Monday, November 25, 2013

hearth bread

Gina and I have recently become obsessed with the television show on BBC 2 called The Great British Bake Off (TGBBO).  In the past couple of weeks, we have watched seasons two through four online.  If you haven't seen it before, it is an amateur baking competition where the contestants have to complete three bakes every weekend; there is a different theme for each week - cakes, pastry, etc.  The two judges, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, have great chemistry and give good feedback to each of the bakers (Paul is the Simon Cowell-esque figure of the show). 

We have found ourselves recently commenting on whether things are over- or under-prooved (the Brits use "proove" instead of "proof"),  as well as on the quality of the crumb structure and whether or not the crust has a "soggy-bottom" from too much water being added to the filling.   Needless to say, I think we will both become better bakers by osmosis from watching so much of the show.   They did an American version of the show this year, which also had Paul Hollywood as one of the judges, but apparently it didn't do well here in the States and won't be around for a second season, which is a shame since Gina and I were both hoping to apply for a spot!  However, it is very popular in the UK and we are anxiously waiting to watch the fifth season next year. 

While I love the concept and the show, Gina and I find some of the flavor combinations that the Brits use to be unappealing.  They love to use rosewater and passion fruit at every conceivable opportunity., but we can forgive the British, who are not generally known for the quality of their food.  Season 3 was our favorite; we rooted for fellow medical student James, who also happens to look a bit like me (same glasses, at least). He has a book on bread baking out now called Brilliant Bread, which I am hoping to receive for Christmas (hint, hint, Gina). 

[Gina says she rooted for James not because he was a medical student, but because he wore amazing sweaters.]

Last week, Gina and I were fortunate enough to attend a King Arthur Flour Bakes Across America seminar near St. Louis on yeast breads.  We went with a big group that included Gina's mom, two of Gina's sisters, as well as a family friend.  The King Arthur Flour bakers gave out lots of free KAF swag, including (of course) flour and cookbooks.  They also partner with Dansko shoes and gave out a free pair of Danskos at the show.  None of us won the shoes, which was disappointing to the group because 3 out of the 6 of us wore Danskos at the demo without knowing ahead of time that they were a sponsor. 
However, each one of us won a different bag of flour and we left with pretty much their entire flour catalog.  I won a 5 lb. bag of all-purpose flour, which I used in this loaf.  Most importantly, we both learned a lot about making yeast breads from the demonstration, including some helpful tips and pointers from their demonstration baker:

1) Use instant yeast when the recipe allows for it.  It is much easier and more convenient when you don't have to wait to proof the yeast.  You can mix the dry ingredients together and then add the liquid and begin mixing the dough immediately.  Everyone at the demo got packets of Red Star instant yeast to take home and that is the yeast I used for this loaf. 

2) When proofing your bread, shower caps make good bread covers, as they are inexpensive and have elastic bands that fit to a variety of bowl sizes.  The demonstrator proofed her bread in a clear volumetric pitcher that she marked with tape to the level of the dough before proofing.  Always allow the dough to double in volume on the first proof, regardless of time.  The doubling is easier to visualize in a cylinder as opposed to a wide bowl.

3) Kneading method: use the butt of the palms to knead out the bread and avoid scrunching of the shoulders to reduce strain.  After each rollout with the palms, fold the dough back onto itself and rotate 90 degrees before kneading out again.  Repeat this process in a rhythmic fashion.  This technique makes for more efficient kneading.  You know when you are done kneading a yeasted bread loaf that calls for kneading when the dough springs back quickly when pressed lightly with a floured finger. (Don't press the dough deeply; even a well-kneaded dough won't recover from an inch-deep depression with any sort of rapidity). 

4) When baking the bread, rather than using the old-fashioned method of tapping the bottom of the bread to check for a hollow sound, use a digital probe thermometer if you have one and bake until the internal temperature of the loaf is 190*F.  This also makes timing the bake easier--just stick in the thermometer into the middle of the loaf and have the thermometer alarm go off once it reaches 190.  I found this advice to be incredibly helpful with this loaf, as the listed time would have left the bread significantly under-baked.

5) Instead of using volumetric measurements, invest in a digital countertop scale and try to find recipes that give masses for all ingredients.  This method is much easier and more accurate.  Depending on how much you pack a cup full of flour, the actual mass of flour per cup can vary widely and have a dramatic effect on the recipe.  Using a particular mass of flour and water eliminates this problem.  By using a scale you also cut down on the amount of dishes you have to do afterwards, as you can tare the scale between measurements and use a single bowl to weigh out all ingredients.  It's just like going back to chemistry labs all over again!

Here's the recipe, adapted from KAF's KAF's hearth bread recipe:  

1 tablespoon or 1 packet instant/rapid rise or active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups warm water (110-120F if using active dry; 120-130F if using instant/rapid rise)
5 1/2 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, where 1 cup = 120 g or 4.25 oz
cornmeal for dusting bottom of loaf
olive oil for coating proofing bowl

  1. Add yeast, sugar, salt, water, and 3 cups of flour to mixing bowl and begin mixing, either by hand or with tabletop mixer.  Incorporate the rest of the flour gradually until the dough is only slightly sticking to the sides of bowl.  If you don't add all of the flour before this stage, use the measured out amount for dusting to avoid adding too much flour.
  2. Knead dough using the above-described method for 5 minutes.  Let dough rest for 2-3 minutes while you coat bowl with a small amount of olive oil.  Knead again for 5-7 mins until dough springs back quickly with dusted finger. 
  3. Cover dough and let rise until doubled in volume (took about 2 hours at 65 degrees F;  warmer rooms or proofing drawers will speed this process up considerably).
  4. Punch down the dough and divide and shape into two loaves.  I weighed each loaf to get consistent sizes (TGBBO effect at work), but eyeballing it is fine, too. 
  5. I opted for the flakier crust method, which goes as follows:  Let shaped loaves rise covered with damp towel for an additional 45 minutes.  Fill a casserole dish or similarly-sized flattish dish most of the way with warm water and place in bottom rack of oven (water does not need to be boiling).  Preheat over to 500F for 15 minutes (reduce temp 15 F if using convection setting). 
  6. Make slits in tops of loaves with chef's knife (I prefer a chef's to a serrated bread knife for this as it gives cleaner cuts) and brush tops of loaves with cold water.  Place loaves in oven after oven has preheated for 15 minutes and bake for 10 minutes at 500F.  Reduce oven to 400 and bake for another ten minutes or until the middle of the loaf reaches a temp of 190F (I used this method and it needed more like 15-16 minutes at 400F to fully bake).  This method should produce the firm, light-brown and dusty-colored crust shown below. 
  7. Remove from oven and let cool.  Arrange loaves on colorful napkins and take artsy photos, as below!      


  1. Gorgeous bread! Thanks for linking up with What's Cookin' Wednesday!

  2. have you tried the cast iron dutch oven bread making way? all you do is mix flour yeast water and some salt and just mix it until the flour is combined, then let it rest for 12 hrs. you then fold it over a few times with some flour and let to rise for 2 hrs then place it in a preheated cast iron dutch oven pot (450 deg F...232 deg C) seam side up and close the lid for 30 min, then open and cook another 15. comes out perfect every time.

    1. We have tried the Artisan Bread in Five recipe for bread in the dutch oven, and it is pretty darn good, too!