There is something utterly rewarding about making bread at home. Whenever I pass by a bread bakery, I swoon at the smells wafting from inside, just wanting to dive into the dough, and lie in a puddle of happiness.
Unfortunately, making good bread isn’t easy. It is alchemy, turning base ingredients into something worth raving about. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like bread, but I completely understand that it isn’t something you want to tackle unless you have plenty of time and patience. This recipe isn’t easy, but if you are up to the challenge, you will not be disappointed.
It is three days work, you can cheat a little bit by omitting one of the steps, yet you would be cheating yourself out of an opportunity to taste something utterly delicious. I think the most important step is preparation, considering you have to bake the bread emulating a steam hearth. So, I suggest you read through the recipe once or twice, and make sure you have all the tools necessary. Don’t worry, they are not some confounding instruments you’ve never heard of, but it does make a difference to have everything on hand once you begin to cook.
So here’s what you’re going to need:
Courtesy of “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”
Makes 3 loaves
3 cups pâté fermentee (recipe follows)
1 3/4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1 3/4 cups semolina flour
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp instant yeast
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey
1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups water, lukewarm
Natural brown or black sesame seeds for topping (optional)
1. Remove the pâté fermentee from the refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough to take off the chill. Cut it into about 10 small pieces with a pastry scraper or serrated knife. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour to take off the chill.
2. Stir together the bread flour, semolina flour, salt, and yeast in a 4 qt bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add the pâté fermentee pieces, the oil, the honey, and 1 1/4 cups water. Stir with a large spoon until the dough forms a ball (or mix on medium-low speed with the paddle attachment). If the dough seems too stiff, dribble in water 1 tsp at a time until all the flour is gathered and the dough feels soft and pliable. If the dough seems sticky, don’t worry; you can adjust the flour while kneading or mixing.
3. Sprinkle bread flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and knead (or mix on medium – low speed with the dough hook). Add flour as needed, sprinkling in a small amount at a time to make a smooth dough that is tacky but not sticky and has the same pliability and suppleness as French bread dough. Knead for about 10 minutes ( or for 6 to 8 minutes by machine). The dough should pass the windowpane test. (Grabbing a piece of the dough, stretch it out, and if it forms a “pane” and doesn’t break, that is slightly translucent, then it is done) It should register 77 – 81 degrees F. Form the dough into a ball, lightly oil a large bowl, and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
4. Ferment at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
5. Gently divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Shape as for baguette into long cylinders, extending each piece to about 24 inches in length and taking care to degas the dough as little as possible. Then, working from each end simultaneously, coil the dough toward the center, forming an S shape. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment and sprinkle some semolina flour on the parchment. Place each loaf on the pan, mist the loaves with water and sprinkle sesame seeds on the top of each loaf. Then mist the tops with vegetable spray oil and place the pan in a food-grade plastic bag or loosely cover with plastic wrap.
6. Place the pan in the refrigerator overnight. (This is a step you can omit, but don’t, it is totally worth it. If you do, let rise for at least 2 hours before baking.)
7. The next day, remove the pan from the refrigerator and determine whether the loaves have risen enough to bake or if they need additional proofing time. Gently poke the dough. If it springs back quickly, leave the pans out, still covered, for a couple of hours, or until it wakes up and rises more. The dough should stay dimpled when poked, and the loaves should be nearly twice as large as when first baked.
8. Prepare the oven for hearth baking, making sure to place an empty steam pan in place. You do not need a baking stone. Preheat the oven to 500F with the oven rack on the middle shelf.
9. Uncover the bread dough and place the pan in the oven. Pour 1 cup hot water into the steam pan and close the door. After 30 seconds, spray the oven walls using a plant mister with water and close the door. Repeat twice more at 30 second intervals. After the final spray, lower the oven setting to 450F and bake for about 15 minutes. Rotate the pans 180 degrees for even baking and continue baking for 10-15 minutes more, or until the loaves are a rich golden brown all over. If there are still light or white segments of the dough extend the baking time for a few extra minutes to maximize color and flavor. The internal temperature of the bread should register 200-205 F.
10. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer loaves to a baking rack. Cool for at least 45 minutes before serving.
Pate Fermentee Recipe
(enough for one batch of this bread)
1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/8 cups bread flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp instant yeast
3/4 cup to 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp water, at room temperature
1. Stir together the flours, salt, and yeast in a 4 qt. bowl (or the bowl of an electric mixer). Add 3/4 cups water, stirring until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball (or mix on low-speed for 1 minute with the paddle attachment). Adjust the flour or water, according to need, so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff.
2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for 4 to 6 minutes ( or mix on medium speed with the dough hook for 4 minutes), or until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky.
3. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 1 hour, or until it swells to about 1.5 times its size.
4. Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it lightly to degas, and return it to the bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. You can keep this in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze it in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
From my kitchen to yours,