Daily Bread

Rarely is the same thing made twice in our household.  Even the same stand-by recipes are continually re-invented with varying ingredients and spice profiles – the backbones of some kitchen jazz improvisation.  And then there’s this bread.  It’s the single recipe I stick to with consistency as it’s the pantry staple all members of the family have come to expect.  It took six years of practice and experimentation to arrive at this junction of function, flavor and nutrition and I consider it pretty much a crowning achievement on par with what any artisanal bakery can crank out.  It’s not all mine though.  Sarah Owens and her award-winning book  Sourdough were pivotal in helping me improve my technique and relationship with breadmaking.  This recipe is a veganized and adapted version of the base for her ‘Smoky Chili Bread’.  As with Amy Chaplin and Madhur Jaffrey – she’s a cooking idol I hope and dream to one day meet in person!

Yield: 2 loaves

What you need for the leaven:

  • 85g integral (whole grain whole wheat) bread flour
  • 30g full hydration sourdough starter (from your pot)
  • 60g water (roughly body temperature or a bit warmer)

What you need for the dough:

  • all the leaven
  • 520g water (roughly body temperature or a bit warmer)
  • 45g brown rice syrup (barley malt also works but tastes stronger)
  • 525g integral (whole grain whole wheat) bread flour
  • 70g whole teff (NOT the flour, the grains are what you want)
  • 100g whole spelt or whole barley flour
  • 17g salt

What you do (basically: for a detailed instruction on making bread and dealing with sourdough – it’s best to consult a good book like Sarah Owens’ Sourdough.  And please, read through the whole recipe before proceeding so you have an idea of the gear and timing for this since it’s definitely slow food):

  1.  Eight to ten hours before you want to mix the dough, mix together all the leaven ingredients in your bread making bowl.  Cover tightly and let it get puffy and active.
  2. Once the eight to ten hours have elapsed, no need to be too precise about it, measure the warm water and brown rice syrup into the bowl with the leaven.  Using your hand (gloved if desired), mix everything to form a smooth slurry and dissolve the syrup.
  3. Weigh in the two kinds of flour and the whole teff.  Use your hand to mix together the dough until all the flour is evenly hydrated (wet).  The dough will be significantly looser and wetter than a yeasted bread dough – that’s normal and okay – it’s how you ensure a nice tender loaf, it does require a bit of practice to work with however.
  4. Cover the bowl and let the dough sit for 20 minutes or so.
  5. Uncover, measure in the salt and mix thoroughly by hand (stretching and folding a few dozen times in the bowl works well).  If you don’t know what stretching and folding is, you can read and watch more about it here.
  6. Let the dough bulk rise for 3 to 4 hours, stretching and folding every 1/2 hour to 45 minutes (in the bowl – it goes faster and reduces on the counter space required…).  Cover the bowl and keep it in a warm and draft-free place (like above the fridge) between interventions.                                                                                           Dough after mixing and bulk rise
  7. When the dough has roughly doubled in size, turn it out onto a floured countertop.  Divide it into two roughly equal pieces.  Pre-shape into a round or oblong shape (the picture shows four because I usually double the recipe).  Let the dough rest, covered by a damp towel and perhaps a plastic bag for 10 minutes to 1/2 an hour.     Pre-shaped dough
  8. Once the dough has rested, do a final shape and place it seam side up in a floured banneton.  For a tutorial on shaping bread, click here.
  9. Pop the prepared loaves (in their bannetons) into the fridge for about 8 hours, covered by a towel and wrapped in a plastic bag.  You can go longer, but I find that if you do the dough tends to overrise a bit and the oven spring isn’t so hot.
  10. After 8 hours have elapsed, pre-heat a baking stone in the oven at 500 F for at least an hour.  During that hour,  bring the loaves out of the fridge (or at least one of them) and let come to room temperature, covered.                                                           Shaped dough before baking
  11. To bake, flip the bread over (seam side down now) onto a peel dusted with semolina or corn grits (you can use flour too, but it doesn’t work as well to keep the loaf from sticking).  Slash the top of the loaf a few times and quickly transfer to the stone.  At this point you need to have a spray bottle filled with warm water ready.  Spray the top of the loaf and sides of the oven quickly but generously and close the oven door.  Wait 2 or 3 minutes and spray the heck out of everything again going as fast as possible.   Now let the loaf cook 5 minutes or so before reducing the heat to 450F.  Continue cooking, between 20 and 30 minutes, until the loaf is deeply browned and sounds hollow when tapped.  Remove from the oven to a baking rack and repeat with the second loaf.
  12. Let cool completely (overnight ideally) before cutting.  You may be tempted to cut in before – don’t.  The bread finished cooking and the crumb sets during cooling, if you cut in before it won’t do that.                                                                                                     Bread cooling_1
  13. Enjoy!

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