Basic Hearth Bread
My dear friend Sheri, over at Pork Cracklins, who spoils me to death, gave me Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible. I have lots of recipes marked, but hadn't baked any of them. Until today.
I love RLB's blog and I have also loved reading breadbasketcase, the blog of a woman who baked her way through all the recipes in The Bread Bible. She recently made a repeat loaf of Basic Hearth Bread to christen her new oven. I decided that it would be a great one to try, even though I don't have nearly as sweet an oven as hers.
The recipe begins with a simple sponge, which is just a starter made of bread flour, whole wheat flour, instant yeast, a tiny bit of honey and water. It makes a soupy batter. Then you whisk together more bread flour and instant yeast and cover the sponge with it. As it ferments, the sponge bubbles up through the flour mixture. Here's what it looked like after 2 hours of fermenting:
The flour mixture and sponge get mixed together, then set aside for 20 minutes to rest. After resting, sprinkle on some salt and then knead. It becomes a smooth but sticky dough. Scrape it into a bowl or other container to rise. Here's what it looked like before rising:
When it's cooler in the winter, sometimes I set the container on top of some towels with a heating pad set on "low" underneath. But it's 75 degrees inside the house today, which is a pretty good bread rising temperature. Here it is after rising for an hour, during which time I tidied up the kitchen and played on the internet:
The next step is to deflate the dough a little by giving it a "business letter turn". It felt very soft and silky. Too bad I couldn't play with it; it needed to go back into the container for a second rise. After that I got to play with it! Well, sort of. It can be shaped into a loaf to go into a pan, or a free-form "round" loaf, which is what I chose to do. It's on a half sheet pan line with a silicone mat that has been lightly dusted with flour:
The shaped dough rises again, and then it is slashed. I've made good slashes and not so good slashes in my short time of bread baking. These seem too deep. It was time to bake. Yay! Thirty minutes later, this is what it looked like:
It smelled so good, I could hardly bear to let it "cool completely" as instructed. But wait I did, and finally I was rewarded with this: