Prep time: Allow 2 to 10 hours to make and ferment the poolish
Cook time: Total preparation and baking time (not including the poolish): 6 hours 45 minutes
Total time: Varies
Yield: 2 round 10-inch loaves
You will want to bake this bread again and again. It is a large, rustic, wheaty-tasting loaf with a golden rugged crust that is both crisp and chewy. The golden crumb is airy light but full-bodied and fragrant. It is a hearty and beautiful loaf much like the peasant breads of 17th-century France and Italy. And it is a versatile base on which to develop your own bread repertoire. Slice it to slather with spreads for hors d'oeuvres, or to turn into toast or sandwiches, or tear off hunks of the crumb to mop up sauces, salad dressings, or the last of the stew.
Bread Baking Gear
- 1/2 cup spring water (75-F.)
- 1 teaspoon moist yeast or 1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
- 3/4 cup 20% bran wheat flour
- 2 1/2 cups spring water
- 1/4 teaspoon moist yeast or 1/8 teaspoon dry yeast
- 5 1/4 - 6 1/4 cups 20% bran wheat flour
- 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
- This is a learning recipe. The bread develops step by step, and I guide you through each step.
- Fermentation of the poolish
- Mixing and kneading of the final dough
- First fermentation of the final dough
- Resting or second fermentation of the final dough
- Dividing and shaping the dough into loaves
- Proofing the loaves
- Baking and cooling the loaves and storage
Assemble and weigh the ingredients. l prefer that you weigh everything. Weight is a constant, while measuring cups and cup methods vary too much to depend on. When weighing out your flour, you will find it less messy and very efficient to place a small paper bag, like a lunch bag, in the scale's measuring bowl. Scoop the flour directly into the bag.
If you are using dry measuring cups or spoons, use the dip and sweep method: dip the dry measuring cup or spoon into the flour. Using a thin metal spatula, knife, or even a ruler, sweep the excess off the top so that the flour is level with the rim of the cup or spoon. Using this method, you will come very close to my scaled measurements.
When measuring yeast with spoons, use level measurements also. For moist yeast, be sure it is packed firmly into the spoon, then leveled off. For dry yeast, use the dip and sweep method.
Note: All my recipes call for a certain amount of flour. You may not use all of the flour in your final dough, or you might need more; it will depend on how your flour does or doesn't absorb water.
STEP 1. MAKE AND FERMENT THE POOLISH (allow 2 to 10 hours)
The water should be at room temperature, around 75 degrees F., not ice cold from the refrigerator. Combine the water and yeast in a medium bowl. Let stand I minute, then stir with a wooden spoon until yeast is dissolved.
Note: The yeast dissolves in temperate water. I don't believe in "kick-starting" or overactivating the yeast cells with hot water, a step that many other books call for. High temperatures wake up the yeast cells with a great burst that produces rapid yeast activity, which can then create too much fermentation, too quickly. Tbe poolish benefits from a long and slow fermentation, so it's best to keep temperatures moderately warm, not hot.
Add the flour. Stir until the consistency of a thick batter. Continue stirring for about 100 strokes or until the strands of gluten come off the spoon when you press the back of the spoon against the bowl. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Cover with a clean damp towel or plastic wrap, and place in a moderately warm (74 -80 degree F.) draft-free place until mixture is bubbly and has increased in volume.
The longer the poolish sits, the more time it has to become, vigorous and permeated with the unmistakable aroma of wheaty fermentation. This will give your breads full body and a rich nutlike flavor. During a long fermentation, the poolish may rise and fall; as long as it's bubbling, don't be concerned about the volume.
STEP 2. MIX AND KNEAD THE FINAL DOUGH (about 20 minutes)
Measure out the remaining ingredients. Bring the bowl with the poolish to your work space. The poolish should be soupy, bubbly, and puffy and it should have a wheaty aroma. Scrape the poolisb into a large 6-quart bowl.
Add the water and yeast. Break up the poolish well with a wooden spoon and stir until it loosens and the mixture foams slightly.
Add 1 cup, ( 5 ounces) of the flour and stir until it is well combined. Add the salt and only enough of the remaining flour to make a thick mass that is difficult to stir.
Kneading (By Hand)
Turn out on a well-floured 2-foot-square work surface. The dough will be quite sticky at first and difficult to work with. Dip your hands in flour to prevent them from sticking.
Knead the dough by pushing it down and forward with the heel of one hand, then pulling back from the top and folding the dough over with the other. The dough may be very sticky at first, and it will help to push the dough forward with the heel of one hand and fold it over using a dough blade. Gradually add the remaining flour as you work the dough and knead vigorously for 15 to 17 minutes. If the dough remains wet and sticky, it may be necessary to knead in additional flour.
As the dough develops, it will become smooth, elastic, and strong. You will feel the gluten strengthening, making the dough more difficult to knead. Don't be afraid to really work the dough. Match your muscle with that of the gluten. Use your legs and knees to help you create a forward and back motion with the dough. As you work, adding more flour as you go, the dough will become smooth, satiny, slightly sticky. It is a common mistake to add too much flour to a dough, making it practically dry. Don't be afraid to end up with a slightly tacky dough. As long as the dough doesn't stick excessively to the work surface, it's not too wet.
There are three good ways to tell if the dough is well kneaded:
If the dough doesn't respond in any of these ways, continue kneading for 5 minutes, adding a little more flour if you need to, until the dough is resilient and has spring.
The 15-17-minute rule is important. If the dough is under-kneaded, the gluten will not be developed enough to allow the dough to rise during fermentation. Don't skimp on kneading time. Set a timer if it helps.
Kneading (In The Mixer)
- Pull a little dough from the mass and let it go. If it springs back quickly, it's ready.
- Press your finger into the dough and remove it. If the dough springs back, it's ready.
- Shape the dough into a ball. If it holds its shape and does not sag, it's ready.
At home, I prefer to knead the dough by hand and I recommend that you knead your dough by hand. It is a good workout and it will help you tune into the life of the dough But if you must use a machine, a heavy-duty mixer, such as KitchenAid, comes fairly close to kneading the dough as well as a pair of hands. However, it takes attention on your part to help the machine do the job. You must use a heavy-duty model, as these heavy doughs may burn out the motor of a less powerful mixer. The KitchenAid comes equipped with a dough hook, but watch carefully and mix at low to medium speed to be sure the machine kneads the flour and doesn't beat it.
If you want to try kneading the dough in the mixer, attach the mixer bowl with the poolisb to your mixer fitted with a paddle blade. Add the remaining water and yeast, and mix on low speed until the poolish is very loose and frothy. Gradually add 5 ounces (I cup) of the remaining flour and the salt, and mix on low speed, just until a batter forms. Continue to mix on low speed, gradually adding more of the remaining flour as needed, just until a dough forms. Replace the paddle blade with a dough hook and knead until the dough is soft but not sticky, about 12 minutes. Check the dough often during this process, adding more flour as needed. If it forms a ball without sagging and springs back quickly when pulled from the mass, and the dough cleans the side of the bowl while kneading, or when removed from the bowl, then it is ready. If not, add a little more flour andcontinue kneading 3 to 5 minutes longer. It's a good technique to turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly by hand to gauge the dough's moistness and texture, again, kneading in flour, if necessary.
Note: Never use any speed higher than medium or you will pummel the dough. Also, the mixer itself will quite possibly overheat, and wobble off the counter.
STEP 3. FERMENT THE DOUGH (2 to 3 hours)
Shape the dough into a ball and let it rest on a lightly floured surface while you scrape and clean and lightly oil the large bowl. Place about I tablespoon vegetable shortening or softened butter or 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil in the bowl. Use a pastry brush or paper towel to lightly "oil" the inside of the bowl. The solid fats are preferable, as the dough will eventually soak up the oil, but either can be used. Place the dough in the bowl and turn the dough to coat the top with oil. Take the dough's temperature: the ideal is 78 degrees F.
Note: If the dough temperature is higher than 78 degrees, put it in a cooler place like the refrigerator until the dough cools to 78 degrees. If it is lower than 78 degrees, put it in a warmer than 78 degrees place until the dough warms to 78 degrees. The point is to try to keep the dough at 78 degree during its fermentation. Ifyou do have to move the dough, be gentle and don't jostle it, or the dough may deflate.
Cover with a clean damp towel and place in a moderately warm (74-80 degrees F.) draft-free place until doubled in volume. The dough has risen enough when a finger, pressed 1/2 inch into the dough leaves an indentation.
STEP 4. REST THE DOU6H (30 minutes)
Note: For some breads, this step will be called "ferment the dough a second time" and will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Deflate the dough by pushing down in the center and pulling up on the sides. Form again into a ball, return to the bowl, and cover again with plastic wrap or a clean damp towel. Let rest in a moderate (74 -80 degree F.) draft-free place for 30 minutes.
STEP 5. DIVIDE AND SHAPE THE DOUGH INTO LOAVES (10 minutes)
Deflate the dough, transfer to a lightly floured work surface, and knead briefly. Cut into 2 equal pieces. Flatten each with the heel of your hand using firm direct strokes. This releases any remaining gas and invigorates the yeast in the dough. Shape each piece into a tight ball for round loaves.
STEP 6. PROOF THE LOAVES (1 1/2to 2 hours)
Line 2 bowls or baskets about 8 inches in diameter and 3 inches deep with well floured lint-free towels (rub the flour right into the towels) and place the loaves smooth side down in each bowl. Dust top side with flour. Cover with a clean damp towel or plastic wrap and put in a moderately warm (74-80 degree F.) draft-free place until increased in volume about 1 1/2 times.
STEP 7. BAKE THE LOAVES (40 minutes)
Forty-five minutes to 1 hour before baking, preheat the oven and homemade hearth or baking stone to 450 degrees F. The oven rack must be in the center of the oven. If it is in the lower third of the oven, the bottoms of the breads may burn, and if it is in the upper third, the top crusts may burn.
Gently invert the loaves from the baskets or bowls onto a floured board or peel so that they are right side up. Using a very sharp, serrated knife or a single-edged razor blade, score the loaves by making quick shallow cuts 1/4- to 1/2-inch deep along the surface.
Using a well-floured peel, slide the loaves one at a time onto the hearth and quickly spray the inner walls and floor of the oven with cold water from a spritzer bottle. If there's an electric light bulb in the oven, avoid spraying it directly; it may burst. Spray for several seconds until steam has filled the oven. Quickly close the door to trap the steam and bake 3 minutes. Spray again in the same way closing the door immediately so that steam doesn't escape, and bake until the loaves begin to color, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 400 degrees F. and bake until the loaves are a rich caramel color and crust is firm, another 15 to 20 minutes.
To test the loaves for doneness, remove and hold the loaves upside down. Strike the bottoms firmly with your finger. If the sound is hollow, the breads are done. If it doesn't sound hollow, bake 5 minutes longer, and test again.
STEP 8. COOLING AND STORAGE (20 minutes)
It is important to allow large loaves to cool at least 20 minutes because they actually finish baking as they cool. If you were to tear or cut into a large loaf too soon, you'd find the center still doughy. Cool them on a rack, so that air can circulate freely around the loaf.