1 Mix together the flour, starter and water in a bowl. Add the salt and sugar. Turn out onto a clean kitchen surface and knead for 10 minutes or until the ‘windowpane effect’ is achieved (see panel below).
2 Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and let it prove for 2.5–3 hours. You won’t notice anywhere near as much of a rise in the dough as with a normal, yeasted bread and it will take a lot longer.
3 Turn out the dough onto a clean kitchen surface and knock back to release some of the air. Halve the dough and roll into two ball (or cob) loaf shapes.
4 Flour generously, and place each loaf base-side up in a bowl lined with a linen couche or proofing cloth. (Without the cloth, your loaf will stick to the bowl and you won’t be able to turn it out. A heavily floured tea towel will work fine.) Leave to prove for a further 2.5 hours. Alternatively, this dough can be made the day before, allowing the fermentation process to be extended further. If doing so, place the shaped dough into the fridge and leave overnight. Remove 1.5 hours before baking and rest at room temperature.
5 Preheat the oven to 230°C/gas mark 7 and preheat a baking tray or baking stone in the bottom. Once hot, remove the preheated tray or hot baking stone and turn both loaves out on it. Flour, score or glaze as required and transfer to the oven, throwing in some ice cubes or cold water to steam the oven.
6 Bake for 35–40 minutes or until a good crust has formed and the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the base.
Windowpane Effect: To check if your dough is ready after kneading, gather it up into a ball and hold up the top two corners against a light. If you can see through the dough and it can support itself without tearing, it is ready. If lots of little tears appear, you need to keep kneading.
Photography Credit: Harry Weir