goes into the pre-ferment.

  • 50g active starter at 100% hydration
  • 150g water
  • 250g strong white flour
  • 4g salt

First mix the water and the starter to break up the starter a bit, then add the flour and salt and stir well to incorporate everything into a rough dough. Put that aside to ripen. My kitchen is still pretty cold, so after a day the pre-ferment had barely moved and I had to put it into the fridge overnight. Next morning it had almost exploded out of its box. In warmer conditions, the pre-ferment will double in about 8-12 hours, but it really doesn’t matter much if you refrigerate to suit your schedule.

Final Dough

  • 50g whole rye flour
  • 50g wholewheat flour
  • 50g einkorn flour
  • 350g strong white flour
  • 185g water
  • 4g salt
  • 1/2 tsp dry yeast or 15g fresh yeast (optional)
  • All of the pre-ferment

The einkorn was my idea. If you don’t have any, add 50g of some other flour or just use 400g of strong white flour, rather than 350g. The yeast is completely optional, useful if you are in a hurry (or your kitchen is cold).

Mix the flours, salt and water and yeast if you’re using it. Knead the dough so that it has started to come together and then add a chunk of pre-ferment at a time, kneading between each chunk to start incorporating it into the dough. I guess about 4 or 5 chunks is right. It takes a bit of kneading to get everything properly mixed in but recently I have found this easier than mixing the pre-ferment with the water first. When the dough is uniform throughout, return it to the bowl, cover with a cloth and leave to bulk ferment.

After one hour, do one set of stretch and folds right there in the bowl. Wet your hand first and slip it gently under the dough, grab and pull up slowly, you don’t want to tear the dough, then fold it back onto the top of the dough and work your way around the ball of dough.

One (moving) picture being worth a thousand words, here’s my video.

Leave to bulk ferment for another hour, then do a second set of stretch and folds.

After a final hour of bulk fermentation, gently move the dough out onto the counter, shape, and prove for about 90 minutes before baking in a hot oven for about 50 minutes, with steam for the first half of the bake.


  1. I would love to get up to 12 loaves a time, but not with my current oven! 

It’s a long story, one that I hope will appear on the podcast in the fullness of time, but suddenly we have a supply of superb hummus and other like-minded goodies here in Rome. Not so the pita. I mean, it’s OK, as a shovel or wrapping, but not for its own sake. Nothing for it, I thought, I’ll just have to bake my own.

In this I was encouraged by friends who seem to do it all the time, posting photos of the exquisite results. Off, then, to Claudia Roden’s A New Book of Middle Eastern Food and her recipe for Khubz (Eish Shami), which, she delightfully tells me, “is more commonly known in the West as Pitta bread”. I hope she won’t mind me sharing my interpretation here.

The dough is simple:

  • 500g strong flour
  • 300g tepid water (60%)
  • 4g salt (8%)

No time to do it with a leaven, so I went the direct route and added one teaspoon of dried yeast. (It should probably be more, but I did have time to allow for a longer rise.)

The joy, if you’ve been messing around with highly-hydrated doughs, is in the 15 minutes of kneading. I tend to go by counts to 100, with a little rest after each burst to see how things are going, and it is wonderful to watch and feel as the dough becomes alive and elastic beneath your hands. A wet dough, as it becomes stronger and more structured through a set of stretch-and-folds, is also a delight, but it doesn’t offer quite the same satisfaction as a proper knead.

With a lovely, lively ball of dough in your hands, dribble a short thread of olive oil into a bowl and wipe it about with the dough to just lightly coat the surface of the dough. Cover with a damp tea-towel and leave in a warm place to double, about two hours.

As you gently persuade the dough out of the bowl, pause again to marvel how extensible it has become. Resist the temptation to “punch” the dough down; a little gentle kneading is all that is required. I divided the dough into 8 pieces of 100g (Claudia advises “the size of a large potato or smaller”) and roll each one out on a lightly floured surface to a disk of around 0.5cm thick. Place these on a well-floured couche, cover with plastic film and the damp cloth, and leave again for a second rise of about another two hours.

Preheat the oven to maximum (in my case around 240°C) and place a lightly oiled (or non-stick) baking tray in to heat up. Also, prepare to steam. When you’re ready, add the water to your steam container. Then, working quickly, gently lift the rounds from the couche and onto the tray. Gentleness is crucial here; any rough handling and they won’t puff up in the oven. Spray gently with cold water “to prevent them from browning,” slip them into the oven and shut the door.

[B]ake for 6 to 10 minutes, by which time the strong yeasty aroma escaping from the oven will be replaced by the rich earthy aroma characteristic of baking bread – a sign that it is nearly done.

Do not open the oven door during this time.

I gave them eight minutes. Eight long, fraught, anxious minutes. I needn’t have worried.

As I said on Instagram: “OMG. It worked. Thanks Claudia.”

Cool the little flatbreads briefly on a wire rack and if you have any left over, pop them into a plastic bag. Anathema for most breads, but these need to stay nice and soft.

I can also attest that they reheat beautifully in a hot cast-iron frying pan.

Panis quadratus, carbonised at Pompeii

When first I came across the ancient Roman festival of Fornacalia, back in 2010, it seemed to me an ideal opportunity for newly inspired bakers at home and in bakeries to celebrate their art. Two years later, I even left a desperate little plea to that effect in a forum I frequented. It died a death, as it has most years subsequently, a notable exception being Dan Etherington’s post Fornacalia, Fornax and burnt spelt. Like my leaven, though, which refuses to die, I’m going to give it another go.

I’m emboldened to do so by Chris Aldrich, who took it upon himself to anoint me curio maximus. As such, it is my duty to proclaim Friday 16 February, an auspicious day for me, the day to celebrate Fornacalia, using the hashtag #fornacalia.

I’ve been doing a little research of my own, torn between the Scylla of tried-and-tested and the Charybdis of new-and-appropriate, and I think I have come to a decision.

Stay tuned. And spread the word.