The rapid pace of change in food trends means there is a danger that some British baking traditions will get lost in the rush to innovate.

But changing consumer appetites can also lead to the revival of traditional baking techniques.

At the moment, we are entering a period where customers are learning to love a good crust once more. So here is a recipe that helps give an extra crisp by exhausting the dough through long fermentation.

The recipe uses an old British technique known as the half-sponge, where half the dough liquid is mixed with an equal weight of flour taken from the total amount.

By letting this sponge sit overnight at bakery temperature both the yeast and some stray lactic bacteria multiply to create a mixture with a powerful ability to ferment. This means that no further yeast needs to be added.

Instead of malt, I add a small amount of dark ale, as it is easier to get hold of. Butter rounds the flavour slightly, leaving a label full of ingredients that deliver reassurance to the customer as well as a taste that is delicate and simple.

Makes (raw weight) 5 x 550g plus 2 x 950g loaves

For the sponge

Strong white flour - 875g

Water - 875g

Yeast - 5g




Either by hand or in the bowl of a large upright planetary mixer, dissolve the yeast in the water then add the flour. Mix for one to two minutes until roughly combined. Transfer to a storage container, making sure the mixture only half fills it. Cover, and leave at 21-24ºC for 18-24 hours.

For the final dough

Sponge as above - 1.755kg

Ale - 175g or 25g dark dry malt and 150g water

Water - 875g

Strong white flour - 1.75kg

Wholemeal flour - 175g

Salt - 65g

Butter - 85g


Add all the ingredients except the butter and salt to the bowl of a mixer for three minutes (slow), six minutes (fast), then add salt and mix for a further two minutes.

Fold the dough every 45 minutes for two to 2.5 hours, or until a network of bubbles can be clearly seen when you cut into the dough with a knife. Keep the dough relatively cool during this bulk rise – around 21-24ºC is best.



Scale, shape and leave to rise seam-side upwards on flour-dusted cloths, with the cloth pulled up between each row to stop the dough spreading and to stop the rows sticking to one another.

Leave the dough again at 21-24ºC for two to three hours or until doubled in height, then upturn onto a peel or tray, slash down one side, and bake at 220ºC with a little steam, damper in, for 25 minutes.

Pull the damper out, rotate the loaves and bake for a further 5-20 minutes until they are a rich golden brown and slightly singed on the cuts.