Bread (not sourdough)

Slow rise

During these difficult times, as with so many others, I find myself making bread. Unlike others, I don’t have the patience for sourdough. I do seem to have the patience for an overnight rise, but only just…

This week saw me try out a few bread experiments. Largely based on the whole “no knead” concept, but basically variations on the high-hydration bread doughs. What I’m eventually aiming for is the Roman bigne roll, similar to the Rosetta roll which is a sectioned bun with a giant air bubble in the middle. In practice the concept is like pita bread, but the objective is to induce a large bubble in the center by structure means rather than simply inflating. In the mean time, simple rustic looking breads are the order of the day.

Before I get too much further, here’s the basic recipe, by ratio.

  • 2 parts flour (all purpose or bread flour. either works)
  • 1 part water
  • 1/150 part dry yeast
  • 1/50 part salt

In my experiments, this is working out to:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt

Mix all together in a bowl. N.B, this is a very wet dough. Let rise for 12-18 or so hours. Preheat a Dutch oven with a lid in a 450° oven. Plop the dough in the pot, (I’ve been plopping it onto a piece of parchment and then dropping the parchment and all into the pot) slash the loaf (if desired, it seems to be a good idea. The loaf is going to split from the oven spring anyway, so you might as well put the split where you want it.) put the lid on, and bake, covered, for 20 minutes, then take the lid off to let it brown and continue baking until it sounds hollow when you knock on the bottom, (another 20-30 minutes.)

I’m lucky enough to have a glass lid that fits my dutch oven pot which lets me see the thing baking. One odd thing about that is that while the lid is on, it won’t brown at all, so a the 20 minute mark it’ll still be quite pale. Once the lid comes off it will brown pretty thoroughly and you might be tempted to take it out early. Ydou should resist that urge.

It is nearly impossible to let the bread cool all the way before cutting it open. which is a good reason to make two smaller loaves rather than one big one.

note: During the 12-18 hours of rising, opinions vary about manipulating the dough. More experimentation will follow, but so far, stretching it a bit and folding it in half a couple of times every couple hours seems to do it no harm, and keeps the size under control. Sort of a delicate punching down as it were. There is some contention that by stretching it you are working the starch and gluten in someway that benefits the oven spring. I haven’t tried not touching it at all, but I may yet do so. also, since I had to leave it over night, I stuck it in the fridge to retard the yeast a bit, so it wouldn’t grow unobserved, and took it back out first thing in the morning. What seems to make the biggest difference in the structure ends up being the last rising just before it goes into the oven. I’ve tried rising it in a bowl lined with a flour dusted cloth and regretted it when the dough stuck mightily to the cloth despite the flour. Just leaving it in a heap on the parchment paper that will carry it into the pot seems a better idea.

Baking it in the Dutch oven is pretty important. The point is that in the enclosed space, the moisture from the bread prevents the crust from hardening too quickly. This allows the oven spring from the internal steam to rise unhindered. You can achieve the same by having an oven full of steam, but this is an incredible pain in he ass. It can be done, but the Dutch oven means you don’t have to bother. In my first attempt I split the dough into 2 loaves, one was cooked in the dutch oven, the other was on an open pan while in the oven were a pot of boiling water, a few ice cubes on the oven bottom and had a spray bottle of water to mist the walls of the oven pretty heavily as I put the bread in. Without any of this, the loaf in the pot rose an inch and a half higher and ended with a better texture. Again, don’t waste the energy. If you haven’t got one, check your local Goodwill.

One important safety tip though. When you take the hot pot out of the oven and drop your bread into it, there will be a great temptation to reach over and pick up the lid to put it back on. Resist this unconscious temptation. Pickup the potholder first. A 450° Dutch oven lid leaves novel and interesting burn marks on your fingers. Which I can say from recent experience. Do not follow this example. If you are as stupid as me though, remember to dunk your hand into a bowl of cold (not ice) water. Ice will do more damage, just cold water, and stay in it for a few minutes. You’ll have 20 minutes before you have to take the lid off the pot, so make the most of it.

Further experimental details to follow in due course… I hear tell Diastatic Malt Powder does interesting things to the crumb structure.

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