I have a borderline obsessive relationship with fresh baker's yeast. I'm the weirdo who sniffs (and enjoys) packs of fresh yeast; breweries and bakeries fumes are my friends. And occasionally, I've been known to enjoy the wafts of growing yeast cultures in my lab (I'm a biologist and lucky for me, I've always had a bench close to the incubators).
Naturally, I've always wanted to bake my own bread. But I've never been successful at baking good looking (or tasting) bread, to my utter despair.
A few weeks ago, an innocent conversation with a colleague J. sparked my interest in the Tartine Country Bread, a no-knead recipe baked in a special cast iron dish. Of course, the minute we were done talking, I raced to my computer and ordered myself my very first Lodge cast iron combo cooker. The added benefit of which is that I've also been lusting after a cast iron skillet for over a year. I figured this was just meant to be.
That very same night, I also started a sourdough starter culture, but after a few days, I was perplexed by the foul smell that escaped from my little mason jar (and I work in a lab if you remember, so I'm pretty used to nasty smells), so I just discarded my own starter. Bummed as ever. My awesome colleague J. was kind enough to split her own starter culture with me, and I excitedly proceeded to my baking experiment!
Here is how I did it.
INGREDIENTS (for 2 loaves):
- 700g +50g tepid water
- 900g AP flour
- 100g whole wheat flour
- 200g sourdough over-night culture (recipe coming up soon)
- 1 tbsp salt
- a cast iron pot with a lid (I use a Lodge combo cooker)
- in a large bowl, mix the two flours, the sourdough and the 700g water. Using your hands, mix until combined and the dough is super sticky
- let rest for 40 minutes, in a warm place covered with a clean cloth (I put mine on top of the stove, since the pilot flames keep it warm; otherwise a closed oven or microwave provide warm drought-free environments too)
- after 40 minutes, add 50g of tepid water and the salt, and mix the dough with your pre-wet hand. At first, the dough will be soft and squishy, but will turn harder, springy and very stretchy after a few minutes
- when the dough is stretchy, fold it four times starting on the right: lift the dough from the bottom, stretch it upwards, fold it towards the left and press it down the middle. Do this on all four "corners": right, top, left, bottom. Cover the dough with a cloth and let rest in a warm spot and repeat the 4 turns every 30 minutes for 3.5 hours. This step is the bulk fermentation.
- at the end of the bulk fermentation step, the dough will have risen a little bit, and if your container is clear, you can even see bubbles on the sides, which is a good sign your dough is very much alive!
- drop the dough on a clean surface (not floured!) and sprinkle the top the the dough with a little AP flour. Using a dough scraper, cut in half and flip the two halves upside down so that the floured surface is down and the sticky surface is up. Fold all four corners of the dough back towards the center. The sticky dough should seal on itself and leave only floured surface exposed. Flip again, shape into a ball, cover with a cloth and let rest for 20 minutes.
- after the dough has rested 20 minutes, sprinkle with AP flour, flip using a dough scraper and proceed to folding the dough, from all four corners, flip again and shape into a ball. Repeat for the second piece.
- once your dough has been folded and shaped into a ball, place delicately in a bowl or basket, lined with a heavily floured cloth and let rest for 2 hours minimum in a warm spot
- about 1 hour before you are ready to bake your first loaf, preheat your oven at 500F and place the cast iron pot in the oven so that it gets to temperature
- when you are ready to bake, delicately drop one of the dough balls in the pot (if you are using the combo cooker, that would be the skillet), score the dough with a sharp knife or blade, cover and bake at 450F for 20 minutes
- after 20 minutes, remove the lid and bake uncovered for another 20-25 minutes. Your bread should be beautifully golden and crispy! Transfer on a cooling rack and repeat with the other loaf
- Enjoy your bread, and take a moment to congratulate yourself! ;)