Sunday, March 6, 2011

French Bread

So the last 3 weeks I have been experimenting with a French bread. This type of bread, though a "plain white" in some ways, is deceptively difficult. My routine:

Friday AM: Feed sourdough starter. Add about 4 cups of water and 8 cups of flour to 2 cups of starter.
Friday evening: The starter has risen and has a nice tang to it. Reserve some of the starter for next week. Add 20 cups of water and 20 cups of flour. The consistency is very thin. This mixture will bubble up and provide the flavorful backbone to the bread. This is called a levain, or poolish. Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery says that the levain should be "floral, fresh, creamy, silky, sweet, milky."
Saturday, 2:30AM: Add 11 cups of water, 44 cups of flour, 5 oz yeast, and 8.5 tablespoons salt to the levain. Knead the dough.
Saturday, 5AM: Drive the rising dough to the bakery.
Sat., 5:45AM: Cut and weigh the dough into 1-pound blobs. Shape the doughs into boules. Coat some of the boules with poppy seeds or sesame seeds. Place the boules in the proof box to rise.
Sat., 7:30AM: Score the risen loaves with a razor blade. Place in a 425-degree oven for 25 minutes.
Sat., 8AM: Cool the risen loaves in the open air and take to market at 9:50AM.

Quite a process. My results have been pretty good. They could be better if 1) I was using artisian bread flour instead of unbleached bread flour. Artisian bread flour is lower in protein, allowing for a softer, more open crumb. 2) If I was using a hearth oven instead of a convection oven. The hearth oven gives the bread a great crust, and the crumb a more intense texture.

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