Batch #8 is in the oven.
I never said I wasn’t a bit OC…But, you see, each time I make the dough I improve upon the method. These improvements are more to suit my needs (less mess) and tastes (taller loaves) not necessarily to meet the criteria of the “perfect” loaf of bread so there are compromises. Besides what is a ‘perfect’ loaf and in whose eyes? In part, that’s what good food is – what do you like rather than what the ‘experts’ say you should like. Food is so personal.
First some details of this batch’s recipe…I only used sour dough starter – no commercial yeast, 50% King Arthur bread flour, 50% mix of Guisto’s medium whole wheat and pumpernickel/rye meal, 2 teaspoons sea salt. (Note, these tips would work just as well with the original ¼ teaspoon of yeast.) This time, I am making two smaller loaves instead of one from the original recipe – one to give away, one to keep.
Ok, so here is what I have learned since loaf #1…
I added less water than the original recipe so ended up with the stiffest dough so far – it’s still a very sticky dough, just not as “spreading.”
I let the dough rise 20 hours in a bowl (didn’t want to get up at 5 am!) Then I ‘punched’ down the dough with a plastic spatula (dough doesn’t stick to the plastic and no dirty hands.) I let the dough rest 15 minutes in the bowl. While the dough was resting, I cut a square of parchment paper and placed on 2 aluminum pie tins – the parchment just goes to the outside edge – so an approx. 8-9″ square of parchment. I sprinkled the parchment with a light layer of semolina flour – you can use regular flour or cornmeal. I am using the pie tin to control the spread of the dough hoping to give the final bread more height – since this dough wasn’t as spreading, it might have been fine to let the final rise happen on the counter.
In any case, after the 15-minute rest, I cut the dough in half with the spatula and using well-floured hands took the dough out of the bowl. Then I shaped the dough into a round ball by tucking the sides underneath itself until the top was smooth – pinching the bottom well to make the bottom as smooth as possible too. Since this dough was stiffer, it was much easier to handle – if the dough was ‘wetter’ it would have been harder but not impossible to shape. Lastly, I placed the ball of dough on the semolina flour dusted parchment, which was sitting in the pie tin. Then I sprinkled some flour on top and used my hand to spread it evenly. I did this so the cover wouldn’t stick to the dough while it was rising – the cover being a piece of plastic wrap lightly laid on top. Plus I like the dusty look the flour gives the final baked loaf. Hey look! No messy floury counter top to scrape up!
Baking. I used a 2 1/2 qt All Clad stainless steel sauce pan and a 1 1/2 qt Pyrex clear glass casserole in a 450F oven (other people who bake at higher temps report burnt bottoms.) Another trick -I heat the oven up to 475 or 500, then turn it back down to 450. This compensates for the lost heat when I open the door and fuss with getting the dough into the pots, etc. Rack is 2nd from the bottom.
Right before putting the bread into the pot I used a new greased single edged razor to slash the top. The cut should be as horizontal as possible – in other words, don’t cut down, just cut across the top as if you were cutting a flap.
Now the fun part – transferring the bread dough to the pot. This was always the hardest part for me. The dough has been so gooey and sticky – trying to put it into a blistering hot pot without burning myself was just too much of an adrenaline rush (doc says to conserve that coritsol.) Plus the trauma to the dough of dumping it into the pot deflated the loaf so much I was getting flat loaves. Solution? I just pick up the parchment from the opposite corners (dough still on the parchment) and place the whole thing in pot – paper and all. Woohoo! The pie tins are clean so go right back into the cupboard. No mess, no fuss – and saved some cortisol.
At the 30-minute point I took off the lids…oven spring was fantastic! The prettiest loaves so far. Now I bake for another 20-30 minutes to get the nice brown crust.
These will be the last loaves for a while! P is happy though has been highly amused with my latest obsession especially when I walk around the house with flour dusted slippers.
Alrighty, when I decide to do a full size loaf, I plan to use a slightly larger ‘form’ using my 10″ saute pan instead of the pie tins to control the spread during the final rise. I’ll bake in my 6 qt All Clad stainless steel pot which is 4+” deep by 10″ in diameter. Hopefully it will stay round and have a nice spring. In case you are wondering why I am using such a hodge podge of equipment – I’m improvising with what I have on hand rather than spending bucks at WS or SLT or worse yet cluttering up the kitchen with more stuff.
So I guess I ended up with a hybrid of traditional bread making and the no-knead method.
With previous batches, I had already made the bread a tad healthier by adding whole grain flour. To add further to it’s healthfulness, I am using a sour dough for leavening – this converts much of the sugars – enough to put this bread into the complex carbohydrate category rather than the refined carbohydrate category. Plus the great advantage to a long fermentation is that it makes the bread easier to digest. My goals with batch #8 were less mess and taller loaves while still taking little time out of my day. Success? With this last loaf, I only dirtied the spoon to mix the initial dough, the bowl and the spatula. The baking pots only needed a quick dust off. Hardly any flour anywhere!
Just out of the oven the bread looks great.
I did note that the crust from the loaf baked in the glass is crunchier than the one baked in the stainless steel pot…hmm, might be adding something to my xmas wish list… I will cut into them in a hour or so.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge all the folks who posted tips and hints at Chowhound, eGullet and their own blogs. I sifted through lots of stuff in addition to browsing through a few books – The Cheese Board Collective Works and Bread Alone. Plus making a little bread here and there for the last 20+ years helped. Any how, thanks to all the bread bakers out there.
With that, I see yummy turkey sammies on fresh bread for lunch today!