I firmly believe in the benefits of a “bold bake.” By baking your bread until most of its crust is a deep, dark brown, you coax out all of the possible flavors from the dough, create a glorious contrast between crunchy outside and soft inside, and also protect the loaf against quickly drying out. This can be a little unnerving at first, as it requires pushing the loaf right up to the cusp of being burnt, but it’s worth the reward. I’ve included some nice photos here, so that you’ve got something to shoot for.
For more in-depth instructions on preparing your dough up to the baking, check out Lesson 8.
Gather your foodstuff and tools.
Make the pre-ferment. Measure and mix:
cool water (60°F/15°C)
Let it ferment. Cover the bowl with a plate or plastic wrap, and put it in a cool place (55 to 60°F/13 to 15°C) for about 12 hours.
Mix the dough. Mix in:
lukewarm water (80°F/27°C)
sea salt, fine grind
Roll up your sleeve, and mush it up real nice.
Knead the dough. After ½ hour, give your dough its first kneading—dip your hand in a bowl of water, then reach down into the side of the dough bowl, grab a little bit of it, and pull it up and push it down on top of the dough. Rotate the bowl a little bit and do it again. Give the dough about ten stretches and folds. Cover the dough, and let it sit for ½ hour.
Knead a few more times. After ½ hour, stretch and fold the dough another ten times. Cover the dough, and leave it alone for another ½ hour or so. Do this another two times, at 15- to 30-minute intervals.
Let the magic happen. Cover the bowl and let the magic happen until your dough is increased in volume by half.
Pre-shape your loaf. Flour your counter and pour the dough out. Gently fold a corner up and over into the middle, and repeat around the entire piece of dough. Flip your loaf so that it’s seam-side down. Let it rest for 10 minutes.
Shape your loaf. You know how to do this, just as you did last time. (If you need a photographic refresher, refer.) Sprinkle a small handful of flour on top of the dough, and use your spatula or bench knife to flip it on its head, so that the seam is facing up. With palms facing upward, use both hands to grab the dough on the side nearest you. Gently lift the dough off the table, letting gravity stretch it downward. Put the dough back on the table, and fold the dough in your hands forward about two-thirds of the way up the loaf, leaving a lip of wet dough (about 1 in/2.5 cm wide) at the top. Grab both the left and right sides of the dough at the same time and stretch them outward until the dough is 8 to 12 in/20 to 31 cm across. Quickly fold in one side about two-thirds of the way, followed by the other side. Grab the side of the dough nearest you and roll the dough up into a log, taking care to create a seal on the small lip of dough that you created with your very first fold. Gently rock the loaf forward and back and get pumped.
Prepare the proofing basket and plop in your loaf. Rub rice flour into your proofing cloth and line the proofing basket with it. Use your spatula or bench knife to plop your loaf into the basket, seam-side up.
Let your loaf rise. Remember what you learned from the previous recipe—you get to decide when the loaf is ready for baking, based on its volume. About 150 percent of its original size is good.
Preheat. Once your loaf has risen, put your baking stone or Dutch oven on the middle rack of your oven and
Bake your bread. Sprinkle the loaf with cornmeal or cover with parchment paper, and invert your loaf onto the large plate or pizza peel. (Or carefully plop your loaf into the preheated Dutch oven.) Slash the top with the razor, get it into the oven, and cover it with a pot or bowl (or Dutch oven lid).
Decide when your loaf is properly baked. People have different opinions on what constitutes a fully baked loaf of bread. One of the most common tests is the “thump test.” This is done by picking up the loaf, thumping on the bottom, and listening for a “hollow” sound. This is a great way to check, but it’s not enough. You want to make sure the bread is baked all the way through, but you also want to make sure that the crust has gotten dark enough to get the full flavor potential from the loaf.
way underbaked. This loaf was taken out of the oven about 15 minutes too early. The crust is still pale, and the insides of the loaf are not fully baked. This will not be a pleasant loaf to eat.
a little underbaked. This loaf is perfectly edible, but you’re going to miss out on the full benefits of a bold bake, particularly the super-crunchy and full-flavored crust.
just right. Perfection! The crust is nice and dark in most spots, but with other areas of light brown and gold. The inside is fully baked but still light and moist.
a little overbaked. We went just a touch too far on this one. The crust is going to taste a bit burnt, and too much water has evaporated out of the loaf, leading to a tough interior.
way overbaked. Obviously, this is inedible. But the pigs’ll eat it, or it’ll make a nice addition to your garden.
Take it out and let it cool.
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