I have for some time laboured under the twin beliefs that everyone who worked their own kitchen should fashion some home baked bread once in a while and that all shop-bought loaves teetered on the brink of the inedible. Well it turned out that some modification of this edict was needed.

I had tried to make bread fairly often, occasionally with a degree of unexplained success. And as people have been effortlessly baking bread since cultivation began, I still felt bound to approach the task with an air of self-assurance. This has proved ill-advised on frequent occasions, and I began to think that the cookbooks I consulted assumed a skill set I did not possess. Given the enormous amount of time I have given in its service, kneaded dough remained a fickle stakeholder in the search for my perfect loaf.

So when former social conditions were dramatically curtailed, why on earth did I think I could join the flurry of elderly hipsters seeking fermentation Nirvana in the form of homemade sourdough. I had assiduously avoided the alchemical production of kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha – or in the case of my fine web designer: fermented sprouts – in my own kitchen, so what on earth led me to believe I could master the most mercurial of fermented relationships, that of a sourdough loaf?

I produced inert starters that forlornly set in the jar, others that became volcanic and turned my work surface into a scale model of Pompeii overnight. My dough failed to perform and the few baking platforms I reached left me with loaves as hard as hockey pucks. I could find no middle ground. I had cossetted my new living starter, my treasured mother ship, as though it were a sensitive first born, I spent days adding, subtracting, feeding, warming and cooling. Ultimately, the inordinate degree of patience required proved unsustainable. I threw in the towel along with the technical kit-and-caboodle that had been amassed to tackle this apparently enchanted pursuit. At the same time certain extended family members inundated me with photographs worthy of the River Café cookbook featuring serried ranks of their own successful sourdough loaves. Charlotte and Tom, I salute you. They had all clearly mastered the task and I had to spend some time searching for a plausible excuse to obfuscate my manifest failings.

Help came in the form of a highly creative friend living in Brighton. She recounted the many similar shortfalls, anxieties and frustrations that she had faced on the sourdough front. But when the light-bulb finally came on, she abandoned the struggle and moved her defense to attack. She proudly published the news that she had a wonderful baker around the corner who presented a fine variety of sourdough loaves every morning, and if everyone made their own at home, the baker would be out of business – which would be an unforgiveable catastrophe! So on the use-it-or-lose-it theory, she sacrificed her own baking pursuits in order to protect a baker. Clearly a renunciation bordering on the divine.

As we too have a wonderful baker in our local town, who also makes delicious sourdough along with many other post-modern delights, I decided to employ a flour-based alternative to Pascal’s Wager and adopt the same position as my friend. I let my faith decline and adopted an intuitive stance.

So for the moment I continue, with sourdough temporarily consigned to the filing system, and have brought dried yeast back to the centre of my bread-making universe. As a former wine merchant, such providence should have come as no surprise to me, as the bulk of modern grape juice could never make its leap for eternity without controlled, designer yeasts. Nevertheless the constituent parts are always impatient to socially mingle in cellars and vineyards alike, and are always on standby to turn crushed vitis vinifera grapes into ambrosia – recent flights of ‘Natural’ wines are totally reliant on this unseen intimacy after all. Oh that my bread might have so willingly engaged. My local airborne yeasts must have switched postcodes.

My excuse invoked the family derision it perhaps deserved, but my mission to captivate and delight with a homemade loaf or two still remains. Raymond Blanc led me to one defensible position with this baked retort.

The net result of the delicious bread above (fresh out of the oven) is twofold. Firstly it serves as a rebuff to the bands of marauding sourdough colonialists that roam our land, and secondly, due to my continued sacrifice, it has helped provide our local baker with a thriving business.

From Raymond Blanc Kitchen Secrets (2011) Pain de Campagne

For the dough starter/leaven

100g strong plain white organic bread flour

100g dark rye flour

3g dried yeast

135ml cold water

For the campagne dough

950g strong plain white organic bread flour

130g dark rye flour

15g sea salt

12g dried yeast

680ml cold water

A day ahead mix all the ingredients in a medium bowl.

Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to ferment overnight, i.e. about 12 hours at room temperature.

(Note the water must be cold, directly from the tap, since you are going to work the dough, which will warm it. If you use warm water then the fermentation process will be activated too quickly and this would undermine the taste.)

The following day put all the ingredients into the bowl of the mixer fitted with the dough hook and add the dough starter.

Beat together on the lowest speed for 5 minutes and then on medium speed for approximately 5–7 minutes to knead the dough.

The initial slow mixing will amalgamate all the ingredients together, giving the flour the opportunity to fully absorb the water (and without flour flying in your face). Then the faster speed will warm the gluten in the flour, making the dough elastic and creating the right environment for fermentation to happen.

Alternatively, you can knead the dough by hand on a lightly floured surface, stretching and kneading it for 10 minutes.

Test the elasticity of the dough by making sure you can stretch a small piece between your fingers without it breaking it.

Shape the dough into a ball, cover loosely with a clean cloth or cling film and leave at room temperature for 1 hour; it will increase in bulk.

Ensure that the proving takes place in a draft-free room to prevent a crust from forming on the dough. The room temperature is hugely relevant to the proving; if it were too high then the fermentation process would be activated too quickly, undermining the taste. Standard room temperature is 20°C, which is about right.

Divide the dough equally into four (500g portions) and shape each into a loaf of your desired shape on a lightly floured board. Place each one on a peel or flat tray lined with a silicone liner or non-stick baking paper.

Cover loosely with a plastic sheet or a clean cloth to prevent it from drying out and leave the loaves to prove at room temperature for about 1½ hours until doubled in volume.

At this stage the loaves will be fragile to handle; placing them on silicone mats or non-stick baking paper makes it easier to transfer them to the oven.

While the loaves are proving, preheat the oven (without the fan) to its highest setting, 250°C/Gas 10.

Slide a baking stone or sturdy baking tray onto the middle shelf and place a small roasting tin on the oven shelf below.

Dust the loaves with flour, then score lengthways at an angle with a Stanley knife or razor blade, making the cuts about 2mm deep.

Slide the bread onto the preheated tray or baking stone in the oven.

Pour a jug of boiling hot water into the roasting tin and quickly close the oven door.

Bake for 20–25 minutes.

Remove the loaves from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

French bread is usually shaped by hand and then baked, but you can of course bake the dough in loaf tins.

Alternatively you can mould the loaves in special bread baskets lined with flour and then turn them out to bake them.