Nothing – and I mean nothing – is more comforting in the kitchen than kneading and baking your own loaf of bread. The smell of baking that permeates the kitchen is really hard to beat. For this recipe I used wholegrain spelt flour – a delicious and healthy alternative to wheat – which with its nuttier and slightly sweeter flavour is the perfect ingredient for this rustic loaf. I sprinkled the dough with some fennel seeds, whose aroma is reminiscent of the countryside in Puglia, where wild fennel plants grow abundantly in the fields.
500 g of wholegrain spelt flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of fast action dried yeast
300 ml of lukewarm water
1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons of fennel seeds
In a large bowl mix together the spelt flour, salt, sugar and dry yeast.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and gradually pour in the lukewarm water and the extra-virgin olive oil, mixing thoroughly using your hands (or with the dough hook if using a mixer).
Mix everything well until the dough starts to come together in a ball. Then place it onto a floured worktop and dust your hands lightly with some flour. This prevents the dough from sticking to your hands. Knead the dough vigorously for 5-6 minutes.
A good technique to knead the dough is to stretch it flat in front of you with the heels of your hand; hold one end of the ball of dough with the heel of one hand while you use the heel of the other hand to stretch out the dough away from you.
Then fold it back over itself, give the dough a little turn and repeat the previous step a few times. Keep folding over and kneading the dough until it feels firm and elastic and looks silky and smooth.
Return the ball of dough to the bowl, cover it with a tea towel and wrap it with a wool blanket to keep the heat in. Place it in a warm spot and leave it to rise for 1 hour until doubled in size.
Turn out the risen dough onto a floured worktop, dust your hands with some flour and knead again very gently for a minute. Shape the dough into a ball and place it on to a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Cover with the tea towel and leave it to rise for another 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Lightly brush the top of the loaf with some water and sprinkle the fennel seeds evenly over it, lightly press them into the dough.
Place it into the preheated oven. Bake it for 35 minutes until golden brown. You can tell if it’s cooked by tapping its bottom – if it sounds hollow it’s ready, otherwise put it back in to the oven for a little longer.
Once cooked, place on a wire rack and allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes.
You can use cumin or caraway seeds as a substitute for fennel. This bread is very nice served warm with some pecorino cheese and some good Italian salame.