The staff of life: Universally, bread is regarded as sustenance, but just as importantly, it is an ancient cultural food that unites us, symbolizes religious beliefs and nourishes the soul. And really, is there anything more comforting than the smell of bread baking on a cold November night? This is the second awesome recipe I found in the November issue of Food and Wine -- a straight up score. I love to bake bread, and have tried many different recipes and techniques, but this one was completely new to me, so naturally, I had to give it a go.
Acclaimed San Francisco baker and owner of the Tartine Bakery, Chad Robertson has just written a new cookbook, Tartine Bread, from which the following recipe comes. Unlike many breads that require starters, this recipe calls for a pre-ferment, in which a small portion of flour, water and yeast is mixed together to ferment overnight. The following morning, more flour and salt water are added to make the dough. Lastly, the bread is cooked in cast iron skillets at a very high temperature to yield simultaneously crusty and chewy golden brown loaves of bread that will make you look like a rock star in the kitchen.
A quick word about this bread and the process....unless you have the luxury of working from home as I do, save this recipe for a relaxed day or weekend when you have time to devote to this most worthwhile endeavor. I promise, you'll be glad you did.
Mix the yeast, flour and water...
Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let proof overnight
Crusty White Bread (from Chad Robertson's Tartine Bread cookbook)
Active 1 hour - Total 9 hrs plus: overnight rising - Makes 2 VERY large loaves
250 grams warm water- (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon dry granulated yeast
300 grams organic all-purpose flour- (2 1/2 cups)
1.25 kilograms warm water - (5 1/2 cups)
1.8 kilograms organic all-purpose flour - (13 1/2 cups)
200 grams organic whole wheat flour - (1 1/2 cups)
5 tablespoons kosher salt dissolved in 1/2 cup of warm water
White rice flour or all purpose flour, for dusting
1. PREPARE THE PRE-FERMENT
In a medium bowl, mix the water with the yeast and stir until the yeast is dissolved. Stir in the flour. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 10-14 hours.
2.PREPARE THE BREAD DOUGH
In a bowl, combine the warm water wit the pre-ferment: Using your hands, break up the pre-ferment until dissolved. In a very large bowl, whisk the all-purpose flour with the whole wheat flour. Using your hands, mix the dissolved pre-ferment into the flours, until a smooth dough forms. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand for 30 minutes.
3. Uncover the dough and add the salt water. Gently fold the dough over onto itself until the salt water is thoroughly incorporated. Loosely cover the dough and let rest for 1 hour; every 20 minutes, gently fold the dough up and over onto itself 4 times. cover and the dough and let stand for 3-4 hours.
4. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and cut in half. Using a bench scraper and floured hands, gently shape the dough into rounds, folding the dough under itself as necessary. Let the loaves stand on the work surface for 20 minutes and then gently fold the sides under again.
5. Line 2 large bowls with kitchen towels and generously dust the towels with the rice flour. Transfer the loaves to the bowls, rounded sides down. Cover the loaves with clean towels and let rise for 4-5 hours. Alternatively, let the dough rise for 1 hour at room temperature, refrigerate the loaves overnight. Let the dough come to room temperature before baking.
6. Preheat the over to 490F. Heat 2 large enameled cast-iron casseroles or cast-iron skillets with lids for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and dust the bottoms with rice flour. Turn the loaves into the casseroles, rounded side up, and score the tops with a sharp, thin knife. Cover the casseroles and bake the bread for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 470F and bake for 20 minutes or until the bread is richly browned. Transfer to racks and let cool before slicing.
Final Assessment: Worth every single step. A better bread I've NEVER had.