Boule really means nothing more than "ball" in French, so any dough that's shaped like a ball and baked becomes a boule. Most boules are however neutral or savoury in flavour. Marmite, if you're unfamiliar with it, is a vegetarian yeast extract that is very nutritious, richly savoury and to me at least, one of life's basic necessities. I love it diluted in hot water as a 'tea', spread on buttered bread or toast and added to soups, congee and sauces to enrich them.

red herring - when you make your loaves do acrobatics so no one really notices they're burnt

Many who have tried it though, are less kind in their assessment. Amongst other things, it has been described as barely edible and a peculiarly British perversion that is reminiscent of ear wax. What can I say? You either love it or absolutely detest it. I created this loaf for one of my bloggie buddies and personal (albeit sadly, long distance) friend, Biren who helms Roti n Rice, as she shares my strange love for Marmite and if no one else likes this, I know at least she will! *fingers crossed*

cupping, or more correctly, chafing to get that perfect roundness

But, even if you don't like Marmite per se, I urge you to include it in your bread dough. It lends amazing flavour (imagine umami gone berserk) and colour and is a real cracker of a combination with coarsely crushed black pepper. Eat this sliced and slathered with butter or as the basis of a ham and cheddar sandwich with arugula or watercress. I doubt the Earl of Sandwich ever had it this good! The smell that emanates about 10 minutes after this enters your oven is just crazy good! My boys, who think Marmite is "muddy, gloopy and stinky" made short work of both loaves and an entire package of smoked ham, on the same day. This is my bread opus, the loaf of which I am so far, proudest.

On a side note, I have to confess that I was remiss when baking these loaves. If you read through the recipe, you may wonder why my loaves aren't covered in the dusting of flour I specify. I completely forgot about it and only realised my omission when I opened the oven door and saw two alarmingly dark loaves. Of course they still taste as wonderful but the flour does give a nice rustic look, a lovely caramelised flour scent and provide protection from being burnt in the fierce heat, which to be perfectly frank, my loaves clearly are. *sigh*

crackling, beautiful crackling

You may wonder why I didn't just bake them at a lower temperature. Well, they just won't rise as dramatically and attain that gloriously crackled crust at a lower temperature. The fact that this dough contains yeast extract and more sugar then I usually add to my bread recipes means these loaves tend to darken quite quickly, so, now that you're forwarned, I expect you will do better than I did - don't forget the flour dusting! My apologies Biren - I wanted them to be perfect but instead of baking another batch just to get perfect photos, it's better to show things as they emerge.  At least, now you guys know what not to do ;)

Prep 3 hours 30 mins       Cook 30 mins        Makes 3 small round loaves

500 g (5 level teacups) bread or strong flour
3 tsp brown sugar
1 generous tsp coarsely crushed black pepper
1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
2 1/2  tsp instant yeast
2 generous Tbsp Marmite (Vegemite will also do)
330 ml (1 2/3 teacups) water
2 Tbsp soft butter or 3 Tbsp flavourless vegetable oil

Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Combine the flour, sugar, black pepper and salt in the mixing bowl of a standmixer and whisk till combined.

Whisk in the yeast. Stir the Marmite and water together in a jug until the Marmite is completely dissolved. Pour this liquid into the flour mixture and turn on the mixer on speed 2. Mix for about 3 minutes. Scrape dough down dough hook and down sides of bowl.

Cover bowl with a plate for 15 minutes. Turn on machine again and knead for 8 - 10 minutes, until dough is very elastic and smooth. Turn off machine and scrape dough off hook into bowl.  Scrape dough out onto a lighly greased surface and form into a neat, tight ball. Grease inside of bowl and put dough in, seam side down.

Cover bowl with plate and leave to rise for 1 1/2 hours or until slightly more than doubled in volume.

Turn dough out of bowl  and lightly grease your hands. Working gently divide dough equally into two and form each into a ball, by stretching and tucking the dough under itself to smoothen and tighten the top. Once formed, cup the dough with both hands while rotating and gently pushing sides down and under ball. This will tighten and smoothen the ball.

Place balls on tray and dust with more crushed black pepper and cover thickly with flour. Cover loosely with a tented, clean large, grocery plastic bag and leave to proof for 45 - 60 minutes. Midway through prooofing, preheat oven at 250 C (480 F).

Before putting loaf in oven, slash a large square gently into top, about 1 cm (1/2 in) deep. Bake for 15 minutes then lower temperature to 190 C (370F) and continue to bake for 15 minutes or until hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Take loaf out of the oven. It should feel very light for it's size and crackle gently but audibly for about 5 minutes. As Peter Reinhart said, a good loaf sings to you. Music to my ears! Cool on a rack until cold before slicing.