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Basic Bread Recipe

Note:

  • This recipe will not work with commercial yeast.  It requires a starter (flour and water with natural yeast). See Caring For Your Starter for more information.
  • The best source for starter is another baker. To make your own, see the instructions in Nancy Silverton, Breads from the La Brea Bread Bakery.

Special Equipment:

If the special equipment is too daunting try the No-Knead Recipe

  • KitchenAid mixer or equivalent.
    • bread machines will not mix the dough properly.
  • food scale.
    • preferably one with a "zero out" feature.
  • banneton/brotform.
    • a basket for dough rising, plus a kitchen towel to line it. These come in different sizes and shapes. This recipe works best in a 6-8 cup "boule" basket. You can substitute a glass bowl.
  • Dutch oven with a metal handle (plastic will melt!).
  • razor blade or lame.
  • Ingredients:
    • 100 grams starter, made with equal amounts flour and water, preferably fed and brought to room temperature about 4 hours earlier. If you use starter right out of the fridge, the first rise may take a long time.
    • 500 grams flour.
      • Different flours will give different breads. I often like 230 grams white flour, 20 grams toasted wheat germ, 200 grams white whole wheat, 50 grams organic rye or pumpernickel. I'm also fond of 150 grams semolina and the balance white whole wheat. If you use less than half white flour, you may want to adjust water and increase the salt slightly.
    • 340 grams water.
      • Use enough water to make a sticky dough that sticks to the bottom of the mixing bowl slightly but does not break apart after 4-5 minutes of kneading.
      • Stickier doughs will produce more and more irregular air bubbles; doughs with less water will produce a more even and less interesting bread. I usually aim for as sticky a dough as I can handle without making a huge mess, unless I want a very high rise.
      • Very small changes in the amount of water make large differences; be careful!
      • Use lower amounts of water with larger amounts of rye flour.
    • 1.5-2 tsp. salt.
    • 1 Tbs. oil
    • about 1-2 Tbs. caraway, poppy, sesame, black caraway, fennel or fenugreek seeds (optional).
    Directions:

    I.  Mix (½ hour)

    • Measure starter, flour and water into mixer bowl.
    • Mix, using dough hook, at lowest speed, for 5 minutes.
      • Dough should stick to the bottom of the mixing bowl slightly. If it climbs up the hook, add water. If it does not form into a ball or is too sticky to work with, add flour.
    • Push dough off hook, cover bowl with towel, and let rest for 20 minutes.
    • Add salt.
      • Salt inhibits yeast, so we add it late to give the yeast a chance to get started growing. Don't forget the salt, though, or your bread will be tasteless.
    • Mix, using dough hook, at lowest speed, for 4 minutes. If you like seeds mixed into your bread, add them in the last minute of mixing. Your bread may not rise as high as if you put them only on the crust.
      • If you forgot to add the salt, add it now and mix for 4 minutes.

    II.  First Rise (at least 3½ hours, but up to two days)

    • Oil a mixing bowl, by pouring about 1 Tbs oil in and spreading it over the entire bowl.
      • A steep sided glass or ceramic bowl about two or three times the size of your dough works best.
      • Metal bowls seem to dissipate the heat too fast and the dough doesn't rise as well.
      • If the dough is very wet, the oil is unnecessary, but dryer doughs tend to form a dry crust that stops the rise if they are not oiled.
    • Shape into a ball and press folds to seal.
    • Reverse dough ball so that oiled surface is up and sealed folds are down.
    • Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap.
      • If your dough is very wet, cover with a towel instead.
    • Allow to rise away from drafts 3½ hours or until at least doubled. Overnight works too.
      • Alternatively:  refrigerate for up to 24 hours, and then allow to rise at least 4½ hours.
      • If you forget and let the bread rise too long, do not despair. Usually it will recover, although it is likely to rise less and may become quite sour (especially after two to three days in the refrigerator). Cutting the second rise will help, too.
      • If your dough is very wet, it may not be strong enough to double. If it resists slightly when pushed and looks somewhat bubbly, it is probably ready.

    III. Punch, Shape and Second Rise (20 minutes to 1½ hours)

    • Turn dough out onto unfloured dry wooden board.
    • Knock down, by throwing it against the board a few times.
    • Shape bread into a high boule and increase surface tension by rotating dough on board and pushing slightly down and under.
      • If it is hard to work with, cover it with a towel and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
      • It should stick very slightly to the board but not enough to separate.
      • If it is too sticky to handle, use a dough scraper to turn it, or wet your hands, or flour them.
    • Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and allow to sit for 20 minutes. If it is a flat disc when you return, shape again; repeat until it holds some of its shape.

    IV. Third Rise (½ to 1 hour)

    • Cover the dutch oven and place on middle rack of your oven. Preheat oven to 500°.
    • Put a kitchen towel into the banneton or bread rising basket and flour it with a heavy flour (rye, corn meal, etc). Alternately, or in addition, cover it with seeds or kosher salt crystals.
    • Place the dough, upside down (seam side up), into the lined banneton. 
    • Cover loosely with a second towel.
    • Allow to rise one hour.
      • Shorten this rise to 30-40 minutes if the previous rises have been long or the yeast seems very active.
      • If your bread did not puff up in the oven, it is usually because the final rise was too long. Shorten it next time.

    V.  Bake (40-50 minutes)

    • VERY carefully remove the hot Dutch Oven and place on a heat proof surface (e.g., stove burners). Remove top.
    • Place (or if it is wet, dump) dough into Dutch Oven, seam side down and seeds up.
    • Carefully slash dough with a lame or razor.
      • The depth and shape of your slashes will affect how the bread rises, its final shape, and its crustiness. For a bread with mostly white flour, try a deep slash three-quarters of the way around a boule.
    • Cover the Dutch Oven and place into oven.
    • Reduce heat to 450°.
    • Bake 20 minutes, covered.
      • Don't peek during this time: the Dutch Oven traps steam from the dough necessary to make a crust.
    • Remove cover of Dutch Oven and bake 20-30 minutes more.
      • A finished bread will be dark mahogany in color--darker and richer tasting than a commercial bread.
      • If you prefer a lighter bread, reduce the heat when you remove the cover to 350°.
    • Remove bread from Dutch Oven and allow to cool on a rack. Listen for crackling sounds and admire the fine network of cracks before eating.

     




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