Country Crumb Bread

For this loaf, save bread crumbs in a paper sack or make some from leftover heels and ends. Dry them out overnight or in a low oven, toasting them until the moisture is gone. Use a mixture of crumbs from different breads for a unique flavor.

Ingredients

  • 8 cups unbleached bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups dried bread crumbs collected from any kind of bread
  • 2 tablespoons instant yeast or tablespoons active dry yeast1
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt, preferably sea salt
  • Approximately 2¾ to 3¼ cups water (½ cup buttermilk may be substituted for some of the water if you want to make a softer, loaf-pan bread)
  • Polenta, cornmeal, or semolina for sprinkling on the pans

Method

To Mix and Knead

Mix all the dry ingredients including either yeast in a bowl, then add the water, reserving a little for adjustments during kneading. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead it for between 10 and 12 minutes. The dough will have a coarse look because of the crumbs but will be cohesive, stretchy, tacky but not sticky, and resilient. (In all of the recipes I use these words knowing that they will not mean anything to you until you actually make the dough. They will then take on a new meaning. In our bakery, the one catchall word for a perfect dough is vibrant. But vibrant is such an abstract term that it cannot be used to describe what to look for in dough. After making bread for a while, you will have your own mental equivalent of the idea of vibrant dough.)

Proofing and Baking

Return the dough to a clean bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap, or slip it into a plastic bag. Allow it to rise at room temperature for about 1½ hours. The dough will have doubled in size. Punch it down, form it into a ball, return it to the bowl, and allow it to rise again at room temperature for between 1 and 1½ hours. Punch it down again.

Cut the dough into pieces, two if you are making flutes or rounds (especially appropriate for this recipe; decorate the top with a tic-tac-toe design), four if you are making baguettes. Form and bake the loaves according to the directions for Sweet French Bread.

The texture of the finished loaf will be coarser than that of other French breads, but it will have a distinctive flavor, derived from the particular blend of crumbs you put in it. This is what I think of as true peasant bread and it makes a terrific load for the picnic basket.

1 Proof active dry yeast first in 4 tablespoons lukewarm water.