Take me home, country loaf

Sorry.

As I’ve mentioned before, a few years ago I took a baking course through the New School of Cooking in Culver City.  It was a great course for all levels and the instructor was fantastic (it doesn’t appear she teaches through New School any longer).

With the exception of the laminated doughs, I’d already made nearly everything on the syllabus prior to taking the class.  What I was after were a boost in my technical skills.  For instance, I understood that using butter or oil in baking created different outcomes–I just didn’t know why.  I also didn’t know that in addition to Italian and Swiss, there are also German and American buttercreams.  How great is it to live in a world with so many kinds of intercontinental buttercream?

One of the best recipes (in my opinion) from this course is a simple country loaf.  For this recipe, patience far outweighs technique in creating a chewy, airy crumb.

Three things make this bread really good.  The first is an overnight fermentation of the sponge.  You can do it in an hour (and this is how we did it in class).  However, through my own trial and error I’ve learned that allowing the sponge to develop in a warm kitchen and then throwing it in the fridge for a sleep really develops the flavor.

The second is waiting until the last couple of minutes of kneading to add the salt. Salt and yeast are sort of like Tom and Jerry so you want the yeast nice and developed and protected by lots of flour before you add the salt into the mix.  I now use this method any time I’m making yeasted dough.  Wait to add the salt.

The third is the pan of steaming water.  As I learned in the baking course, many professional baking ovens have a steam function that helps put the “crust” into crusty bread.  A pan of steaming water helps do the same.

If you have any interest in playing with yeast, this is a great fist step.

Country Loaf

New School of Cooking

Ingredients

for the sponge

  • 1 TBS active dry yeast
  • 1 C warm water
  • 4 ounces (1 C) bread flour

for the dough

  • 20 oz (5 C) bread flour
  • 1 1/3 C warm water
  • 2 TBS honey
  • 1 TBS kosher salt
  • cornmeal for sprinkling

Directions

for the sponge

  1. Dissolve the yeast in warm water and stir in bread flour.  Cover and let rest for 1 hour, but, best case scenario, refrigerate over night.  Return to room temp before using.

for the bread

  1. In a bowl, combine the sponge, flour, water and honey.  Knead for eight minutes or so.  Add salt during the last three minutes. Return to bowl if you’ve kneaded by hand.  Cover bowl and allow to double in size (about 1 hour).
  2. Sprinkle a liberal layer of corn meal onto a baking sheet.
  3. Lightly flour hands and work surface, dough will be sticky.  Turn out dough and knead lightly.  Rough form it into a ball and place on top of the cornmeal dusted baking sheet. Flour the top of the loaf and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Place a small pan filled with steaming water on the bottom of the oven.  Place baking tray on lowest rack.  Back 35-40 minutes until the crust is very dark brown and the internal temp is 210 degrees.  If you don’t have a thermometer, flip the bread, and thump the bottom.  If it sounds hollow, it’s done.
  5. Cool to room temp before slicing.