A good, old-fashioned, English, white, crusty loaf, soft inside and lightly textured, is still hard to beat – it's my own favourite for soldiers to go with softly boiled eggs, and the next day or the day after it always makes divine toast. Made either by hand or with the help of a food processor, it couldn't be easier, and the pleasure of eating it is difficult to match.
Pre-heat the oven to its lowest setting.
You will also need two 1 lb (450 g) loaf tins or one 2 lb (900 g) loaf tin, well buttered.
Begin by warming the flour in the oven for about 10 minutes, then turn the oven off. Sift the flour, salt, yeast and sugar into a bowl, make a well in the centre of the mixture, then add the water. Now mix to a dough, starting off with a wooden spoon and using your hands in the final stages of mixing, adding a spot more water if there are any dry bits. Wipe the bowl clean with the dough and transfer it to a flat work surface (you may not need to flour this). Knead the dough for 3 minutes or until it develops a sheen and blisters under the surface (it should also be springy and elastic). You can now either return the dough to the mixing bowl or transfer it to a clean bowl; either way, cover it with clingfilm that has been lightly oiled on the side that is facing the dough. Leave it until it looks as though it has doubled in bulk, which will be about 2 hours at room temperature.
After that, knock the air out, then knead again for 2 minutes. Now divide the dough in half, pat each piece out to an oblong, then fold one end into the centre and the other in on top. Put each one into a buttered tin, sprinkle each with a dusting of flour, then place them side by side in an oiled polythene bag until the dough rises above the tops of the tins – this time about an hour at room temperature. Alternatively, place all the dough in the one tin. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 8, 450°F (230°C).
Bake the loaves on the centre shelf for 30-40 minutes, or 35-45 minutes for the large loaf, until they sound hollow when their bases are tapped. Now return them, out of their tins, upside-down to the oven to crisp the base and side crust for about 5 minutes, then cool on a wire rack.
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