On Saturday (and checked again last night), I tried another idea. Normally I measure out my dry ingredients, add the water, mix to a dough and then immediately proceed with working the dough (using a folding method rather than kneading). It is amazing how a few minutes work can transform the dough from a sticky mess into a silky-surfaced ball but it still takes a bit of effort.
My new twist is to mix the ingredients then cover them and get on with something else for a while. Returning to the bowl, the dough has started to rise as the yeast gets to work. This can then be turned out and worked with folding. However, it hardly takes any time to get it ready for the next stage of rising. Five or six folds seems all it needs compared to 20-30 with my previous method and the results have been some of my best loaves yet.
This does further increase the time from starting to completion but reduces the amount of actual labour required. I suppose the logical next step is to see what happens if I mix the ingredients and then leave them in the fridge until I am ready for the next stage. Potentially I could start the dough in the morning, knock it back at lunch, shape when I get in and then bake it after the evening meal (doubly efficient if I have already warmed up the oven in cooking my dinner).
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