Country Bread

Country Bread

Country Bread
Country Bread

Country Bread

The reason I started making bread is because I’ve always wanted to make one of those crusty light loaves that you find at Grand Central Bakery or Macrina Bakery or Lovejoy Bakers. I’m getting closer, starting with simple white loaves and now moving on to this Country Bread. One day I know I’ll get to one of those crispy on the outside, light and soft on the inside, perfectly sour sourdoughs.

Anyway, my aunt Judy sent me a cookbook (as well as a book about how to write recipes) when I started this blog. It’s called “Flour” by Joanne Chang, who is the chef at a bakery in Boston (where my aunt lives). I’ll admit, many of the recipes in this cookbook look a little daunting, but when I saw the recipe for this bread I knew I had to try it.

WARNING: This is not a quick bread recipe. You have to make the sponge, let it sit overnight, then make the bread, which also has to sit and rest for many hours. It is relatively easy, but there’s lots of waiting around.

Country Bread

Makes two loaves

Ingredients

Sponge

3/4 cup water
1 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast

Bread

1 1/2 cups water, body temperature
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour, plus some for working and sprinkling
2 cups bread flour
12 oz bread sponge
pinch of active dry yeast
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
a handful of medium-coarse yellow cornmeal for the baking sheet

Instructions

Sponge

Alright, let’s start with the sponge, hm? In a bowl, stir together the water, 1 cup of the flour, and the yeast until well combine. Place in a covered container (I just covered the bowl with a dishtowel) and leave at room temperature for at least 4 hours and up to 8 hours. After 4 hours (or however many), you can stir in the remaining 1/4 cup of flour. The sponge will stiffen up with the addition of the flour into a very loose dough. Re-cover it (this is when I transfered it to a tupperware) and leave it in the fridge overnight.

Bread

*The next morning*

Get out your electric mixer (or a bowl and a wooden spoon) and stir together the water, 2 cups of all purpose flour, and the 2 cups of bread flour for about a minute, or until you have a “shaggy, stiff dough.” I love her writing. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, remove the plastic wrap and add the sponge, yeast, salt, and sugar. Mix for 3-4 minutes or until they are incorporated. Now, according to Chef Chang, the dough should be a little bit sticky but still smooth  and feel “like an earlobe when you grasp a bit between your fingers.” Oh… ok.

If the dough is stiffer than earlobe status, add some water 1 Tbl at a time. If it’s not stiff enough, add all-purpose flour 1 Tbl at a time. I ended up needing to add about 3 Tbl of flour to my dough. Also, I had to stop the mixer a number of times to scrape the dough off the dough hook.

Now, lightly oil a large bowl, and transfer the dough to it. Lightly cover the bowl with an oiled piece of plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm place for 2-3 hours. The dough will rise a little bit and will be loose and relaxed and a little sticky.

After that wait, turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Divide the dough in half with a knife and shape each half into a ball. The easiest way to do this is to tuck the edges of the dough underneath itself, continuing to tuck until it naturally gathers into a ball with a nice taut surface. Sprinkle the cornmeal on a baking sheet and place the loaves on it, at least 3 inches apart. Cover them lightly and completely in more plastic wrap and let them sit for another 2-3 hours.

Phew. We’re almost done. While the dough is resting (towards the end of the rest), preheat your oven to 500 degrees, with a rack in the center and a rack below that one. When the loaves are done resting, sprinkle the tops with about a teaspoon of flour each, and slash the loaves with a knife. The best way to do this is to use a sharp paring knife that has been dipped in water (to keep it from dragging). You’ll want to use the tip of the knife and use quick, sure movements. You can do whatever design you’d like (I did a square and a line down the middle with lines coming off of it). If you don’t slash the bread, it’ll burst on it’s own, which might also look cool.

Anyway, after you’ve slashed it, put the pan in the oven. On the rack below the bread, put a rimmed baking sheet filled with 2 cups of water (the steam creates a “nice moist atmosphere for your bread to grow”). Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the loaves are a dark golden brown on top (and make a hollow sound when you thump them on the bottom, but who wants to pick up a 500 degree loaf of bread and knock on it?).

Transfer the loaves to a wire rack and let them cool for at least 1 hour. These store really well just in a plastic or paper bag on the counter. They don’t go stale as quickly as some crusty loaves, which was nice because it’s hard to burn through 2 loaves of bread with just 2 of us in the apartment. The bread was really good. A little sweet and a little tangy, and quite dense. At first, I was actually bummed about how dense it was (I wanted something light with lots of holes but I realized that with all the extra flour I added, that probably wasn’t gonna happen), but after eating a slice with butter, I was really digging it. We also used this bread to make the gratinées for the French Onion Soup we had for dinner last night (which I’ll be posting very soon).

3 comments

  1. Wow, your bread turned out to be so beautiful! I am also on the venture to make the perfect loaf of bread, but I am far from it….

    1. This was a pretty easy “crusty” loaf to start with. I wish it had been a little lighter inside and for the crust to be a little crispier, but it was still pretty good. I figure as a new breadmaker, I have to work my way up to the fancy stuff. You can do it!

  2. I have tried this recipe many times. It makes the greatest bread every made. So delicious and bakery quality!!! The key is to use the bread sponge and bread/unbleached flour.

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