Sunday, March 28, 2010

Improved Delicious, Crusty Bread

I had no complaints about my Delicious, Crusty Bread recipe, and I still think it makes a damn fine loaf. However, I got a few tips from Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day book by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois--the successor to their artisan bread book.

I learned two signficant things that changed my base recipe. One is that whole wheat flour is not 5 ounces to the cup, as I had been using. No, it's only 4.5 ounces per cup. That made a big change in my bread texture. The other is the use of wheat gluten to give a boost to a loaf that uses as much whole grain as I like to use. I had experimented with wheat gluten before, thanks to an old Alton Brown episode, but hadn't bothered to stick with it. While I think that a good largely whole grain loaf can be produced without extra wheat gluten, it does enhance the texture and give the dough more staying power in the fridge (since using the starter can make the dough more temperamental than when using yeast). I have made it a regular addition to my new everyday loaf.

I also switched up the order of the wet and dry ingredients, as Hertzberg and Francois do. I make sure to mix the warm water and starter together before adding to the flour, though, to ensure it's evenly distributed.

This same basic dough also works beautifully for bagels.

1 lb 9 oz whole wheat flour
2.5 oz rye flour
7.5 oz all-purpose white flour
1/4 c. or 1 3/8 oz vital wheat gluten (it's a powder and I don't think you could buy an un-vital kind)
2 TBSP kosher or Maldon salt
3 1/2 cups water
1 cup sourdough starter (the batter-like kind)

  1. You'll need a clean 6 qt container that is not absolutely airtight. I use a Rubbermaid 'Servin' Saver' 6 qt square container and have been very happy with it
  2. Put the container on your scale and zero it out
  3. Add the flours, wheat gluten and salt each in turn, zeroing out the scale after every addition
  4. Give the mixture a good whisk to distribute the gluten
  5. In a large measuring cup, mix the warm water (be sure it's not too warm or it'll kill the starter) and the starter
  6. Pour into the dry ingredients
  7. Use a large wooden spoon to mix the flours into the water. You are not aiming to knead the dough and you should expect a pretty wet dough. After I mix as much as I can with the spoon, I went my hands and mix the dough with them until the flour is incorporated. Again, you're not kneading, you just don't want dry and wet patches
  8. Place the lid on the container loosely and put the dough in the fridge for a day. Using the starter makes the rising take longer but the flavor is superb. You can speed things up slightly by leaving the dough out at room temperature for 8 hours.
  9. You know your dough is active when you see air bubbles in it and it has risen. I almost never try to make a loaf until the next day
  1. Grease a medium bowl (ideally with a flat bottom that doesn't slope too much--I use a large souffle dish that looks like an oversized ramekin). You can use oil, but I've started using cooking spray as it is so much easier than fiddling with a pastry brush or paper towels.
  2. Then sprinkle cornmeal in the greased bowl and shake out the excess into the sink.
  3. Remove the dough container from fridge and sprinkle with all-purpose flour
  4. Grab a grapefruit-sized chunk of dough from the container
  5. Working quickly, shape into a flattened ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you do this (that's nearly verbatim from the book but is still hard to explain until you've done it)
  6. Place in the greased bowl
METHOD ONE--Cold rise all day
This method is great when you have a few minutes in the morning before leaving the house for a long time
  1. Following the steps above, put the dough in the fridge for at least 6 hours and up to a day (or even two--we've been very lax about the baking and it's been fine). Go to BAKING steps below
METHOD TWO--Quick Rise
This method works well when you're pottering around the house and forgot to shape the loaf earlier. The whole-wheat gluten-enhanced loaf works particularly well with this quicker method.
  1. Following the steps above, leave the dough out at room temperature for at least 1 1/2 hours. Go to BAKING steps below

  1. Thirty minutes before you want to bake the bread (but at least an hour before you want to eat the bread), preheat the oven to 450 degrees. You want the rack in the middle, preferably with a baking stone on it (hence the preheating for so long). A second rack should have a broiler tray or something that can hold water.
  2. Boil 1 cup of water or have really hot water from the tap and have it ready by the oven.
  3. Right before you want to put the bread in the oven, get out a baking peel. Sprinkle with cornmeal and turn the dough out onto it.
  4. Alternative: turn dough out onto a baking tray with Silpat or baking parchment on it. The crust won't be as nice, but it's foolproof in terms of getting the loaf into the oven intact.
  5. Sprinkle the dough with all-purpose flour and slash it a few times (in an X pattern or a # pattern--whatever seems appealing to you)
  6. Working quickly, slide the loaf onto the hot baking stone and then put the hot water onto the broiler tray. The steam will help to create a crackling crust that will 'sing' at you when you remove from the oven. Close the oven.
  7. Bake loaf for approximately 20-25 minutes or until it is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Depending on the size of your loaf, you may need to adjust baking time.
  8. Allow to cool as long as possible before eating (we try to wait half an hour at least if we can--the internal texture is much nicer if you wait; if you rush it, it just gets gummy)
  9. Serve and enjoy. We like it plain or with French cultured butter. I love buying local foods, but I have not found a US butter that can remotely compare with Celles Sur Belle French butter.

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