Enrique is now about a month old and smelling mature. Some days he smells like vinegar and others like overripe fruit.
This loaf isn’t actually my first country bread. I tried to bake the country bread when my starter was about two weeks old. Me being impatient yet again. The bread tasted lovely but Enrique just wasn’t old enough. The loaf didn’t develop enough gluten during its rise and ended up spreading and being very flat.
Chad Robertson (the owner of the bakery Tartine) uses a ‘no knead’ method. Instead of mixing your dough, kneading, proving, knocking back and proving again (like a typical bread recipe), Chad explains that if your dough has a long rising time, it develops its own gluten without manual kneading. All you need to do is wet your hand and lift the bottom of the dough over the top, giving it folds, every half hour. This creates tension in the dough and stretched the gluten strands.
By leaving the dough for such a long time, pockets of gas are released. These will later create the perfect sourdough crumb; lots of small holes left indented in the crumb along with a few bigger ones.
One other amazing home innovation that Chad has come across, is baking bread in a dutch combo oven. The problem with baking bread at home is that its hard to create steam in your home oven similar to a steam injected commercial oven. By adding in steam at the beginning of baking bread, it allows your loaf to rise for longer before the crust sets. Therefore giving you more oven spring (holey interior) caused by the burst of heat and steam. (Steam also gives you a chewy crust.)
So how do you recreate this at home? A dutch combo oven of course! A combo cooker can range from a Le Creuset casserole pot to one like mine; a cast iron shallow skillet with a deep skillet lid.
First you pre-heat your oven with your combo oven inside so it gets nice and toasty. Once everything is pre-heated, you turn your dough into the pan, slash the top and bake with the lid on for the first 20 minutes. Then, take the lid off and continue to cook so that the crust can set.
This lengthy process does make the task of baking bread a little longer but the end results are so worth it. It sounds all technical, but it really isn’t. Once you’ve baked your first loaf, you’ll understand; both the logic behind it and the obsession.
In terms of flavour, this bread is what it says it is; a basic country loaf. The taste is sour and complex; changing as you chew. The crumb was spongy and moist along with a chewy thin crust. Since this loaf, I’ve made an Olive loaf and a Wholemeal Gruyère one. The Olive loaf was ah-mazing. Seriously good. I bought it into work and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. The Wholemeal Gruyère is still sitting in my kitchen cooling down.
It smells bloody delicious. It’s pretty damn hard to resist.
*Recipe from Tartine Bread
Leaven – night before
- 1/2 tbsp mature starter (I often use more than this to give a more sour taste)
- 100g flour (half wholemeal, half white flour)
- 100g warm water
- 100g leaven
- 375g warm water
- 450g strong white flour
- 50g wholemeal flour, plus more for dusting
- 10g sea salt
The night before
- Mix all of the Leaven ingredients together and leave overnight, covered with a cloth. You can discard any leftover starter as the leftover leaven will become your starter.
- In the morning, your starter should have increased by 20% in volume. Place a small amount in water; if it floats, its ready.
On the day
- Take a large bowl and pour in 350g of the warm water in. Measure out 100g of your leaven (make sure not to use it all by mistake as this is your starter!) and mix into the water until dispersed. Add in both flours and mix with a dough scraper until completely incorporated. The dough should have a shaggy appearance.
- Cover and leave the dough to rest for 25-40 minutes. This allows the flour to swell and absorb the water.
- Next, add in the sea salt and the leftover 25g of water. Squish the salt into the dough with your hands. The dough will begin to fall apart, just continue to mix and it will come back together.
- Once the dough has been thoroughly mixed, cover and place in a warm place for 30 minutes. Wet your hand and fold the dough over itself by grabbing the underside of the dough and folding up and over the rest. Repeat this 3 or 4 times, rotating around the bowl. Continue to do this every half hour for 3 – 4 hours. The dough will increase by 20% and become very soft and billowy. In the last hour, you’ll have to be more careful in folding so that you don’t knock any air out of the dough.
- Scrap the dough out onto a well floured work surface. Start by moving your dough round in circular motions with a dough scraper and your hand. Begin to tuck the dough under itself to create tension and a tight round shape. (Still being careful not to knock the dough too much.) Once the initial shaping is done, cover with a cloth and rest for 20-30 minutes. The dough should spread but not into a pancake shape; it should still have rounded sides.
- After having its bench rest, uncover the dough, flour the top and flip over so that the floured top is now facing down on the work bench. Flour your hands and take the top 3rd of the loaf. Pull it back over itself so that it folds into the middle. Next, take one side and do the same, then do the same with the other side. (You’re creating a neat little package. It’s like folding all four sides of a piece of paper into the centre.) Finally, pull the bottom over all of the flaps and pat it so that you have a tight parcel.
- Place a cloth into a proving basket (or a bowl) and flour well. Place the shaped dough into the basket with the smooth bottom (which was facing the work surface) down so that the messy package side is facing up. Cover and leave to the dough to either: prove for 3-4 hours at room temperature or prove for 8-10 hours in the fridge.
- Note: if your dough is quite wet and not holding its shape well, leave the dough to rest again and shape another time to ensure good tension and shape.
- Pre-heat the oven to 260C about 30 minutes before baking. Place your dutch combo oven into the oven (lid off but still in the oven) so that it can pre-heat as well. When you are ready to bake, take the base of your combo oven out and flour. Turn your proved bread into the base and slash using a razor blade or a very sharp knife. Be very careful of your hands and arms here (especially if using a deep casserole pot); remember, the pan (and handle) is very hot!
- Place the lid on top of the base and put back into the oven. Reduce the temperature to 230C and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, take the lid off and continue to cook for another 20 minutes. Bake until the crust is a rich, deep, golden brown. (The more you bake out your bread, the longer it lasts!)
- Turn out of the pan (still hot remember) and leave to cool standing on its side on the counter. This allows the air to circulate around the bread. The base of the bread should sound hollow when tapped.
- Listen closely to the loaf once out of the oven and hear it singing and crackling as it cools down.
- Night before: mix leaven (around 11pm)
- 11am – Mix dough and rest until 11:40 am
- 11:40am – Add salt and rest of water
- 11:45am – Cover and leave to prove
- 11:15am – First fold (continue to fold every 30 minutes for 3 hours)
- 2:15 pm – Tip dough onto work surface and complete first shape
- 2:25 pm – Rest for 25 minutes
- 2:50 pm – Final shaping
- 3 pm – Cover and leave to prove for 3 hours
- 5:30 pm – Pre-heat over and combo cooker
- 6 pm – Bake Bread
- 6:40 pm – Finished Loaf