1. Make the starter about 12-16 hours before the final dough. Mix all the ingredients well; it’s probably easiest to do it by hand. If using fresh yeast, crumble it into the flour but not directly in contact with the salt. Place the starter in a large bowl, cover with cling film and leave in room temperature overnight or for up to 16 hours.
2. The next day the starter should considerably expand and show bubbles and dimples on the surface. Add the main dough ingredients (again, crumble the fresh yeast in) and knead by hand – which will be tough – or in a standing mixer with a dough hook attachment until the dough is stretchy, smooth and bounces off the sides of the bowl or stops sticking to your hands. Place it in an oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for 2-2 ½ hours.
3. Halfway through that time, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, flatten gently into a disc and fold like a letter: top third towards the middle, bottom third over it. Turn it 90 degrees and fold in the same way again, but in the opposite direction. Return to the bowl.
4. When it’s done its second rise, turn the dough out and shape roughly to a ball by folding the edges inwards from all sides (if the shape was a square, you’d be folding the corners into the middle). Turn it over seam down, cover with a tea towel and rest for 10 minutes.
5. Now for the final shape: to make a round loaf, flatten the dough gently to a disc. Lifting the edge close to you, roll it away until you get a fat sausage. Flip it seam side up and roll in the opposite direction into an even fatter sausage. Flip it seam side down, cup its far side with your both hands and gently drag it towards you. You’ll feel the top smoothing and tightening. Turn it 90 degrees and drag it towards you again. If the dough sticks, flour your hands lightly.
6. Cover the loaf with an upturned bowl or put it into an inflated plastic bag and leave to prove for 1 – 1 ¼ hour in a warm place. if you’re worried about transferring it onto the baking tray, peel or no peel, place it on a disc of baking parchment.
7. Preheat the oven with a heavy baking sheet, baking stone or a clay cloche in it to 230C/450F/gas 8. When the loaf has expanded to about twice the volume slash the top with a very sharp knife or a baker’s blade. Using a peel or a rimless baking sheet transfer the loaf into the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes until the crust is shiny and deep brown in colour. Cool on a wire rack.