If you’re new to bread-making this is a good recipe to start with, as it shows you the key techniques you need to master. It’s vital to knead the dough vigorously to develop the gluten and give the dough stretchiness, and to knock back and shape the loaf well. All this strengthens the structure so the dough can rise upwards without a tin.
The loaf gets its name from the way it rises and ‘blooms’ like a flower in the oven. The term also describes the lustre you get with a well baked loaf that has a crisp crust.
- 500 g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
- 10 g salt
- 7 g fast-action dried yeast
- 40 ml olive oil, plus extra for oiling
- 320 ml cool water
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Rising time: about 2 hours + 1 hour
1. Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Pour in the oil and 240ml of the water and use the fingers of one hand to mix the ingredients together. Use a clawing action to stir the water into the dry ingredients, so you gather in all the flour. Once you’ve got going, add the remaining water a little at a time until you have a soft, sticky (but not soggy) dough and you’ve picked up all the flour from the sides of the bowl. You may not need to add all of the water; it will depend on the absorbency of the flour you’re using. (Bear in mind that the dough will become less sticky as you knead.)
2. Pour a little oil onto a work surface. I use oil rather than flour to stop the dough sticking to the surface as it keeps the dough soft and does not alter the balance of flour to water. A wetter dough is harder to handle at first, but produces better bread. Knead the dough for 5–10 minutes (or longer if you’re a beginner). It will become less sticky and eventually turn into a smooth ball with an elastic texture. The time this takes depends on how vigorous you are with the dough. It is ready when it is really stretchy: if you pull a piece of the dough between your fingers you should be able to stretch it to at least 20cm.
3. Put the dough in a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover with cling film or a tea towel and leave to rise until tripled in size – at least 1½ hours, but it can take up to 3 hours depending on the temperature. A slow rise develops a better flavour, so don’t put it in a warm spot. The ambient temperature in most kitchens is between 18°C and 24°C, which is perfectly adequate.
4. Place the risen dough on a lightly floured surface. You now need to ‘knock back’ the dough by folding it in on itself several times and pushing out the air with your knuckles and the heels of your hands. Do this until all the air is knocked out and the dough is smooth.
5. To shape the dough into a bloomer, first flatten it into a rectangle, with a long side facing you. Fold the long side furthest from you into the middle of the rectangle. Then fold the long side closest to you into the middle, on top of the other fold. Turn the loaf over, so you have a smooth top with a seam along the base. Tuck the ends of the loaf under to make a rough oval shape. Rock the loaf gently so you form the loaf into its bloomer shape.
6. The bread is now ready to prove. This second rise of the shaped loaf is one of the secrets of great bread, enabling the dough to develop even more flavour as the yeast ferments and giving it a lighter texture. Put the loaf on a baking tray (lined with baking parchment or silicone paper if it isn’t non-stick). Put the whole tray inside a large, clean plastic bag, making sure there is plenty of space above the surface of the dough so it won’t touch the plastic when it rises. Leave the loaf to prove, or rise again, until doubled in size; this will take about 1 hour. To check when the bread is ready for the oven, gently press it with your finger: the dough should spring back. While the bread is proving, heat your oven to 220°C fan-forced [see Note] and put a roasting tray on the bottom shelf to heat up.
7. Lightly spray or sprinkle the bread with water. Dust with a handful of flour, smoothing it all over the top of your loaf with the palm of your hand. Be gentle – you don’t want to knock any air out of the loaf.
8. Using a very sharp knife, make 4 diagonal slashes across the top of the loaf, 2–3cm deep and at a 45° angle. This gives your loaf the classic bloomer finish: on baking the loaf expands, so the slashes open up. If you do not slash the top, as the bread continues to expand once the crust has formed, cracks will form around the bottom of the crust.
9. Just before you put the loaf in the oven, pour about 1 litre water into the roasting tray. This will create steam when the loaf is baking and give it a crisp crust and a slight sheen. Place the loaf on the middle oven shelf and bake for 25 minutes. Lower the oven setting to 200°C and bake for a further 10–15 minutes, until the crust has a good colour. Hold the loaf in a tea towel and tap the bottom. If the loaf sounds hollow, then it is ready. Put the loaf on a wire rack and leave it to cool completely.
• Baking times and instructions are given for fan-forced ovens. If using a conventional oven, you will need to increase the oven setting by around 10-15°C. Ovens vary, so check your bread towards the end of the suggested cooking time.