Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Daily Bread

Here is the basic recipe for the hearth bread that I make. As I wrote earlier, I vary it a lot. For example, I've got one ready for the oven now (left) that's made with whole-wheat graham flour, white bread flour, quinoa, wheat berries and flax seeds. Sometimes I'll raise or lower the water content or substitute red wine for some of the water. I wouldn't recommend doing any of these things until you have mastered the basic recipe and feel comfortable that you know what all the ingredients do and why they do it -but what the hell. I've sure stumbled around a lot in the kitchen and made plenty of mistakes. In fact I wonder if I'd have stuck with cooking at all if I hadn't screwed up so much and then jumped back in to try to save face.

I didn't mention this in the original post because I wanted to keep it simple, but more often than not, I start with a poolish -a thick slurry of flour, yeast and water that is made to boost the flavor of the final product and in the case of this recipe give the yeast more time to break the coarse graham flour down into sugar. The poolish is made from a portion of all of the ingredients that will end up in the loaf.

The recipe that follows gives the poolish method. If you don't want to use it, just mix everything at once, stick it in the refrigerator overnight and next day follow the steps for baking below.

Everything is weighed unless otherwise specified. Small quantities are in grams bec. I don't have a scale in English units that is sensitive enough. The technique is for a stand mixer. Of course you can adapt it to any machine or make it by hand. Finally, I'm not going to give shaping instructions unless you ask me for them. But I will give some details about how to bake it.

First make the Poolish
In a bowl mix with a spoon or whatever
  • 8 oz Graham Flour
  • 4 oz High-Gluten Bread Flour
  • .5 gram or a big pinch of instant yeast (aka SAF yeast)
  • 13 oz of cool ( 60-72 deg. F) water

  1. Cover the bowl and let it sit out for 4+ hours. You can leave this for a day if it's not too hot and you can't be bothered. And it's not a bad idea to stir it at least once to add some air.

Now Make the Sponge
  • The poolish
  • 20.5 oz High-Gluten Bread Flour
  • 3 grams instant yeast (about 1 scant tsp)
  • 9 grams of salt (about 1.5 tsp kosher salt or 1 tsp table salt
  • 12 oz cool water
  1. Put the poolish in the mixing bowl and add in the other ingredients. Mix with a wooden spoon or spatula and let it sit for 20 minutes until the water is absorbed (called autolyse).
  2. Put the bowl on the stand mixer and mix with the dough hook at a moderate speed (# 4 on my Kitchenaid K5A) for 10 minutes. Stop it once in a while and make sure there is no dry flour in the bottom of the bowl!
  3. After ten minutes, scape down the sides, make sure everything is homogeneous, cover it with plastic and stick it in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours.
Shape the bread into a boule and proof it until it looks like it's doubled in size.

Before the boule has finished proofing make sure you have your oven set up and ready to rock. Put a pizza stone on the bottom rack. Put a sheet pan (a cookie sheet with high sides) you don't care about on the top rack (You'll need this for steam.) Crank the oven to 550 degrees (You need intense heat from the bottom and steam to assure robust "oven spring" before the crust hardens).

Put the boule on a peel (apizza paddle, a flipped over sheet pan, or whatever) dusted with cornmeal. Slash the top like a #. Slide the bread onto the stone, pour 6-8 oz of hot water into the hot sheet pan and shut the door fast!

After 10 -12 minutes back the oven down to 450 degrees and bake it for another 48 minutes or so. You can push the bake time if you like the bread to be really brown. It's no big deal to leave in for another 10 minutes or more.

If you are ansty and not sure if it's done, take it's temperature with an instant read thermometer. Unshortened breads like this are usually done (all the protein has coagulated and the starch is as gelled as it is going to get) at 180 degrees F. By comparison, shortened breads typically cook out at about 200 degrees F.

I think the bread tastes best if you wait at least 3 hours for it to cool.


Shannon said...

I have a scale AND a standing mixer. I can't wait to try this over the weekend. My husband considers himself to be a bread connoiseur, so we'll see if he approves ;) I'm sure he will. (Shannon from the Ruhlman blog).

kitchenmage said...

Poolish and a sponge! I think your blog is going to be fun.

Lisita said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to diagnose my bread proofing and oven spring problem! Your suggestion to turn the bread within the first 3-5 minutes seemed to do the trick...

Bob del Grosso said...


That's great and I'm glad to have been of assistance. I've made every mistake imaginable and tried, not always successfully, to avoid repeating them.
Feel free to take advantage of the tuition born of my incompetence whenever!