After some experimentation, I have settled on a multiple-knead method copied from Dan Lepard. He uses it for some specific recipes but I find it works for everything. It's slightly more complicated and takes a longer elapsed time before the bread is ready to rise, but the total knead time is about 2 minutes over an hour, rather than 10 minutes at once. Your arms will thank you, I promise!
Here's the method I use for a loaf in a tin (which is a bit easier than shaping a free-standing load). There are three stages.
Mix and knead:
- Mix the flour and yeast together in a large bowl.
- Dissolve the salt (and sugar, using) in the water.
- Add the water to the flour, mixing until you have a rough ball of dough (you may need to add a little extra flour or water).
- Cover the bowl and leave for 10 minutes.
- Take the dough out of the bowl and knead on a floured surface for about 30 seconds. Form the dough into a ball.
- Clean and oil the inside of the bowl.
- Place the dough back into the bowl, cover it and leave for 10 minutes.
- Repeat the 30 secs knead twice more at 10 minute intervals, then leave for 30 minutes.
- Knead once more, then place in the bowl and cover.
- Leave to rise until the dough has roughly doubled in size (about an hour, can be up to 2 hours).
- Take it out, press all the air out, form into a ball again and put it back in the bowl. Leave to rise again.
- Prepare a tin by greasing the inside and then dusting the inside with flour.
- Once the dough has roughly doubled in size again, take it out and press all the air out. Roll into a sausage a little shorter than the tin and place in the tin.
- Leave to rise until roughly doubled in size - usually about an hour or so. The bread is ready when you press a finger in and the dough doesn't spring straight back.
- Pre-heat the oven to about 220 C with a small baking tray in the bottom.
- Boil a kettle and put the water in the baking tray in the oven.
- Cut a slash on top of the loaf with a bread knife.
- Spray the loaf with water.
- Place the loaf in the oven for 10 minutes.
- Spray the loaf with water again and reduce the temperature to about 180 C.
- Bake for another 30 minutes.
- Take the bread out and cool on a wire rack.