It's worth developing an understanding of these techniques as they can be incorporated into other bread recipes, (I've adapted some to a 100% whole wheat recipe with wonderfully flavorful results) and their benefits justify the extra effort.
The poolish then becomes a separate ingredient in the final dough. (Other pre-ferments, like a pate fermente', and a biga, accomplish similar results, and differ from a poolish by varying the relative amounts of the flour and water. But, let's stick to what you need to know for this bread.)
The second technique incorporated in this recipe is a stage of thoroughly hydrating the flour used to make the bread. This is done by combining the poolish with the remaining flour and water, then letting it sit in your mixing bowl for 20-30 minutes. You'll add the remaining yeast and the salt to the final dough after this time on the counter. In bread baking, this step is called the "autolyse", a rest between the mixing and kneading the dough. This rest allows the gluten in the dough to begin developing, which can simplify the shaping of the your loaves. It also increases extensibility, which means less chances of ripping during shaping. (Though, for this particular recipe, this characteristic is less important as this bread is neither pre-shaped nor shaped, but is cut directly from the fermentation bowl, giving it a rustic look. Hence the name.) The result of this autolyse step is a more aromatic loaf, with a creamier color and more open crumb, a sweeter wheat taste, greater volume and more pronounced cuts. The term was coined by French Professor Raymond Calvel, said to be the foremost authority on french bread production, and who is credited with developing this technique.
(Dust off any of the raw flour after each fold so that it doesn't get incorporated into the loaf, because at this point it won't. It will stay raw, create streaks in the crumb, and affect the flavor in not a good way.)
Continue the fold by bringing the left side over about a third, pressing down and dusting off. At this point, your dough will be roughly rectangular, with the narrow side toward you. Bring the near edge up a third of the way, press out and dust. Finally, bring the far edge down a third, press and dust.
The dough will be squared at this point. The side on the bench is the top, so it's sitting bottom up. Place the dough back in the bowl, top down, to continue the bulk fermentation step.
The last trick for this bread is steam. Using steam for the initial part of the baking cycle helps oven spring, and promotes development of a crisp, crunchy crust. For the home oven, you can get a pretty good result by arranging the racks so that one is on the bottom level, and the other is in the middle. Put a small cast iron pan on the bottom rack. If you're using a baking stone, place it on the middle rack, leaving about an inch space all the way around. Preheat the oven with the stone and pan in place for about half an hour. About five minutes before baking, put 3 ice cubes in the cast iron pan to "moisten" the oven, and put a kettle of water on to come to a boil. If you've timed it right, when you're ready to put the loaves in to bake the ice will have evaporated and the cast iron pan will be very hot. After putting your loaf in to bake, pour a cup of the boiling water into the cast iron pan for the steam production. Be careful! The goal here is to produce a burst of steam, so wearing an oven mitt might not be a bad idea.
Steam only works its magic early in the baking cycle. Once the crust begins to brown, the steam loses its effect. So, I usually check the loaves after about 10 minutes and, if they're browning, I "open the vent" to finish the loaves off in dry heat. Wedging a metal spoon on the side of the door accomplishes this very well. Just remember that the spoon will get hot, so wear an oven mitt when taking it out. And, don't forget it's there or you'll be picking it up off the floor (Several times! Personal experience.)
Well, it seems like it's time to get to the actual recipe, so here goes. First I'd like to give credit where due. This recipe is adapted from a wonderfully informative book, Bread—A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes. The author is Jeffrey Hamelman, a Certified Master Baker, who (at the time the book was written,) had about 30 years of professional experience as a baker and teacher. It includes a good bit of background information, historical tidbits, lots of recipes, and chapters on dough handling techniques, including methods of creating some intricately braided, beautiful loaves and even more intricate show pieces.
Okay! Now it's really time to get to the recipe.
3 5/8 cups/1 lb (454 g) bread flour
2 cups/1 lb (454 g) water
1/4 teaspoon (1.25 ml) active dry yeast
3 5/8 cups/1 lb (454 g) bread flour
3/4 cup (177 ml) water
all of the poolish
1 tablespoon (15 ml) kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons (7.5 ml) active dry yeast
1. Sprinkle the yeast over warm (about 100°F/38°C) water and let it start to bloom. Add in the flour and mix until a smooth consistency. The bowl should be large enough to allow for the volume of the mixture to expand two to three times. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it sit on the counter for 12-16 hours. Ideal ambient temperature is about 70°F/21°C.
2. Now comes the autolyse step. When the poolish is ripened, put it in your mixing bowl. Add in the final dough flour and water, holding back the salt and yeast. Mix on low speed until the ingredients come together. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 20-30 minutes.
3. When the mixture has rested, sprinkle the reserved yeast and salt over the dough, and turn your mixer on to the second speed, mixing until the dough is well developed. I like to knead dough. It feels good, and it lets me know how the gluten is developing. So I mix the dough until it comes together fairly well, then I dust my counter and hands, and finish by kneading until it "feels right." For this dough, that means that it feels smooth and supple, not stiff, rather on the looser side. At the point that you're done kneading the dough, the smooth side should be on the counter, and the "seams" will be facing up. The smooth side becomes the top or good side of the dough. This carries through for the rest of the time you handle any dough—fermentation, folding, pre-shaping, shaping, proofing and baking. I found that following this little practice helps your final loaves look great and makes it easier to close the seams.
4. Turn the dough into a lightly oiled/greased bowl, top down. I use a very thin coat of butter for my bowl. Total fermentation time is 70 minutes. Fold the dough at the 25 and 50 minute marks.
5. This is the step in the recipe that gives your final loaf its rustic look. Lightly flour a baker's linen. (A lightly floured, smooth kitchen towel works well also. You'll need to flour an area large enough to give your loaves room to proof- final rise before baking. I put my towel on a sheet pan for easier handling, and since I make 2 loaves per batch, I just flour the part of the towel that is actually covering the sheet pan.) Turn your dough out onto your bench gently, again, top down.
6. You want to minimize how much you handle the dough from this point on, to maintain the open and airy cell structure which has developed during fermentation. The more you handle it, the more you'll compact the cell structure.
7. The turned out dough will be roughly squared in shape. For two loaves, I divide the dough in half with one or two cuts using a bench knife, so the final shape is roughly a rectangle. You can see from the photos what I mean by roughly. Since I'm not producing the bread for sale, I don't worry about whether the pieces are of equal weights. A method for scaling the dough to equal weights is explained in Mr. Hamelman's book. If you wanted to do more, smaller loaves, you could continue cutting rectangular pieces. Just remember that the more you handle the dough, the more you affect the cell structure.
8. Gently place the loaves top down on the floured linen and cover with plastic wrap. Final proof 20- 25 minutes, ambient temperature of about 76°F/24°C.
|The Family that Cooks together...|
10. Season your peel, or prep your sheet pan/parchment. I use rice flour to season the peel, but corn meal could work as well. By seasoning, I mean rubbing a light coat of flour or meal on the peel, so that the loaves slide off easily onto the stone. Parchment doesn't need to be "seasoned."
11. When your loaves are done proofing, moisten your oven and boil your water. Remove the plastic wrap and gently flip the loaves onto your peel or parchment. I do this by pulling on the linen and bringing the loaf to the edge of the sheet pan on which its been proofing. When at the edge, I either flip it with my hand or by pulling it over the edge with the linen. The flip leaves the loaves top side up, with a light dusting of flour, which adds to the rustic look.
12. Just before the bake, slash the top with one cut and slide the loaves onto your stone or put your sheet pan/parchment in the oven.
13. Add the boiling water for the steam, and set your timer for 10 minutes. Total bake time will vary based on the size of the loaves that you made, and on the actual temperature of your oven. My oven runs hot at times, so I check at regular intervals, based on how the loaves are progressing. My oven also has hot spots which affect how the loaves brown, so I move the loaves around to even this out. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 200°F/93°C, or until the crust is richly browned and the loaf sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom.
14. Cool at least 2 hours, then enjoy this delicious bread. Have your first piece naked (the bread, not you!) so you can appreciate its richness and complexity. Then add your favorite topping or spread for a slice of heaven—pun intended.
One point I want to emphasize is that this recipe allows you to make a luscious bread with roughly 3 hours work on bake day, and about 5 minutes the day before prepping the poolish. A modest investment, with excellent returns.
There you have it. Hope you like it.
The Bread Guy