One of my resolutions for 2012 is to keep trying with the very-wet category of bread dough. I’ve been open about my inability to bake ciabatta with a fabulous, holey structure. And, it’s not just ciabatta that flummoxes me. The basic country bread from Tartine Bread is also made with a very wet dough, and I’ve yet to create anything with big holes from that recipe either. The baking technique suggested in that book is the covered cast iron pot method. A proofed loaf goes into a hot cast iron pot, the pot is covered with a hot lid, and the moisture from the dough steams inside the pot as the bread begins to bake. I’ve had mixed results with that method in the past. On one occasion, the dough was just too wet, and the resulting baked loaf was a little soggy on the bottom. I made some changes to the dough, tried again, and this time, the cast iron pot baking method worked fine. To hedge my bets since this recipe makes two loaves, I actually baked one loaf in the cast iron pot and one directly on a baking stone. The loaf from the cast iron pot was the better of the two since the pot prevented the loaf from spreading. However, I still didn’t find those lovely, big holes in the crumb. Hence, I vowed my resolution to keep trying. In Tartine Bread, after introducing the basic country bread, there are a few variations including this polenta and pepita option. Soaked, coarse-grained polenta, toasted pepitas, and chopped fresh rosemary are added to the basic dough. It’s a chewy, hearty bread with a crunchy, dark crust.
I mentioned that I made a couple of changes this time. First, one of the suggestions for beginning the basic country loaf is to make a leaven using only a tablespoon of mature starter to prevent the resulting dough from having a too-sour flavor. My mature starter isn’t very sour in flavor, so I ignored that and just fed my starter as usual to use as the leaven for the dough. Next, the dough is suggested to be mixed by hand, but I used a stand mixer with a dough hook because it’s easier. The leaven was combined with water, white flour, and whole wheat flour and left for the autolyse. After about 20 minutes, another 50 grams of water was to have been added. Since my dough seemed extra wet last time, I skipped that additional 50 grams of water. Also after the autolyse, salt was added. Then, the dough was to have been placed in a bowl for the bulk fermentation with turns every half hour. The soaked polenta, toasted pepitas, chopped rosemary, and some corn oil were to have been added after the second turn. I followed those instructions when I made the flax and sunflower seed whole wheat bread, and it was difficult to get the seeds mixed into the dough at that point. So this time, I added the polenta, etc. in the mixing bowl along with the salt right after the autolyse. Then, I transferred the dough to a bowl to ferment for about four hours. It was turned in the bowl every 30 minutes. After four hours, the dough was transferred to a work surface and divided into two pieces. Each piece was shaped into a round, but the wet dough spreads easily so the rounds should be well-spaced apart. The rounds were left to rest for 30 minutes. Final loaf shapes were then formed, and towel-lined baskets were sprinkled with a mixture of rice flour and wheat flour before the loaves were placed in them. I opted for a delayed final rising of the dough by covering the proofing baskets and leaving them in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, I baked one loaf in a heated cast iron pan. After twenty minutes of baking, the lid was removed. I baked the other loaf on parchment, which made the wet dough easier to transfer from the peel, directly on a baking stone. The loaf on the stone spread more and browned more, and the cast iron pot method worked well.
What I’ve learned is that maybe sometimes a wet dough is just too wet. Skipping the additional water seemed to be a good thing with this version. I still haven’t learned how to get those lovely holes throughout a loaf, but hopefully if practice doesn’t make perfect it will eventually make better. Meanwhile, I had two big, round loaves of rustic, homemade bread full of crunchy pumpkin seeds and corn and rosemary flavors to enjoy.
I’m submitting this to Yeastspotting where you’ll find some seriously well-made bread.