This recipe is ideal for ‘everyday’ bread for sandwiches and toast. The recipe is called a Slow Rise or 12 hour Bread as it uses a tiny amount of yeast and a long fermentation time to develop flavour. You can leave to rise overnight or while you’re out at work and it won’t come to any harm.
Mix the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut the butter into tiny pieces, add to the bowl and rub into the flour using the tips of your fingers until it disappears. Make a well in the centre of the flour. Crumble the yeast into a measuring jug, add the water and stir well. Pour the liquid in to the well. Using your hand gradually mix the flour into liquid until the mixture just comes together. If the mixture is very sticky and won’t hold its shape work in a little extra flour, if the dough is dry and hard to work then add a little more water.
Turn out onto a work surface and knead very thoroughly for 10 minutes to make a smooth, pliable silky dough (the dough can also be kneaded in large mixer fitted with a dough hook, use lowest speed for 4 minutes). Return the dough to the mixing bowl, slip the bowl into a large plastic bag. Leave to prove very slowly at a cool room temperature for no less than 8 hours and no more than 12 hours (overnight is ideal). In very warm weather the fridge is the best place.
Turn the risen dough out onto a work surface and punch down to deflate. Knead the dough very gently for a minute, then cover with a sheet of plastic and leave to relax for 15 minutes. Flatten the dough and press it with your knuckles to a rectangle slightly longer and wider than your tin. Leaving the dough attached at one end cut the rectangle down its length into 3 strips of equal width. Plait the strips and press the ends together to join. Lift the plaited dough into the buttered tin, tucking the ends under the dough. Slip the tin back into the plastic bag, inflate it slightly so the dough doesn’t stick to the plastic, then leave to rise in a warm place until the dough reaches the top of the tin – 1½ to 3 hours depending on the temperature.
Towards the end of the rising time preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7 and put an empty roasting tray in to the oven to heat up.
Uncover the loaf, and gently brush with the milk. Sprinkle with the poppy seeds then put into the oven. Before you close the door pour a cup full of cold water into the hot roasting tray to produce a burst of steam.
Bake the loaf for 30 minutes then remove from the oven and turn out of the tin. Return the loaf to the oven, straight on to the shelf without the tin, and bake for 5 minutes more. Carefully remove the loaf and tap underneath, if it sounds hollow the loaf is cooked, if there is a dull ‘thump’ then return the loaf to the oven, bake for another 5 minutes then test again. Leave the loaf to cool on a wire rack.