Thursday, January 10, 2013

Country Loaf

My mother asked if I've given up writing my blog. I haven't. I had an essay to write, bread to bake, soup to make, and oh, a husband to help.

His new office was set up this week-- they take any kind of insurance so feel free to call for an appointment. He got a kick out of the inner office memo announcing his arrival at the practice. There was no mention of where he went to medical school or what he had done the past twenty years. However, it did say that he was a graduate of the local high school. Sounds like the local paper might even interview him and the other doc (a local too) for a story about returning to the community. I was amused that he had to read up on Appalachian culture as part of his orientation. I might need to borrow that.

For me, there is no substitute for wheat, yeast, and gluten. For those of you who imbibe, I thought I would share the most current version of my bread love, a country loaf. The sponge is the key to getting the awesome taste. Beware the recipe is three pages long, but you simply must try it. It is wonderful! The recipe makes two loaves or a lot of buns, but you can freeze them, and then refresh them in the oven thus extending the bread into your week. This is about real food, baked by your own hands, and it tastes awesome. If you just want an easy recipe, try the no knead method, but this, I promise, tastes better and beyond the need to think about timing, it is not much more work.

Yeast beasties come into action and make something marvelous and alive out of flour, water, and salt. Creating life, giving life, bread is simple and complex. Squishing sticky dough between your fingers is as real as it gets for playing with your food as a grownup. Go and throw out the bread laying in the plastic bag from the store, feed it to the birds, but toss it. Now, make the starter before bed, maybe on a Friday so that the following day you might be about your abode to make the dough and then bake it. Let me know if you hear it sing.

Happy baking!

Rolls are great for breakfast, lunch, & dinner-- store in the freezer
Country Loaf

Starter Sponge make day 1
Water, ½ cup 
Yeast (regular not quick acting), ½ tsp
Bran Flour Mix (see last page), ¾ cup
  1. Mix together water and yeast in a large bowl and dissolve. Add flour. Mix together with a stiff spatula, it will look like a shaggy mass. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. 
  2. Allow to rest at room temperature for 2 hours (up to 10 if room temp is under 80ºF) as a longer rest will develop the flavor of the bread. 
Starter sponge just mixed

Bread Dough make day 1 or 2
Starter Sponge, at room temperature
Water, 2 ½ cups
Yeast (regular not quick acting), ¼ tsp
Kosher Salt, 1 Tbsp 
Bran Flour Mix, 1 cup + 5 cups + ¼ cup (or more for stretching, shaping, etc.)

Mix & Knead
  1. Scrape the shaggy mass of the Starter Sponge into a mixing bowl with a spatula or plastic dough scraper. 
  2. Add the water, yeast, 1 cup of flour, and salt. 
  3. Whisk together until smooth and thoroughly mixed, about 1 minute.
  4. Add 5 cups of flour and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until just combined-- it will be a shaggy mess. 
  5. Cover the dough and allow it to rest for 20 minutes.
  6. Knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes with a stand mixer, 12 to 15 minutes if by hand. Look for proper gluten development to form by gently pulling a piece of dough to see if it stretches. If it looks like a windowpane and you see striations indicating the gluten network has formed (+) it is ready, however, if it  breaks (-), keep kneading. The dough will be sticky which is good.
  7. Place ¼ cup of flour (use more as needed) on a kneading surface.
  8. Scrap (do not tear) the dough onto the lightly floured surface. 
  9. Stretch the dough to develop its structure-- stretch the top (12 o’clock) of the dough out and up and then toward the center; stretch the bottom (6 o’clock) of the dough out and down and then toward the center. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat. Repeat the process. 
  10. Shape the dough into a smooth ball with your hands, leave a bit of flour on it if it’s super sticky. 
  11. Lightly oil a deep plastic bucket or bowl. 
  12. Flip the dough over to insure both sides of the dough are coated with oil and cover, leaving the smooth side up.
  13. Rest the dough and allow to rise in a draft free place (drafts are the enemy of dough) ideally between 74-80ºF (cooler temps need a longer rise) until it doubles in volume, ~1 ½ hours. When you press your finger into and out of the raised dough if the indent remains, it is ready. If the dent fills in, rest the dough more. If it collapses it has over-proofed. 

Just mixed dough that has rested for 20 minutes but before kneading
After kneading with the mixer for 10 minutes
Scrape dough onto a floured surface, about 1/4 cup-- note here I needed flour

Stretch, fold, and quarter turn

After stretch and fold at each quarter turn

Form dough into a ball using the flour surface to prevent sticking

Place the dough into a container where it can raise

Makes 2 loaves, 3 baguettes, or ~24 rolls. Divide the dough either by the eyeball method or with a scale. Cut the dough with a bench cutter (do not tear it).

  1. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. 
  2. Gently pat into a rectangle shape using your fingertips and the palm of your hands.
  3. Use a bench cutter, do not tear the dough, to divide into the portions needed-- 2 country loaves, 3 baguettes, 24 rolls, etc. I weigh out the rolls on a scale so they will be uniform, 70-72 gm each. 
  4. Gently roll the dough over on itself-- do not manipulate it over much.
  5. Cover and rest the dough for about 30 minutes from the time of the first cut.

  1. Shake off the flour and place dough onto a barely floured surface.
  2. Deflate the dough by patting into a rectangle shape using your fingertips and the palm of your hands. 
  3. Form round loaf by bringing the all of the edges in toward the center, pinch the seams, turn it over, and cup it in your hands and gently form into a smooth ball pulling downward-- aim for tight surface tension with a smooth top. 
  4. Place seam side up into a floured raising basket or seam side down on parchment paper or silpat or lightly floured surface. Cover and let the dough rest until double, ~45 minutes. 
  5. Heat oven with a pizza stone and a cast iron pot on the bottom to 450ºF.

Slash & Score
  1. Use a razor sharp blade at an angle to create a ridge, about ¼-inch deep for proofed dough or about ½-inch deep for under-proofed dough.
  2. Allow to rest ideally 5 minutes before baking.

  1. Fill a cup with water or ice cubes. 
  2. Insure that your loaf is loose enough to slide into the oven, adding more flour (or cornmeal) as needed to the peel. 
  3. Put on oven mittens or some kind of serious heat/steam protection for your hands and forearms. Place each loaf with parchment paper or silpat mat onto the pizza peel. 
  4. Pour the water/ice into the heated cast iron pot at the bottom of the oven-- steam will erupt, close the door quickly. Reduce heat to 400ºF and bake for 15 minutes. Do not open the oven door during the first 15 minutes of baking, then give the bread a quarter turn for even browning if needed, remove the paper or silpat, I usually don't, and turn on the convection if you have this feature.
  5. Total baking times vary depending on the size of the loaves-- see note below.
  6. Bake until the crust is dark carmel colored (time varies with the shape and style of the loaf). Check doneness by tapping the bottom of the loaf, it should sound hollow.
    1. Round Loaves, ~40 minutes
    2. Baguettes, ~30 minutes
    3. Rolls, ~18-20 minutes

Place hot bread onto elevated wire rack; get the rack up off the counter as the rack directly on the counter creates steam which softens your loaf’s crust. You should hear the crust crackle as it cools-- that is its song.

Bran Flour Mix
Organic* Bread Flour (12-14% protein), 3 cups
Organic* Whole Wheat Bread Flour, 1 cup

Measure the flour using the ‘stir, dip, and sweep’ method. Stir the flour up with a fork. Dip the measuring cup into the flour and fill until overflowing. Sweep off the excess to level the top.

Mix together a 20% Bran flour by mixture. Use 3:1 ratio of regular bread flour to whole wheat bread flour. Mix up as much as you need in a container and use for the bread, keep to the ratio. 

*Organic flour facilitates yeast development.

You need steam at the start of the baking process to make a crunchy bread crust. Whatever method of steam production, you will need to protect yourself! (I use silicon oven mittens.) Experiment with your oven and the methods to find the one that works for you and your oven. Variations include:

  • Heated pizza stone with cast iron pot on the bottom and hot water poured in at the start of the baking (variation I use and mentioned above)
  • Cast iron pot with a flat lid for baking the bread-- heat the cast iron pot with lid used as the base heated in the oven. Place the dough onto the lid and cover immediately with the pot. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the pot top and bake for the remaining 20 or so minutes.
  • Spray bottle method-- Spritz the over with water, close the door quickly, and spritz again after 3 minutes.

Refresh Bread
You can refresh a loaf by spritzing it with water or running it quickly through the water for a quick dose. Place loaf into a hot oven 400ºF for 10 to 15 minutes. Bread can be frozen, defrosted to room temperature, and then refreshed in this manner. 

Fresh bread should be stored in a brown paper bag.

Country Loaf made with a starter sponge

1 comment :

  1. Hey, I think foreigners coming to Japan should be required to understand a bit of Japanese culture before they get here. At least they might survive the public bath better.


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