Recipe – Sunday Bread with Flax Seeds and Sea Salt

This bread is a perfect centrepiece to a Sunday brunch. I typically make this from either straight white flour or a mixture of white with 10% whole wheat, and the crunchy flax seeds and sea salt on the top of the loaf give a wonderful texture to bite into. We call it the Sunday Bread because I like to rather leisurely prepare it on a Saturday and leave it to proof overnight in the fridge so that it can be baked fresh Sunday morning. This bread really doesn’t require a lot of work and will have your friends convinced you are a five-star baker.

The schedule for the bread is such: Around 9-10 am Saturday mix the flour and water. Any time between 2 and 3 pm add the yeast and salt. Fold the dough twice in the following hour and then leave to rise until sometime between 7 and 9 pm. Shape the dough, put it in the proofing basket and leave in the fridge until the following morning. There is plenty of time in there to enjoy a fine Saturday without being overly encumbered by preparing the dough, and the big reward for a well-planned day is a crunchy yet spongy bread to place on the breakfast table.

Perfect Saturday white bread

Sunday Bread

550 g white flour
400 g water
13-14 g coarse sea salt
1.5 g yeast
2 g flax seeds
1/2 tsp sugar

Sometime between preparing my Saturday latte and working up the energy to put on pants I weigh out my flour and water. Sara is pretty tolerant, but you should perhaps decide for yourself what level of undress your household is willing to live with. By hand, mix them in a large bowl that should be at least 3 L, and ideally 5 L, which will be used for the entire process. This step is called autolyse by much of the baking community, though as a scientist I prefer autolysis, which is the English term rather than the French variant coined by Raymond Calvel and others. What we are doing here is letting the chemistry and biology progress before adding the yeast and salt. The water will penetrate into the flour and start a whole cascade of processes. Some proteins, such as amylase, will begin to break starch into smaller sugars that can be digested by the yeast. Other water-insoluble proteins will interact with the water to give viscous networks of gluten that ultimately reinforces the rising bread and yields its form. Different people let their breads autolyse for different amounts of time, but I find that a minimum of two hours gives fantastic Sunday Bread, and it also provides the time I need to accomplish the other things I want to do during the day. I experiment with different flours, but I haven’t noticed a massive difference between all-purpose flour (such as Five Roses or Robin Hood) or specialty flour (such as Robin Hood Best for Bread), and as a rule I go with whatever I can find on sale at the time. Make sure your water is around 35ºC – warm to the finger but not hot. Wetting your hands slightly with warm water two or three times helps to keep the dough from sticking to everything. Once you have finished, cover and let the autolysis commence. Wash your hands thoroughly and apply some moisturiser. Bread-making is tough on your skin!

After at least 3 hours, at 3 pm or so, you are ready to do a bit more work. Take 2 tbsp of water at 35 ºC in a small glass and dissolve 1/2 tsp of sugar in it with stirring. Add 1.5 g of dried baker’s yeast (such as Fleischmann’s) and mix it in with the sugar and water solution. The warm temperature of the water and the small amount of sugar will provide a good climate for the yeast to thrive and multiply. Many recipes call for adding dry yeast directly to the autolysed flour mixture, but I prefer to pre-activate the yeast and let the solid pellets break apart so that yeast production is more effective when added to the flour and water to make the bread. In any case, wait 10 minutes or so, when foam starts to appear on the surface, before pouring the liquid over top of the contents of the bowl and mixing into the flour and water by hand. Now coarsely grind 12 g of sea salt in a mortar and pestle, and add that to the bowl with mixing as well, finishing by covering with a wet cloth. Again, some bakers will through the yeast and the salt together at the same time, but I prefer to pre-mix the yeast so that it isn’t all in contact with the salt for too long. Let’s not forget osmosis, here! We could easily kill off a few hundred thousand healthy yeast cells by drawing all of the water out of them.

Most of the work has now been done, and the chemistry and biology will be going on autopilot a bit as you work on the mechanical manipulation of the dough. I’m simplifying, but at this point there are no more ingredients to add and the real concern now is folding the dough and then letting it rest to rise. About 20 minutes after having added the salt, reach your hand into the bottom of the bowl and fold the dough, stretching it to before the breaking point and then pulling it over itself. Repeat this at least 6 times and then cover the dough again and let it rest. We are trying to form ordered networks of gluten that will criss-cross each other, strengthening and forming pockets to trap carbon dioxide and other gases that make the dough rise. See a bit more about this in my post on Sweet Stout and Walnut Bread. Again, after another 20 to 30 minutes perform folds, cover, and let to rise in a warm place. If you are making bread in the winter and it is cold in your home you may need to warm an oven a bit to give a nice 25ºC to 30ºC or so resting place. The object here is to have dough that has doubled in volume by 8 pm, or approximately 5 hours later. 3 times the volume is probably stretching it and you will risk having bread that is overproofed the next day.

At 8 or 9 pm you will be ready to shape your dough. For this process I recommend watching this video from Ken’s Artisan Bread. The important thing is to try and minimise degassing of your bread in order to preserve the flavour and texture. Gently place the shaped loaf into a proofing basket lined with flour and flax seeds and place inside a plastic bag to preserve the humidity. Place in the fridge overnight.

Sunday morning start warming your oven and remove the bread from the fridge. Gently mist the top of the loaf with water and sprinkle over 1 to 2 g of sea salt. Follow my directions for baking in order to achieve the perfect loaf of Sunday Bread!

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