Have you ever smelled fresh bread baking? The heady aroma like nothing else in the world. I urge you to walk into your local bakery if you have not yet had the pleasure.
Baking Bread. I won’t even pretend to be proficient in this. I could spend my entire life baking only bread, and still find that I have yet to learn everything. Making bread can be easy. Making good bread, much harder. Making great bread? Harder still. Like all good things, bread takes time and can be unpredictable as it is a living thing. Our use of yeast brings it to life. This particular recipe starts with poolish–a pre-ferment made with equal parts water and flour. A poolish gives your finished product an unbelievable texture and well-developed taste that is almost unachievable in a straight dough production. I’m going to go ahead and tell you now, seeing as it’s my first post, to go ahead and purchase a kitchen scale. There is no excuse for not having one when you can easily acquire one for about $10. I would recommend a digital scale that allows for the use of grams–this will be paramount in my coming recipes as most are written in grams for precise measuring.
I start my poolish with tepid water (around 75 degrees F) and flour with about 1/8 teaspoon of yeast, mixed with my hands in a plastic 6 quart container. If you do not have something like this, a deep plastic tupperware dish could work. However, if you’d like one for future bread endeavors you can find the one I used here (I also purchased the according lid). The poolish develops at room temperature for 24 hours at which point it will be very bubbly and tripled in size.
Next, our remaining flour, water, and yeast are mixed with the poolish to form a wet dough (using a bit of extra flour is okay to keep it from being unmanageably sticky). This is then covered again and every 4 hours I add folds to the dough to help create it’s internal structure. Imagine that we are weaving a three dimensional web of gluten as a frame for the shape of our bread. Without this step, when we shape our loaf, the structure won’t allow the dough to hold its shape and you will end up with some very flat bread. Now, a fold is like folding a napkin together from one edge to another. If I am looking at my dough in my plastic container from above, I will reach towards the twelve o’clock position, place my hand under that side of the dough, stretch it until there is resistance and fold it to the six o’clock position. I always have a bowl of water nearby to wet my hand so that the dough doesn’t stick to me. I will repeat myself 3-4 more times continuing around the clock. You will find that with each fold, the dough holds itself into a tighter ball. I allow for a few hours between each set of folds.
When I think about a lot of the other bread doughs that I’ve made in the past, so many of them require much kneading and mixing to create a tighter crumb. This bread by comparison is very little work stretched over a significant amount of time. We want a nice, airy crumb for our bread. After 10ish hours of bulk fermenting (fermentation before shaping or portioning), we are going to shape our loaf. Gently turn your dough out onto a floured work surface. Our goal is to shape the dough into a medium-tight ball to preserve all the gases we’ve trapped which will create pockets of air in our bread. Dust the top of the dough with flour (remember, the dough is very sticky), and use similar folding techniques from above to pull the dough into a tight, medium sized ball. I like to proof my dough in banneton basket (find yours here), however you can use a medium sized metal mixing bowl as well. We want whatever shape we proof the dough in to lend to the final shape of our bread, hence choosing something wide, not too deep, and curved will help our bread be the quintessential boule shape.
I like to proof my breads in the fridge as it gives the shaped dough a tighter structure which is less likely to lose its shape once turned out for baking. Dust whatever you are proofing your dough in very well and place the shaped dough into the basket seam side up (the seam is where we brought all our folds together while shaping). Cover with plastic wrap, or if you’re like me you can just put the whole thing in a gallon ziplock bag. After about 2 hours, the dough will be almost doubled in size. While your dough is proofing, it’s time to preheat your oven to 500 degrees F. I bake my bread in a 4 qt Dutch oven from Lodge. I like this particular shape as it is not too wide and thus my bread is taller and rounder. Throw your dutch oven in while the oven is preheating and then give it another 30 minutes to ensure that it’s evenly heated.
If you’re very brave, you can lower your proofed dough into the hot dutch oven with solely the use of your hands, but I’m kind of a wuss and prefer to use a sheet of parchment paper. Tear a 15×15″ square of parchment and gently turn your dough out onto the sheet so that the seam side is now down. If you want to score your bread, you can. I use a lame, or a thin razor blade attached to a handle. Pull your dutch oven out of the oven and gently, and carefully, lower the shaped loaf into the dutch oven. Cover, return to the oven and bake for about 25 minutes. I like to then uncover it and bake for another 20 minutes or so until everything is medium brown and your home smells like heaven. Remove the boule from the dutch oven and cool on a rack for 20 minutes before slicing and enjoy the gentle crackling sound as your bread adjusts to the ambient temperature.
I realize that this is an ambitious recipe to start out on, but I want to continue to challenge myself and challenge you to try new things that you possibly thought were out of reach. They aren’t. Nothing is if you’re willing to dive into each new endeavor with passion and determination. I hope you guys will continue to hang around for the ride, hopefully with some freshly baked bread nearby from here on out.
makes one boule loaf
260 g Bread Flour (I like King Arthur)
260 g tepid water (around 75 degrees F)
.7 g (about 1/8 teaspoon) active dry yeast
310 g Bread Flour
110 g water
3 g yeast
12 g sea salt or kosher salt
1. Mix your poolish ingredients together in a large plastic container such as a 6 qt cambro. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 12 hours.
2. Mix in remaining flour, water and yeast by hand. Once mixed, add salt and mix in. Cover and let sit 2-3 hours. Apply 4 folds and cover. Repeat 3 more times every 45 minutes.
3. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and dust the top with flour. Fold edges together to to form a medium-tight ball and place in a well-dusted proofing basket or bowl. Cover and place in the fridge for 2 hours or overnight is best.
4. While waiting for the dough to proof, preheat your oven and a dutch oven or cast iron covered pan. Once heated, remove the dutch oven. Turn your proofed dough out onto a parchment paper sheet, score if so desired, and gently lower the dough into the dutch oven. Cover and bake for 25 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake for 15-20 minutes or until the loaf is medium brown. Remove bread from dutch oven and cool on a rack for 20 minutes before slicing.