Remember the Italian country bread I made a week or so ago? The recipe was from Daniel Leader’s Local Breads . If not, here is the link (Italian Country Bread). I made it, again, the other day. I often do that as sometimes it takes a couple of tries until you are happy with the final product and, in any event, I wanted to see the difference a few changes to my technique would make. The bread was much more elegant the second try, but both tasted great.
One thing I did notice this time was that the yeast was much more active. The dough rose quickly and the final dough was very light and bubbly. The only explanation I can give for this is that both times I used dry yeast, as compared to instant yeast, and this time I dissolved the yeast in the biga and water before adding the flour.
My first problem last time was that the bread exploded in the oven . This was because I hadn’t slashed the bread. The recipe didn’t mention the bread should be slashed but I noticed, subsequently, that the illustration in the book was. So this time I did and the slashing made a big difference. The bread was perfectly dome-shaped.
Last time, I had very large holes towards the top of the bread. This could have been caused by the lack of slashing but it also could have been caused by my ceramic tiles not being hot enough.
I decided to cook the loaf in my cast iron camp oven to see if that would make a difference. I learned this technique from Jim Lahey. Jim Lahey shot to fame when Mark Bittman wrote an article about his ‘no knead technique’ in the New York Times in 2006. It caused a revolution in home bread-making at the time. I tried his technique once, my bread left a bit to be desired but, not to be deterred, I bought his book. I will try it again one day.
What I did learn was another home bakers’ technique to mirror the professional bakers’ steam ovens. He cooked his very wet dough enclosed in a very hot pot in the oven for the first 20 minutes. This does two things:
- The pot is heated while the oven is heated, making it extremely hot. (You need very thick mittens to handle it); and
- As the moisture from the bread heats up, it creates steam which is trapped in the pot. The reason why you want to create steam is to stop a crust forming too soon. Once a crust is formed, the bread can’t rise anymore.
Follow the instructions from my previous post but this time, if you are using dry yeast and not instant yeast, put the biga, water and dry yeast in your mixing bowl first and mix it all up with a spatula before adding the flour and salt.
An hour before you are ready to bake, put your oven proof pot (any will do, but cast iron is best) in the oven and preheat your oven to the highest it will go.
When you are ready to bake:
- Generously sprinkle your dough with unprocessed bran.
- Put some baking paper (make sure you use enough to lift the dough with the paper) on your peel (or cutting board or tray) and then gently place them over the bread. Flip it. The dough is now upright.
- Slash your dough with four slashes to make a square shape on the top of your dough.
- Take the pot out of the oven, remove the lid, lift up your dough by the baking paper and put it in the pot. Put the lid back on and return it to the oven.
- Bake for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, take the lid off the pot. Turn the oven down to 230˚C and bake for another 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, turn the oven off and leave your bread in the oven in for an additional 10 minutes. The reason is that this is such a big, wet loaf, you want to be absolutely certain all the moisture from the inside has gone.