Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Satisfying Loaf of Bread

The winter break is now a distance memory, but I didn't want to let it slip away entirely without reporting on a triumphant reunion of the Bread 101 team. This past spring, we co-taught a course on the science and culture of bread. We’d learned alongside our students how to corral wild yeast into leaven and we’d experimented with different flours (establishing beyond any doubt that dough made with 100% barley flour is best used for construction). The following summer we’d had the privilege of visiting the Bread Lab, described by the New York Times as "a Wonka-esque wonderland for crusty, airy-crumbed experimentation",
where we’d had an immersive course in whole wheat bread baking from the master baker, Jonathan Bethony. Since then, we’d each been rousing our bread starters on occasion and attempting to recreate Jonathan’s loaves. With practice, I felt that I’d mastered his method for folding high hydration dough to build up its gluten network while trapping its flavorful fermentation fumes. But then once I’d achieved the pillowy mound of dough from the first ferment, I would be flummoxed as to how to proceed. The correct method for shaping the dough eluded me, and even after rereading the lengthy master recipe in Chad Robertson's Tartine 3 many times, I was uncertain. Then, inevitably after I had left my somewhat mangled packet of dough in a cloth-lined bowl for its second ferment, the final transfer to a searing hot Dutch oven would be a fiasco, with a deflating flop into the pot and sad tendrils left clinging to the cloth. The bread was still delicious, but only a pale mirage of Jonathan’s masterpieces.

When the bread coven gathered in my kitchen in early January, somehow our collective wisdom freed me from puzzling over cryptic instructions and allowed my hands to recall the feeling of shaping the dough. After the first ferment, the dough simply needed to be shaped by a circular rocking movement, lifting the back of the ball, rocking forward, and allowing gravity to pull the forward edge under the ball, then rotating and repeating to create a round dome with a taut top surface. Once our loaves had been shaped, the next steps seemed natural. There was no doubt that this domed surface would become the top of the final loaf, so clearly we needed to flip the dough to letter-fold it into a bundle. As for the cloths, my friend Judith confidently dumped on such copious amounts of rice flour and rubbed it in with such vigor that the transfer to the hot pots went without a hitch.

Because none of us can resist carrying out experiments, we tried various receptacles for baking our breads, including Dutch ovens and ceramic cloches. All worked well and produced loaves that were the closest any of us had come to the the Bread Lab's exemplars. Below is the recipe we followed. We each left, loaf in hand, emboldened to keep tinkering with this recipe.

Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
recipe for 2 loaves (we made 4, I often make just 1 loaf)

1. First thing in the morning, mix together:
200 g leaven (fed the night before, mine is made with white flour)
800 g water (the leaven should float if actively fermenting)
700 g whole wheat flour
300 g while flour

2. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes to hydrate flour. Then add:
20 g salt
50 g water

3. Mix the dough well with your hands until it feels smooth and elastic. Cover to start the first ferment. Every approximately 30 minutes for the next 3-4 hours, fold the dough onto itself four times, once from each side, and then flip, following these instructions. For the last hour, we gave the dough a boost by transferring it to a slightly warm oven.

4. Once the dough has risen to about twice its starting volume, it is ready to shape for its second ferment. Lightly flour a clean work surface. Divide the dough into two with a dough scraper. Place one piece of dough on the floured surface and shape into a boule by gently but firmly lifting the back end up, rocking the ball forward, and letting the force of gravity tuck the front edge under as you rock the ball back, rotate it, and repeat again. Once you've rotated the boule 360 degrees, it should have a taut top surface. Leave it resting on the work surface (seam side down), to rest for 30 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, prepare your proofing baskets. Generously dust two muslim clothes or dish towels with rice flour and rub into the fabric. Drape the cloths over two round bowls or colanders. The cloths need not be washed between baking sessions and will become better with age.

6. Once the boules have rested, you can shape your loaves. Dusk a bit more flour on your surface. Flip the boules, seam side up. Fold each by first taking the edge farthest from you, pulling it up and over 2/3 of the rest of the dough. Repeat this with the bottom and then the left and right edges. Gently transfer each loaf, seam side up, into the prepared floured baskets. Cover with a floured cloth and let rise 3-4 hours. An hour into this second ferment, you can transfer one or both loaves to the refrigerator to bake the following day.

7. 30 minutes before you will bake your loaves, start preheating the oven to 500 degrees and place in two Dutch ovens.

8. Take one hot pot out of the oven, sprinkle the bottom with polenta, then gently flip the loaf from the proofing basket, seam side down, into the pot. Use a sharp razor or knife to slash several cuts across the top of the loaf. Cover and transfer to the oven. Repeat with the second loaf.

9. Bake for 20 minutes at 500 degrees. Turn down the temperature 450, bake another 15 minutes. Remove the top, then bake another approximately 15 minutes until the loaf is a very dark brown.

10. Transfer the baked loaf to a rack and allow to cool for as long as you can stand. Jonathan recommends 24 hours, but you will probably want to enjoy it with dinner.

1 comment:

Megs said...


I LOVE all of these recipes- they are so original and wonderful.

I love your blog!