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Fennel seed bread

This well-flavoured loaf is great with cheese or salty air-dried ham. You can replace some of the fennel seeds with celery seeds for a subtly different flavour.

Method

Lightly toast the fennel seeds in a dry frying pan for a few minutes, until fragrant. Transfer to a mortar and roughly crush with the pestle.

Combine the crushed seeds with the flour, salt and yeast. Measure the honey into a measuring jug and make up to 325ml with warm water. Add to the flour with the olive oil and mix to a rough dough.

Turn out on to a clean surface and knead for 5–10 minutes. It will be quite a sticky dough, which is as it should be – you get better bread this way. You can add a little more flour to help you knead if you like, but don't overdo it. Alternatively, smear a little more olive oil on your work surface and hands to stop the dough sticking.

Shape the kneaded dough into a smooth round, coat with a little olive oil and place in a large clean bowl. Cover with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size – at least an hour, up to two.

Tip the risen dough out on to a lightly floured surface and deflate it with your fingertips. Shape again into a neat round, or a short, fat baguette if you prefer. Place on an oiled baking sheet. Alternatively, use a proving basket, if you have one. Cover lightly with a tea towel and leave until roughly doubled in size again (about an hour).

Preheat your oven to its highest setting. Cut a couple of slashes in the top of the loaf with a sharp knife or a baker's razor blade (a lame), or make deep snips with scissors. Bake at maximum temperature for 10 minutes, then reduce the setting to 180°C/Gas mark 4 and bake for a further 20 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped underneath. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely before slicing.

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Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 500g strong white flour
  • 10g fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp easy-blend yeast
  • 2 tbsp thin honey
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

This recipe is taken from...

River Cottage Herbs Handbook