Bread Porn - Nov 2011

Some pictures from last months baking.

One of the things I am working on is a post comparing different brands of flour.  The picture above is part of the research and is a baguette with a poolish pre-ferment made from Pillsbury Best Unbleached All Purpose Flour.  I still have a couple of more brands to test but look for a post after the new year.

Some chocolate bread using a recipe from my SFBI workshop and Two-Castle Rye from Advanced Bread and Pastry modified using a hand mix procedure.

Lastly, some late season raspberry-cranberry jam.  


Bread Porn - Aug/Sep/Oct 2011

It's been a while since my last post.  Collecting materials for a couple of articles, but here is some bread porn from the last couple of months.

Some challah with some yellow raisins baked into the strands and a variation of pan bread with some whole wheat flour.

Some Two-Castle Rye from Advanced Bread and Pastry.

Some spelt-rye miche.  The two on the left were baked using the iron dutch-oven method from Tartine Bread and the larger one on the right was baked on a stone with steam. 

Some Cranberry-Fennel Rye, a variation of the same using figs and anise seeds, and some baguettes using flour from Central Milling.

Some hand mixed 3-Seed sourdough.

Some baguettes and a Prune-Orange Rye

Some walnut rye from Bread.


Book Review - Bread

Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes by Jeffrey Hamelman, Wiley, 2004

If there was an American qualified to pull off a book simply titled “Bread”, Jeffrey Hamelman would be on the short list.  He is the director of the Bakery and Baking Education Center for King Arthur Flours and was at one time captain of the Baking Team USA that competed in the “Bread Olympics” in Paris which took first place in 1999.  Suffice to say, he knows a thing or two about the art of baking and his command of the topic comes through in his book Bread.

Like Peter Reinhart's BBA, Jeffery Hamelman spends the first quarter of Bread talking about the theory and method of baking bread.  In contrast with BBA, the discussion is clearly targeted for a baking technician, but is still very approachable for a home baker with some experience.  I especially enjoy his presentation on flour and the different grains used to make bread.

Of the cookbooks I have read, Bread presents an exceptional array of formula covering the entire spectrum of bread with especially strong sourdough and rye offerings.  Each formula presents both a “home” and commercial version.  The process associated with each formula is clearly presented and I have yet to find a flaw with any I have attempted.

In addition to general overview at the beginning of Bread, Jeffery also presents dedicated sections to the unique techniques needed to bake sourdough and high percentage rye breads.  Later in the book there is an excellent section on forming braided breads which I constantly refer back to.  This is also one of the rare books that has a section on making decorative breads.  While I have not tried it, making a basket out of bread would be an interesting project.

Bread is the book I used when I started working with sourdough.  His “Five-Grain Levain” and “Sourdough Seed Bread” are regulars on my weekly bakes.  His “Sourdough Rye with Walnuts” is also excellent and a good place to try out the techniques specific to rye breads.  After two years, I still routinely turn to Jeffery’s masterpiece.  My only grumble with Bread is the lack of pictures.  There are color pictures at places that show the final result for the critical breads but I do feel it detracts a bit from an otherwise exceptional book.

While not the best book for a person first starting out, it is the book you will want when casual baking turns into a weekly routine.  If I was being sent to a prison colony on a far away island, this is the book I would try and sneak along.


Bread Porn - June 2011

Summer is the time when I dial back the baking.  When it is 90 out, you don't want to heat up an oven.  All the same, a couple of successful bakes did happen.

Some challah and a simple multi-grain recipe that I am working on for a future blog post.

Some cinnamon raisin-walnut bread.


French County Bread in a Fancy Shape

I like a crusty loaf of creamy white bread as much if not more than most people.  However there are those, usually with letters after their name, that say we should eat more whole grains.  “I make joke!”  I am a big proponent of the use of whole grains and especially rye in breads.  Aside from the health benefits, whole grains add a depth of flavor that is not possible with a highly refined flour.  

There are many recipes for “Country French” or Pain de Campagne.  This is my version and builds on the basic French bread of a previous post by substituting whole wheat and whole rye flour for some of the white flour.  It is usually pretty easy to take any recipe that has all white flour and add up to 15% by weight of whole grains without much change.  You will usually only need to increase the amount of water to compensate for the higher absorption characteristics of the whole grain flour.  One other quick note about using whole grain flour.  Make sure you are using fresh whole grain flour.  The natural oils it contains will go rancid after a couple of months.  Unless you are going to use the flour in 3 months or so, you should freeze it.  

A country bread dough like this can be used much like a basic white bread dough and formed into a free standing bâtard or other standard shape.  However, there is a tradition in France where breads are formed into different regional shapes which can be very decorative for a table setting or dinner party.  This past holiday season, I was asked to bring bread to dinner and I made several couronne Bordelaise which translates into “Bordeaux crown”.  I used the excellent blog post at the Wild Yeast site as a starting point for the shaping procedure I present below.      

Preparing the Dough

The procedure to prepare the dough is the same as my procedure for making a basic French bread.  Follow the same instructions for making the preferment, mixing and fermentation using the following recipe. 

Poolish Preferment
4.90 oz Unbleached Bread Flour (Gold Medal Better For Bread) *
1.65 oz Whole Wheat Flour **
6.50 oz Water (room temperature)
Pinch (scant 1/16 tsp) Instant Yeast

Final Dough
4.45 oz Unbleached Bread Flour (Gold Medal Better For Bread) *
9.10 oz Unbleached All Purpose Flour (Gold Medal Unbleached All Purpose) *
1.65 oz Whole or Dark Rye Flour **
9.35 oz Water (room temperature)
⅜ Tsp Instant Yeast
0.45 oz Non-Iodized Salt
All of the Poolish Preferment

Additional Ingredients
Extra flour for dusting
Spray oil
1 cup ice cubes

* As with the basic French bread, If you use King Arthur flours, use the All Purpose type for all the flour in the recipe.
** Any whole wheat and dark rye would do but I use Hodgson Mill stone ground whole wheat graham style flour and stone ground rye which is a pumpernickel style for added texture in this recipe.  

This recipe will make enough dough for 2 free standing bâtards or 1 couronne Bordelaise.  If you want bâtards, follow the rest of the basic French bread procedure with the only modification of bake for a total of 45 to 50 minutes.  Due to the higher hydration, you need to bake a little longer.  If you are up for a little extra work, my procedure for making a couronne Bordelaise follows.  

Forming a Couronne Bordelaise

Before embarking on a couronne Bordelaise, some thought has to be given to how you are going to proof it.  As Susan of Wild Yeast points out, you could blow a bunch of cash and get a purpose made proofing banneton.  I don’t have one but I have used her other method of improvising one using a dish towel draped over a shallow bowl with a small upturned bowl in the center.  It works well but I only have one suitable shallow bowl.  However, I stumbled upon a third option while wandering around the housewares section of a local hardware store.  The store carried an inexpensive plastic party dish for holding chips with an small bowl in the center for holding dip.

Assuming you can find a similar dish, you will want to take a small dish towel or maybe even some newspaper to fill in the inner dish.  If you cannot find a similar party dish, I suggest you use the two bowl method from the Wild Yeast post.  In either case, drape a clean lint free dish towel over the whole thing and try and make it as smooth as possible in the depression.

NOTE - At this point, preheat your oven with a baking stone as if you were making regular French bread.

Using a small hand sieve, lightly dust the inside with some white flour to prevent the dough from sticking.  I like to also sprinkle some coarse graham flour on top of the white flour to give the eventual surface of the bread some texture but this is optional.

When the dough is ready to divide, weigh out one piece at 6 oz and the rest should divide up into nine 3.5 oz pieces.  Form into rough balls, cover with cling wrap, and let rest for 15 minutes. 

After the dough has rested, start by taking the 6 oz piece of dough and placing it on a floured surface.  Degas and start to shape into a flat disk which will form the “collar” to hold the crown together.  Using a rolling pin, flatten to a disk about 11” in diameter.  You can be generous with the flour to prevent sticking.  As before, I use some graham flour at this point to give the collar some exterior texture but this is optional.    

After you have rolled out the disk, dust with flour and using the end of the rolling pin or another blunt object, feather the edge all around the disk.  Later when the bread bakes, this will crisp up to give the distinctive lip all the way around.  When done, carefully roll onto the rolling pin to transfer to the proofing form.  Unroll and adjust the disk so it is centered in the form and extends well into the depression bottom evenly around.  

NOTE - Take care to keep the edge of the collar dry.  If it gets wet, it will stick and not form a lip during baking.    

At this point, take a pastry brush with a little water and wet the inner “hill” of the collar.  This will help to bond the rest of the crown to the collar.  Degas and form the 3.5oz pieces of dough into tight balls and place evenly around the collar to form the crown.  To help with spacing, I start out by evenly spacing 3 of the pieces and then filling in the rest.  For this crown, the inside of the collar ends up being a little to large so I take a kitchen shears and remove a circle of dough from the top of the "hill".  This will make it easier when you form the tabs.  With the pastry brush, dab the top of each ball of dough with a little water.  Using the kitchen shears again, cut evenly spaced tabs from the collar and fold each over onto the crown.  Cover with cling wrap and proof for 30 to 45 minutes.  

As with my French bread recipe, the bread will be proofed when it passes the dimple test.  When ready, place a piece of parchment paper on top of the proofing basket and then place a baking sheet on top of that.  Invert the stack to transfer the bread to the baking sheet.  Carefully remove the dish towel and dust off any excess flour with a dry pastry brush.  Place in preheated oven on baking stone, add pan of ice for steam and bake for a total of 45 minutes, rotating the bread half way through.  

Once out of the oven, let cool for about 1 hour before serving.  The bread should have a nice crust with a chewy texture to the crumb.  The result pictured above shows what happens if the collar gets a bit wet at the edge.  It won’t separate as it bakes, leading to an uneven lip.  However that is part of baking bread.  You share the results with friends and try again.  


Book Review - Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads

Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor by Peter Reinhart, Ten Speed Press, 2007

Whole Grain Breads is another of Peter’s offerings and a bit overshadowed in my opinion by The Bread Baker's Apprentice (BBA).  Given the healthy benefits of eating more whole grains, this book allows a person to bake tasty and healthy breads with minimal fuss.  He has an interesting presentation on bread at a TED affiliated event shortly after the book came out that is worth a look and gives a sense of his goals for the book.

The book has a nice narrative that outlines his motivation of the book and then a presentation that is similar in structure to the one in BBA for the process of making bread.  One should not feel cheated however because the discussion on whole grain ingredients, the processes needed to make grain soakers, and the different preferments are unique to Whole Grain Breads and well worth it.  There is a nice selection of formulas with some attempting to take traditional white breads such as challah or brioche and execute them using whole grain ingredients.  As with BBA, the formulas are well presented, accurate and well tested.  I actually like the format used to present the formulas in Whole Grain Breads better than BBA but that is purely a personal preference.  

I still come back to Whole Grain Breads on occasion and routinely bake breads either directly from the formulas or after a bit of artistic license.   I even used Peter’s Transitional Rye formula to reverse engineer my great-grandmother's Bohemian style rye that I remember for my childhood.  The original recipe that was handed down to me was the typical “use 3 to 5 cups of flour from the local co-op and add water until not to firm...”  Using the techniques from Whole Grain Breads as a Rosetta Stone, I was able to come up with a bread that has the favor profile I remember and has received “This is just like great-grandma’s” from my family.  If you want to bake whole grain breads at home, this book is well worth the investment.


Bread Porn - May 2011

Some pictures from baking this month.

A large day-off bake. Some spelt-rye miche, cranberry-fennel rye, and some oat-bran-flax whole wheat.

Whole wheat from Tartine Bread. The one of the left was baked in a cast iron cooker and the one on the right was baked using a baking stone and the SFBI steam method.

Pan bread, challah, and 3-seed sourdough using the Tartine Bread hand-mix method.

Some rhubarb-marmalade using a recipe from my grandmother.

A rare, successfully shaped baguette.

Sourdough from Tartine Bread and dark silesian rye from Local Breads.


Book Review - The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

Some folks collect postage stamps, scrap booking stamps, model airplanes, toy trains, or wood planes. Lately, I collect books that somehow relate to flour mixed with water and heated to a high temperature. Since catching the bread bug, I have accumulated a bookshelf of them and most folks that find the need to buy me a gift, know one of the myriad from my Amazon wish list is a safe bet.

As I have collected, I have come to look for three very specific things when evaluating the greatness of a new addition to my bread cookbook collection. First and foremost, the bread recipes have to present the amount of flour by weight. As I pointed out in my post about making bread, unless you have the weight of flour, you cannot control the hydration. Without the weight, the ability of a person to execute a recipe for the first time with any degree of success is highly suspect.

Second only to having the weight of the flour is having pictures of the final outcome. While not a show stopper for basic breads, anything that is unusual or exotic should have a picture. If a person cannot find it at any local grocery, there should be a picture. Third, the recipes should be accurate and well tested. Inaccuracies in the types of ingredients, the ingredient amounts, or the procedure really detract from the enjoyment of trying a new bread recipe. I have reached a point where if I cannot get a success after the second or maybe third try, it is doubtful I will try the recipe again.

Using these general principals, I thought it might be fun to share my take on various bread related cookbooks that I have acquired. Some I learn from, some I bake from, and others just have an interesting narrative. There is no better place to start than with the book that started my bread obsession.

My wife gave me this book as a present one Valentines Day. Now every time she complains when we have to wait to go out until I put another fold in the dough I tell her it’s her own damned fault. On the other hand, she doesn’t complain much as long as there is frequent challah for PBJ’s.

Peter Reinhart is a teacher and prolific writer on the subject of bread baking with numerous other books to his name. While I have not read them all, this is the one that consistently comes up as the best of his offerings as well as one of the best all around books on bread written for the aspiring home bread baker. It is so well known, it is routinely just referred to by the acronym BBA. Probably the truest measure of the fundamental place this book has in the baking lexicon is the ongoing BBA Challenge. In the same spirit as those who attempt to make every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, bakers around the world attempt to bake every bread in the BBA.

It is well thought out with the first third of the book explaining the materials, equipment and processes needed to make good bread at home. The rest of the book has a nice broad selection of recipes (formula in the vernacular) that cover a pretty complete survey of the bread spectrum. The formula are well outlined and each one has a picture of the desired outcome. I have not tried all the them, but the ones that I have usually turn out well after the first or second try. Most times, when things don’t turn out, it is not the fault of the book but of me missing a step or taking liberty with the process.

I have to admit, I don’t use it as often as in the past. However as I write this, flipping through it again reminds me of just how excellent it is and I should really revisit some of the formula. It does however remain the one book I routinely recommend for anyone just starting out. In my opinion, anyone seriously into making bread at home should have a copy. To not is to either pretend you are serious or miss out on something very important.


Bread Porn - April 2011

Since joining the Faceplace, I have been posting pictures of my weekly bake there. Below is a selection from the last month. Below are walnut-rye sourdough and multi-flour with malt syrup.

Some whole wheat sourdough using the technique from Chad Robertson's "Tartine Bread" and some pain de campagne in classic French country shapes.

A couronne bordelaise for Easter.

A 4.5 lb spelt-rye miche.


“Can I have your bread recipe?”

Many people ask me for my bread recipes. While I happily share them, bread is less about the formula and more about the technique. It is for this very reason why the favorite bread recipe from your grandmother is almost impossible to recreate. Much of the satisfaction that comes from my hobby comes from turning what is often viewed as a difficult craft into a series of reproducible steps that can be pulled off in just about any kitchen. What follows is a breakdown of one of the simplest breads based on a technique I learned from the San Francisco Baking Institute (SFBI) with a couple of changes to make it easier for the home kitchen.

This recipe makes a simple French style white bread formed into an approachable freestanding shape called a bâtard. To improve the keeping qualities, the recipe will also make use of what is called a preferment to improve flavor and slow the staling process so the bread keeps longer.

Before we begin, I wanted to talk a bit about equipment. The most important is a kitchen scale. I have one that cost about $25 and is accurate to 0.05 oz. Bread quality is highly dependent on the ratio of flour to water and that is almost impossible to control without a scale. I often wonder if the reason why most people don’t bake bread is because of the frustration of trying to make it without a scale.

To achieve a nice crust from a home oven, you will also need some thermal mass in the form of a baking stone. A pizza stone would work but you might run into size issues and would likely need two of them. Taking a cue from both Alton Brown and Peter Reinhart, I went to the local home improvement center and got 6 unglazed “quarry” style floor tiles for about $0.50 each. While I don’t believe there is any risk to baking right on the tiles, we will be using parchment paper to transfer our loaves so in this case, the bread will not come in contact with the tiles.

WARNING - What follows may cause damage to your oven and has the potential to cause a nasty steam burn. Proceed at our own risk. You have been warned.

To get a nice crust on the bread, we will also need to generate some steam in the oven for the first part of the baking. The workshop at SFBI and Jeffrey Hamelman in his book Bread use similar techniques that work pretty well.

A few words of caution are in order before we go further. When I was presented the technique at SFBI we were warned that the amount of steam can force open the door of an oven and even break the oven window. While I can see this would pose a risk for electric ovens, I bake in a gas oven and the large vent doesn’t allow pressure to build up. All the same, proceed with caution. Also be mindful that steam can easily cause a burn. In my case, since the oven vent is right below the oven controls, I have to be careful when adjusting the oven while the steam is being generated.

The steam generator is composed of a cast iron or other heavy oven safe pan and disposable pie tin with some holes punched in the bottom. You will place the pan on the lower rack of the oven while you preheat and use the pie tin to transfer some ice to the hot pan when you put the bread in the oven. The ice will melt and generate a gentle supply of steam during the first part of baking resulting in a nice crust. More on this when we get to the actual baking procedure.

So the equipment you will need is:

  • Large bowl
  • Mixing spoon
  • Measuring spoons
  • Dough scraper
  • Rimless cookie sheet with parchment paper
  • Razor blade
  • Large pizza stone or 6 unglazed floor tiles
  • Cast iron skillet or other heavy oven safe pan and a disposable pie tin with holes punched in the bottom
Recipe and Planning
Every time I bake, I like to take a few minutes well ahead to review the recipe, figure out how much bread I am going to make, and figure out the timing. This recipe is scaled to make two 18 oz loaves of bread which will yield approximately 8 slices each. As I mentioned above, this recipe has a preferment called a poolish that needs to be mixed the night before. Therefore we have two related recipes. They are:

Poolish Preferment
6.30 oz Unbleached Bread Flour (Gold Medal Better For Bread) *
6.30 oz Water (room temperature)
Pinch (scant 1/16 tsp) Instant Yeast **

Final Dough
4.20 oz Unbleached Bread Flour (Gold Medal Better For Bread) *
10.50 oz Unbleached All Purpose Flour (Gold Medal Unbleached All Purpose) *
8.30 oz Water (room temperature)
⅜ Tsp Instant Yeast **
0.45 oz Non-Iodized Salt
All of the Poolish Preferment

Additional Ingredients
Extra flour for dusting
Spray oil
1 cup ice cubes

* If you use King Arthur flours, use the All Purpose type for all the flour in the recipe.
** Do not use yeast labeled active-dry. Fleischmann’s RapidRise, Red Star Quick-Rise, or something labeled for use in bread machines would all be acceptable.

From the time you mix the preferment, you have committed yourself to a process that is more or less now controlled by the clock. Start to finish, this recipe will take you about 5 hours of on and off work with a little prep work for the preferment 12 hours before. So your planning step is to figure out when you want the bread to come out of the oven and work backwards to when you should mix the preferment.

Prefermentation is all about processing a fraction of the flour ahead of time to build flavor by letting the yeast do it’s thing. The process is simple. Combine the flour, water, and yeast in a container, cover the container, and let sit at room temperature for 12 hours. If your house is like mine in the winter, you will want to warm the water to just above body temperature to give the yeast a bit of a jump start.

After 12 hours, the poolish should be nice and bubbly with a smell that is a bit like yogurt.

Measure out the rest of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. As before, if the house is on the cool side (below 70F), warm the water to about body temperature before adding. Scrape the poolish into the mixing bowl. Mix with a spoon just until everything comes together, cover with plastic film and record the mix time.

At this stage, the dough hardly looks like anything that could be formed. Don’t panic! During fermentation the dough will get folded and the dough will come together.

Fermentation is where the yeast, the enzymes in the flour, and the water work together to build the gluten matrix that will give the bread structure. It’s all about making a very open structure of air bubbles surrounded by the gluten matrix called the crumb. From the time you mix, you are going to ferment the dough for a total of 3 hours, with a folding process every 45 minutes. Thus if you mixed at 7:00am, the following is the time sequence for fermentation:

  • 7:00am - Mix
  • 7:45am - 1st fold
  • 8:30am - 2nd fold
  • 9:15am - 3rd fold
  • 10:00am - Ready to divide
The procedure for folding is the same for all three with a slight variation on the first fold. To fold, take one side of the dough and bring it to the center. Bring the opposite side over the first like you are folding a letter. Rotate 90 degrees and repeat, ending by putting the seam on the bottom. I find the first fold is easiest to do by scraping the dough out on a heavily floured work surface and doing the fold there. This also gives you the opportunity to clean the mixing bowl and oil it with some spray oil before returning the dough to the bowl.

The remaining folds can be done right in the bowl with a little oil to coat your hands. Keep the bowl covered with plastic film between folds.

NOTE - When it comes time to divide, preheat your oven to as hot as it will go. My gas oven goes to 525F but some ovens will only go to 500F. Place your baking stones or tiles on the oven rack in the middle of the oven and place the cast iron fry pan on a second rack at the bottom of the oven. At this time, the pie pan with holes should not be in the oven. You will need to preheat the oven for at least 1 hour but longer is better.

Dividing, Pre-Shaping and Resting
After fermenting for the three hours, you are ready to form your loaves. For a recipe that makes only two loaves, you can often get away with dividing by eye but if you are inclined or if you scale up the recipe to make more loaves, you will want to scale each piece to 18 oz of dough.

After dividing, the dough is formed into a pre-shape. The pre-shape starts to build tension in the dough and will lead to a nice final shape. The pre-shape for the freestanding bâtard shape is a ball.

Gently pat each piece of dough to de-gas and then fold in thirds like an old fashion letter. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and then fold again in thirds. With a rolling motion, bring the two exposed ends together so you end up with a ball of dough with a smooth and taught surface. Place seam side down on a lightly floured surface. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.

Resting after the pre-shape gives the gluten matrix an opportunity to align to the shape you are trying to form. When the dough is rested, lightly flour a work surface and take one of the pre-shapes and flip it over so it is seam side up. Again gently pat the dough to flatten it into a round. Take and gently stretch the round into a slight oval that is about 15% longer than it is wide. Orient the dough on the work surface so the long axis points away from you.

Fold the edge furthest away form you forward so you end up 1/3 of the way down the oval and gently pat down. Avoid using your finder tips during this process. From my observation, the dimpling from using your fingertips can be one of the reasons you don’t get those nice big holes in the final loaf.

Now bring the left and right upper corners into the center, forming what looks like an inverted “V”. The bottom of the inverted “V” should be about ⅔ of the way down the original oval. Again gently pat down so the dough holds position. Fold the top of the “V” down so it comes to the bottom of the oval and again pat gently so it holds position. You should find that the dough ends up looking a bit like an elongated clam.

The next series of movements work to tightly seam the dough into a loaf. I will describe them for a right handed person. A left handed person would mirror the action working from left to right. Using the thumb of your left hand, tuck in the right end of the dough and then use the heal of your right palm to seal the top and bottom folds of dough together. If the folds are aligned, you should then be able to use the heal of your right palm and work from right to left, sealing the folds until you get to within a few inches of the left side. If they are not aligned, gently pinch the top fold with your thumb and index finger to align before sealing with the heal of your right hand. Before sealing everything off, tuck the left end in and then finish sealing.

Roll the seam under and then gently roll back and forth a couple of times to slightly lengthen and taper the ends. You may need to use a board scraper to separate the dough from the work surface, especially where you sealed the seam. Lightly spray some spray oil on a parchment covered cookie sheet. Place the loaf on about 2 inches from the short end of the cookie sheet. Repeat the process with the second piece of dough, placing it about 2 inches from the other end. There should be about 3 or so inches between the two loaves.

After shaping, the bread goes through a second fermentation called proofing. For freestanding loaves, a little support is needed. To provide the support, slide the loaves together so the parchment paper tents up in the center and then use some rolled up kitchen towels to prop up the ends of the parchment.

The loaves should end up sitting in two valleys of parchment paper so only the bottom third of the loaves are touching its parchment cradle. Cover with cling wrap and let sit in a warm area to proof.

NOTE - When it comes time to bake, you will need to score the loaves. Scoring is the way to control how the loaves expand as they bake. If not scored, the loaves will expand and crack in unexpected ways and you will end up very irregular loaves. While there are many ways to score the bread, the simplest is a score that is offset from the center of the loaf about 1 inch starting 1 inch from one end and stopping 1 inch from the other.

To make the score, take a clean razor blade and with a uniform motion make the cut, striving for a depth of about ½” at the middle of the score. If you do not have a razor blade, a very sharp knife works as well.

The bread will be ready to bake when it passes the “dimple test”. Take your finger and gently dimple the dough about ¼” deep. If the dough springs all the way back it is not ready to bake. If it springs back about half way, it is ready for the oven. If it does not spring back at all, you waited a little too long and is what is called over-proofed. All is not lost if things over-proof but the shape won’t be as nice.

When ready to bake, load the loaves into the oven in the following sequence:

  • Uncover the loaves, remove the kitchen towel supports, and spread the parchment out flat again.
  • Put 1 cup of ice cubes into the disposable pie tin and make sure the tin is within arms reach of the oven.
  • Score the loaves as outlined above.
  • Transfer your loaves to the baking stone or tiles by taking the cookie sheet, placing it at the inside most edge of the baking surface, and pulling the cookie sheet out sliding the parchment with the loaves onto the baking surface.
  • Carefully place the pie tin of ice into the hot cast iron skillet and close the door.
  • Set a timer for 23 minutes.
After about 1 or 2 minutes, you should hear hissing from the steam being generated as the ice melts. It is very important that you don’t open the oven door so the steam stays in. Once the hissing from the steam has stopped, lower the temperature of the oven to 460F. After 23 minutes, open the oven and rotate the loaves end for end to get an even bake. If there is any water left in the cast iron pan, remove the pan from the oven now. Close the oven and continue baking for another 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, check the loaves. If the crust is a little light or you want extra crunchy crust bake for another 2-3 minutes. The loaves should register an internal temperature of 200F when done.

When you take the bread out of the oven, place on some cooling racks and cover with a dry kitchen towel. As tempting as it might be to cut right into bread just out of the oven DON’T DO IT! The structure of the bread needs about 1 hour to set up as it cools. If you cut in too early, the bread will feel gummy. Patience will be rewarded.

This type of bread will be at its peak flavor about an hour or so after coming out of the oven. After that it is all down hill as the staling process takes over. If you are going to use the bread in the next 2 or 3 days, the best thing to do is just wrap it up and leave it at room temperature out of direct sunlight. I use plastic bags to keep things from drying out but this will cause the crust to get chewy. Paper bags will keep the crust of the bread but will cause it to dry out faster. If you want to keep bread longer, the best thing to do is put it unsliced in a plastic bag and freeze it. The staling process is most active between room temperature and freezing. For this reason, the worst thing to do is put the bread in the refrigerator. Happy baking.