Don’t imagine a bread machine is a must-have for stress-free baking. With a little effort and barely any kneading, you can conjure up an impressive crusty white loaf.
Put the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl, pour in the warm water and stir everything together into a sticky shaggy mass.
Scrape the dough from your hands, cover the bowl with a cloth and leave for 10 minutes.
Lightly oil a 30cm/12in area of the work surface and your hands. Tilt the bowl and ease the dough out onto the oiled surface without too much pulling and teasing (a scraper may help). Lightly oil the inside of the bowl as well, to prevent any sticking later. Take the edge of the dough furthest from you in one hand and with minimal pulling, simply fold it over, to meet the edge nearest to you. Press the heel of your other hand down onto and into the dough, stretching it away from you by 5-10cm/2-4in.
Give the dough a clockwise quarter-turn and repeat the "fold towards you, then push and gently stretch away from you" action. Do this turning, folding and pushing action, no more than 8-10 times, then return the dough to the bowl. You don't want to flatten or tear the dough, or handle it roughly: the whole action should be quite gentle and measured. Don't be tempted to add more flour, even if the dough seems wet; that's exactly as it should be. Repeat this light kneading twice at 10-minute intervals, and finally return the dough to the bowl and leave it to prove for 45 minutes.
Wipe the work surface, dust it with flour then pat the dough into an oval. Roll it up tightly, give each end a pinch to keep it neat then place the dough seam-side down on a floured tray, cover with a cloth and leave until the dough has increased in size by a half – about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7 (fan 200C).
Flour the top of the dough, cut a slash down the middle and bake for 35–40 minutes.
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