Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Country Sourdough Boule

I never thought of myself as having an addictive personality. But I realize that the physical pleasure of the senses draws me like a moth to a flame. After all, isn't that why we love to cook? To inhale deeply the aromas coming out of the kitchen, followed by the play of the tastes in our mouths?

So when I saw this bread rising in my oven, and later when I withdrew it and put it on the rack to cool, I gasped in disbelief. Did I really just make this? Is that possible? But yes, there it was, on the rack, cooling. And the smells in my kitchen told me that yes, this was real. It took all my self control to wait until it had cooled - really cooled - before slicing it. And when I did, another jump of the heart. The crumb was perfect!

Now, I had made bread before. When I lived in New Mexico, I used to make a desem bread and I once posted the recipe here on this blog. But for all that, I never considered myself a bread baker. In fact, I never considered myself a baker at all.

New day, my dears.

It's beginning to dawn on me that my time, energy and money all seem to be going into the kitchen and the garden these days. If I'm not turning out another bread or scone or tart, I'm digging in a new coleus or verbena. It's all been about color, texture and form, whether in the garden or the kitchen. The only difference is that the kitchen has one overarching principle, and that would be flavor. Because after all, if it doesn't taste good, who cares?

This sourdough boule comes from Amy's Breads, by Amy Scherber and Toy Kim Dupree, and it satisfies the senses in every way, from the smell of it baking, to the feel of it as you transfer it to the rack, to the hollow sound as you thump on the bottom to be sure it's done. And then, of course, there's the taste. That heavenly, slightly acid sourdough taste that fills your mouth as you crunch through the crust to the chewy interior. There's just enough rye flour in this to give it a wonderful color.

Makes two, 1 1/2 pound round loaves

3/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 C (2 ounces) very warm water (105 - 115 degrees)
5 1/3 C (24 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 C (5 ounces) pumpernickel flour
Scant 2 TBS (3/4 oz.) kosher salt
1 C (7 1/2 oz. Levain Starter
2 1/4 C plus 2 TBS (19 oz) cool water (75 degrees)

Equipment: Two round baskets about 7 1/2 to 8 1/2 inches in diameter. (see Step 8)

1. Place yeast and warm water in a medium bowl and stir with a fork to dissolve the yeast. Allow to stand for about 3 minutes.

2. Whisk the unbleached flour, pumpernickel flour, and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.

3. Add the levain starter and cool water to the yeast mixture and mix with your fingers for 2 to 3 minutes, just long enough to soften the levain and break it up into small pieces. Add the flour mixture and stir with your fingers to incorporate the flour, scraping the sides of the bowl and folding the dough over itself until it gathers into a shaggy mass.

4. Move the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 6 to 8 minutes, until it becomes supple and somewhat elastic. The dough will be very sticky at first; keep your hands and the work surface lightly floured using a dough scraper if necessary to prevent the dough from sticking building up on the work surface. As you continue kneading, the dough will become more elastic and easier to handle. Shape the dough into a loose ball, return it to the bowl, and cover it with plastic wrap. Let it rest for 20 minutes.

5. Knead the dough again on the lightly floured surface for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until it becomes very smooth and springy. Shape the dough into a loose ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Turn the dough to coat with oil and cover the bowl tightly with oiled plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature (75 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit) for 1 hour, or until it looks slightly puffy but has not doubled.

6. Refrigerate the dough overnite to allow the flavors of th ingredients to combine and mellow.

7. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to rise for 2 hours.

8. Line 2 round baskets with well floured cloths. If you don't have baskets, use 2 round bottomed bowls or colanders. Gently remove dough from the bowl and place it on the lightly floured work surface. Divide it into 2 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a boule, being careful not to tear the outer surface of the loaf by exerting too much pressure during shaping. Place the boules seam side down in the prepared baskets. Cover them with oiled plasstic wrap and let rise for about 3 to 4 hours or until they have almost doubled in volume.

9. Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450F. Place a baking stone in the oven to preheat and place an empty water pan directly below the stone.

10. Dust a peel or the back of a baking sheet generously with coarse cornmeal. Quickly but carefully tip the loaves out of the baskets onto the prepared peel or baking sheet. (If the floured cloths have stuck to the loaves, gently peel them away.) Shake the peel or pan gently to be sure the loaves aren't sticking and slide them onto the baking stone, leaving at least 2 inches between them to allow for oven spring. (If your stone isn't large enough to accommodate both loaves, cover one loaf with plastic wrap and refrigerate it until the first loaf has finished baking, the bake the second loaf.) Quickly pour 1 cup of very hot water into the water pan and immediately shut the door. After 1 minute, using a plant sprayer, quickly mist the top and sides of the oven 6 to 8 times, then immediately shut the oven door. (Avoid spraying bread when misting or the flour on top will look blotchy and unappetizing. Avoid spraying any light bulbs in the oven as they might crack.) Repeat the misting procedure 1 minute later.

11. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 400F and bake for 20 minutes longer, until the loaves are a deep golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Transfer them to a rack and allow to cool before serving.

Kitchen Notes: There's a lot of science that goes into bread baking, and my eyes glaze over with most of it. Perhaps in time it will sink in, but in the beginning, this is what I've learned:
Bread bakers always weigh their ingredients. You can measure in cups and tablespoons, but the amounts will actually differ if you do it this way. A cup can weigh more or less than the desired amount, but 5 oz. will always be 5 oz.

A peel? Oh, yes, that goes with my wood fired pizza oven in the back yard - right? NOT! I couldn't even use one if I had it. The space between my oven and the island in my kitchen is too small. I use the back of the baking sheet and it works just fine, thank you.

I don't have cloth lined baskets. I use one colander and one bowl. They work fine. The important thing is to not wash the floured cloths. You can rinse them all you want, but don't use soap on them in between bakings. You don't want that flavor or the chemistry of soap interfering with your bread!

If you seriously want to make this bread and can't find a recipe for a levain starter, email me. I'll send it along to you.

And lastly, the question is always raised "Is it worth it?" I mean, after all, this takes time! Well, I can only answer for myself. Yes. I live within walking distance of a wonderful bakery. But that doesn't fill my house with the aromas of baking bread. That doesn't satisfy the personal creativity of baking bread, such as - how about if I add something to this dough - like olives or sunflower seeds, for instance? And then, there the warm roundness of the loaf itself as it comes out of your own oven. You didn't need to put socks on to get it. You didn't even need to brush your hair. You just fell out of bed and started the process, and while it was busy rising and doing it's thing, you found the time to do other things. Like run to the nursery and find some kind of plant with reddish leaves that likes shade, to go with the New Zeland flax you bought the other day......


Anonymous said...

That is one gorgeous boule. You can never say you're not a bread baker! And beautiful how you describe how the bread satisfies the senses in every way.

glamah16 said...

Your a natural. Next youll be making your own starters, etc. This is a perfect looking Boule.

Mike of Mike's Table said...

That looks excellent! I really need to start making bread...this just looks too tempting...

Thistlemoon said...

Another great looking bread Toni. You are baker for sure! I am always amazed by your breads.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Your loaf is as beautiful as anything I've seen in a bakery. Well done!

Heather said...

My time, money and energy all go into my kitchen and garden these days, too! I dropped almost $200 at the nursery last weekend, all on ornamentals.

Gratz on perfect crumb! I'd be happy to nail crust one day.

Toni said...

Susan - Thanks!! Coming from you, I take that as the highest of compliments.

Courtney - Thanks! Actually, I got a starter from a friend, but I've kept it going for a couple of months now.

Mike - Definitely give it a whirl. Just the smell alone will get you hooked!

Jenn - Thanks! And I'm entranced by the photos of your wedding and honeymoon!

Lydia - Thanks! I was truly shocked by it!

Heather - It's sooo easy to drop a huge wad at the nursery!

Nailing crust is all about steam. Just wish my oven had a button which would inject steam into it!

SteamyKitchen said...

I've never seen pumpernickel flour! now I'll have to look for it. health food store?

Toni said...

Jaden - I just used organic rye flour. Works like a charm!

Cynthia said...

Baking generally but bread especially calms me and makes me feel good about myself :)

I can't see the pics but I'll be back to check them out.

Susan said...

I've cut back on carbs for beach season, but that doesn't mean I can't stuff myself silly with beautiful breads like these via your blog.

Keep them coming, Toni! An excellent excuse to keep the oven lit during warmer weather.

Toni said...

Cynthia - For me, it's always been cooking that has done that. Only recently has baking entered the picture. Now that it has, I understand exactly what you mean!

Susan - You want to hear something amazing? I've lost 2 pounds since I started baking bread. At first I thought it must have been a glitch in my scale, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the French eat bread daily, and they're not, in general, a fat country.

Jennifer Jo said...

Your pictures are beautiful. Baking bread IS addictive. I just got my bread baby out of the fridge after a month-long nap. One wiff of the starter and I'm aching for some fresh bread.