The Saturday Country Loaf
Original recipe adapted from Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish
This recipe is amazing because it leaves you with 2 loaves, but we usually opt for 1 loaf, 1 focaccia, and 1 pizza dough. The smaller dough balls can be refrigerated for a few days, or frozen right after shaping and thawed later on for a delicious weekday treat. It really is the gift that keeps on giving. Personally, we slice our loaf and freeze the bulk of it so it stays nice and fresh. It can be revived at a moment's notice in a toaster or under the broiler for breakfasts and toasts throughout the week.
This recipe is designed for someone who wants to make good, crusty loaves of white bread from start to finish in one day. Mix the dough first thing in the morning, shape it into two loaves about five hours later, and then bake in the late afternoon in time for dinner.
7 3/4 cups white all-purpose flour (1,000 grams; do not use high-protein bread flour)
3 1/8 cups water (720 grams; 90 to 95 degrees)
1 tablespoon plus 1 scant teaspoon fine sea salt (21 grams)
1 teaspoon instant active dry yeast (4 grams)
Bulk fermentation: About 5 hours Proof time: about 1 1/4 hours
Sample schedule: Begin at 9:30 a.m., finish mixing at 10 a.m., shape into loaves at 3 p.m. and bake at 4:15 p.m. The bread will be out of the oven just after 5 p.m.
1. Autolyse: In a 12-quart round tub or similar container, combine the flour with the 90- to 95-degree water. Mix by hand just until incorporated. Cover and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes. 2. Mix: Sprinkle the salt and yeast evenly over the top of the dough. Mix by hand, wetting your working hand before mixing so the dough doesn't stick to you. (It's fine to rewet your hand a few times while you mix.) Reach underneath the dough and grab about one-quarter of it. Gently stretch this section of dough and fold it over the top to the other side of the dough. Repeat three more times with the remaining dough, until the salt and yeast are fully enclosed. Using your thumb and forefinger like pincers, squeeze big chunks of dough and then tighten your grip to cut through the dough five or six times across the entire mass of dough, rewetting your hands as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Then fold the dough over itself a few times. Repeat, alternately cutting and folding until all of the ingredients are fully integrated and the dough has some tension to it. Let the dough rest for a few minutes, then fold for another 30 seconds or until the dough tightens up. The whole process should take about 5 minutes. The target dough temperature at the end of the mix is 77 to 78 degrees. Cover the tub and let the dough rise. 3. Fold: This dough needs two folds. Apply the first fold about 10 minutes after mixing: With a moistened hand, reach underneath the dough and grab about one-quarter of it. Gently stretch this section of dough and fold it over the top to the other side of the dough. Repeat three or four times, then invert the dough so seams are face down. TADA! You have just completed the first fold. Make the second fold during the next hour (when you see the dough spread out in the tub, it's ready for the second fold). If need be, it's OK to fold later; just be sure to leave it alone for the last hour of rising. When the dough is triple its original volume, about 5 hours after mixing, it's ready to be divided. 4. Divide: Moderately flour a work surface about 2 feet wide. Flour your hands and sprinkle a bit of flour around the edges of the tub. Tip the tub slightly and gently work your free hand beneath the dough to loosen it from the bottom of the tub. Gently ease the dough out onto the work surface without pulling or tearing it. With floured hands, pick up the dough and ease it back down onto the work surface in a somewhat even shape. Dust the area in the middle with a little flour where you'll cut the dough. Cut into 2 equal-size pieces with a dough knife or plastic dough scraper. Bi-sect one of the pieces if you intend on creating a focaccia and pizza dough instead of just 2 loaves. 5. Shape: Dust 2 proofing baskets with flour. Shape each piece of dough into a medium-tight ball by stretching a quarter of the ball over itself and repeating three more times. Place each ball seam side down in its proofing basket.
6. Proof: Lightly flour the tops of the loaves. Set them side by side and cover with a kitchen towel, or place each basket in a nonperforated plastic bag. Plan to bake the loaves about 1 1/4 hours after they are shaped, assuming a room temperature of about 70 degrees. If your kitchen is warmer, they will be optimally proofed in about 1 hour. Use the finger-dent test (see note below) to determine when they are perfectly proofed and ready to bake, being sure to check the loaves after 1 hour. With this bread, 15 minutes can make the difference between being perfectly proofed and collapsing a bit.
7. Preheat: At least 30-45 minutes prior to baking, put a rack in the middle of the oven and put 2 Dutch ovens on the rack with their lids on. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. If you only have 1 Dutch oven, put the second loaf into the refrigerator about 20 minutes before baking the first loaf and bake the loaves sequentially, giving the Dutch oven a 5-minute reheat after removing the first loaf. Alternatively, you can keep the second loaf in the refrigerator overnight, in its proofing basket inside a nonperforated plastic bag, and bake it early the next morning; if you do this, put the second loaf in the refrigerator immediately after shaping.
8. Bake: For the next step, BE CAREFUL! The Dutch oven and its lid will be extremely hot, as will the oven. Invert the proofed loaf onto a lightly floured countertop (or better yet parchment paper), keeping in mind that the top of the loaf will be the side that was facing down while it was rising -- the seam side. Use oven mitts to remove the preheated Dutch oven from the oven. Remove the lid. Carefully place the loaf in the hot Dutch oven seam side up. If you are using parchment, it makes it easier to lower the loaf inside by cradling it in the paper and hanging onto the edges instead. Use mitts to replace the lid, then put in the oven. Maintain the temperature at 475 degrees.
Bake for 30 minutes, then carefully remove the lid and bake for about 20 more minutes, until at least medium dark brown all around the loaf. Check after 15 minutes of baking uncovered in case your oven runs hot. Knowing your oven is one of the hardest parts and takes practice.
The bottom of my loaves always would get burned if I preheated the Dutch oven too long, placed the rack just a little too low, or went for the full 50 minutes. Patience young grasshopper. Take notes, and do better next time.
Remove the Dutch oven and carefully tilt it to turn the loaf out. Let cool on a rack or set the loaf on its side so air can circulate around it. Let the loaf rest for at least 20 minutes before slicing. It makes the most delightful crackling sounds as it cools and fills the house with the best fresh bread scents.
Note: Poke the rising loaf with a floured finger, making an indentation about 1/2 inch deep. If it springs back immediately, the loaf needs more proofing time. If the indentation springs back slowly and incompletely, the loaf is fully proofed and ready to bake. If the indentation does not spring back at all, the loaf is over-proofed. You've waited too long, and the loaf may collapse a bit when you remove it from its basket or put it into the Dutch oven for baking. (All in all, not the end of the world so don't stress! Baking is science but it's also about experimentation. Have fun with it!)