french country bread
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When I was a kid I vacationed for a few good summers in a small village surrounded by lush pine forests. There wasn’t much in the village: one eatery, one corner shop, a swimming pool (A pond. A puddle, more like) and a village bakery.
Most mornings I would volunteer to get a loaf from said baker’s. I pedalled happily on my bike, blissfully ignorant of pervs, strangers and health and safety (no helmet!), to slip my coins on the counter in this dusty white, heavenly smelling place in exchange for a rough, crusty like the devil himself, quite unevenly shaped and often cracked loaf of bread. The return journey took much longer because every now and then I had to stop off to tear another bit of still warm crust. Arriving back, I was invariably asked if mice had been at the bread.
Those were the summers with a glowing edge followed by, inevitably, years of supermarket sliced, until only a few years ago I managed to produce my first well-risen, crusty sourdough. Goodness - did it take me back. That was Real Bread. Is there a Campaign for Real Bread?
Sourdough starter I find fickle – I know it can live for ever, only refreshed every now and then, but my best results have been with fresh, four days old leaven so that’s the approach I suggest here. Veteran sourdough makers though – please use whatever wheat starter you have on the go.
SOURDOUGH STARTER - takes four days
In a large jar or a plastic tub with a lid mix 40g wholemeal flour with 40g warm water (at 35C, basically quite warm to the touch). Keep in the warmest place in the house you can find (airing cupboard does well). The next day add another 40g wholemeal flour and 40g warm water, the following day – 40g flour and 20g water and on the last day – 120g strong white flour and 100g water. You should get a bubbly starter – bubbles are the sign of life here, it doesn’t significantly expand.
PRODUCTION LEAVEN - four hours to make
About 4 hours before making the bread mix 110g of the starter with 33g wholemeal flour, 100g strong white flour and 80g warm water. Leave in a warm place.
french country breadServings: 1 large loafTime: 3-4 hours plus making starter over 4 days
- 100g wholemeal flour
- 300g strong white flour
- 7g sea salt
- 300g water
- 300g production leaven (almost, but not quite all of it, needs to be weighed out)
Mix the dough with all the ingredients except the production leaven. Knead or use the mixer with a dough hook attachment until the dough is distinctly smoother and begins to show some stringiness – about 10 minutes. Add the production leaven and knead for further 10-15 minutes until the dough stops sticking to your hands or the sides of the mixer bowl.
Place the dough on a wet surface and cover with an upturned bowl whose inside rim has also been moistened with water. Leave it for an hour. Then stretch the dough with wet hands and fold over on itself from all directions. It should become tighter and shaped like a ball. Dip the dough in a bowl of wholemeal flour covering it completely and place in a well-floured proving basket or bowl lined with a floured cloth. Put in a plastic bag inflated a bit so it doesn’t touch the dough (just blow into it and tie the end!) and leave for about 40 minutes. Halfway through that time start preheating a medium size cast iron casserole dish or Dutch oven in the middle of the oven at 220C/425F/gas 7.
The dough will not rise much but that’s good – I’ve found that with sourdough short proving time works better if you bake it in Dutch oven. When ready, just plonk the dough from the proving basket swiftly as you can, put the lid on and into the oven. Bake with the lid on for 20 minutes, and for another 20 minutes with the lid off.