My journey into bread baking is far from over. However, I have come across a recipe and method that has yielded exactly what I have been aiming for up to this point.
Big bubbly crumb – check
Chewy moist interior – check
Crisp and crackly crust – check
Nuanced and deep flavor – check
I shall continue to refine this recipe to my equipment and taste preference. I will also delve back into the land of wild yeast and sourdough starters.
For now, though, my latest and greatest comes from the venerable Peter Reinhart via his book The Baker’s Apprentice. It is also, as I’ve come to find out, featured in numerous other posts with slight variations across the blogosphere. This is a great book providing me with some new and interesting information to take my bread onto the next level. If you like to bake bread or want to bake bread, I would recommend this book to you.
So here it is:
Pain à l’Ancienne
27 oz Bread Flour (I mistakingly used an Organic All-Purpose flour from the bulk bin at Whole Foods instead. I really like the flavor of the finished bread so I’ve kept using that flour in place of or for at least half of the called for bread flour.)
.6 oz Kosher Salt
.2 oz Instant Yeast
19-24 oz Cold Water (I usually use 20 ounces)
The evening before you plan to bake:
Weigh out the water in a quart measuring cup, then add some ice. 8 cubes?
In a medium bowl combine flour, salt, and yeast. Then, add 20 ounces of water. Stir it around to combine. When you’ve got a dough ball of sorts (it is a wet dough), continue to stir/fold for another few minutes. I think of it as kneading with a spoon. You’re looking for the dough to more or less easily pull away from the sides of the bowl when you’re stirring it. It will stick to the bottom. If the dough is not coming away from the sides add a bit more flour and work it in so that it is a little less sticky. In the unlikely event that your dough forms a non-sticky ball that holds its shape really well, add more water, a couple tablespoons at a time.
Spray another medium/large bowl with a cooking spray or rub with a little olive oil. Transfer the dough to this bowl and spray the top of it or if using oil, you can attempt to roll it around or just not worry about it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.
The next morning, remove the dough from the refrigerator. It might have puffed slightly. Let it rest at room temperature for 2-4 hours to take out the chill and allow the dough to swell to about double it’s pre-refrigerated volume.
Ready to proceed to the next step? Then, position your bread stone and a pan for a steam bath in your oven. Preheat it to at least 500F, if your oven goes higher then feel free to preheat as hot as 550F. My oven goes to 525, so that’s where I charge it.
For the shaping, gently turn the dough out onto a well floured surface. Sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough and lightly roll it around to coat it thoroughly while trying to degas the dough as little as you can. Stretch and lightly shape into a rectangle 8 inches x 6 inches. Using a pastry cutter dipped in cold water, press down into the dough to cut it in half width-wise. Let the it rest for 5 minutes.
Line the back of a sheet pan with parchment paper sprinkled with semolina flour.
Cover one half loosely with plastic wrap. With the other half, lightly press it into a rough rectangle of relatively even thickness, cut length-wise into 3 strips with the same pressing down of the wet pastry cutter technique. Gently transfer the strips onto the parchment stretching/pulling them to about the length of the pan. If they shrivel back up right away, let them rest for another 5 minutes and pull them out again. Score the tops of these if the dough cooperates with you.
After the oven has preheated for at least 45 minutes, slide the parchment off of the sheet pan onto the bread stone. Add a cup of hot water to the steam bath pan and close up the oven. 3o seconds later spray the walls of the oven with water from a spray bottle. Do that another two times at 30 second intervals and then lower the heat to 475F.
While those are baking, prepare the other 3 strips using the remaining half of dough.
Check in 8-9 minutes of baking to see if the loaves are browning evenly. You may want to give them a 180 degree turn.
Continue baking for another 10-15 minutes or until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 205F. Cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes. Turn the oven back up to 500-550F, let it heat for at least 20 minutes before proceeding with baking the remaining loaves.