French Bread and a New Oven Test

Finally, we’ve replaced the old, tired, and basically broken gas oven with a new model. The oven has been on its last legs for a while now, with a maximum heat far below what I would prefer for bread baking, and we were long overdue for an upgrade. Obviously, the best thing to test out the new oven is a few loaves of bread.

I decided on a French bread based on Peter Reinhart’s recipe, with a shorter proof because of the hot weather. The dough itself still overproofed – my fault for not paying enough attention and trying to paint the kitchen at the same time – but the end result was still far better than anything out of the old oven.

French_baguette
The finished baguette -the “ears” are not as open as I would like due to over proofing the dough, but the colour and texture is still great

The oven reached its maximum temperature in 10 minutes, held in the steam whilst the loaves began baking, and gave a consistent and delicious dark golden-brown crust. Even over-proofed, there was a significant amount of “oven spring”, especially in the smaller loaves.

Small_French_roll
One of the smaller rolls, which rose slightly better than the baguettes (but were still slightly over proofed)

French bread – makes 3 small baguettes, or a combination of shapes

Pâte fermentée

  • 140g plain flour
  • 140g strong white bread flour
  • 5g salt
  • 1.5g (1/2 tsp) instant yeast
  • 185g cold water

Dough

  • All of the pâte fermentée
  • 140g plain flour
  • 140g strong white bread flour
  • 5g salt
  • 1.5g (1/2 tsp) instant yeast
  • 185g lukewarm water
  1. Combine the ingredients for the pâte fermentée, knead for 4-6 minutes, and place into an oiled bowl. This is basically a complete bread dough, but will be used in the final recipe as an “old dough” to improve the flavour of the final loaves. Bulk ferment for 2-3 hours, until risen, and then either use immediately, or de-gas slightly and refrigerate for up to three days.
  2. If using refrigerated pâte fermentée, remove from the fridge 1 hour prior to using and cut into a dozen small pieces.
  3. Combine the pâte fermentée with all of the remaining ingredients, and knead on a lightly floured work surface for 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place into an oiled bowl, cover with cling film or a tea towel, and bulk ferment for 2 hours.
  4. Divide and shape the dough. For baguettes, first make a bâtard shape, rest for 5 minutes, then stretch gently by rolling the dough back and forth. To make the small loaves pictured here, shape the dough first into small boules, rest for 5 minutes, then roll out gently, applying more pressure at the ends.
  5. Place loaves seam side up onto a floured linen couche or tea towel, as shown below, and proof for 1 hour.
  6. Preheat the oven to max with a baking dish on the bottom. Just before baking, tip one cup of boiling water into the baking dish to create steam. Turn the loaves onto a baking tray dusted with flour or semolina, and place onto the middle shelf of the oven. Reduce oven temperature to 230°C, and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the baking tray if necessary for an even bake, and bake for a further 10-15 minutes, until golden brown.
  7. Transfer to a wire rack and cool before eating. These loaves are best eaten on the day of baking.
Bread_proofing
French bread dough in the “bulk ferment” stage after 2 hours.
Dividing_and_shaping
Dividing and shaping for baguettes (above) and small rolls (below)
French_bread_proofing
French bread proofing on a linen couche
Over_door
Hours of excitement provided by watching the dough bake through the crystal clear glass of the new oven door…
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pugile_and_rye

Pugilese – a ciabatta style bread with a sourdough starter

As I mentioned in my previous post, my oven – a long suffering little gas thing – has finally started to give up. The maximum temperature varies, but recently hasn’t topped 200˚C on the middle shelf. This means it isn’t much good at the moment for baking dark sourdough loaves with blistered crusts like porridge sourdough or fig and raisin sourdough.

cracked_crust
This dark multigrain loaf was baked in a very hot oven… This won’t work for me right now

Still, I’ve resisted biting the bullet and heading down to the shops for bread, and instead have been working on some recipes that will get good results at medium temperatures. Rye bread, for example, works very well at a low temperature. It’s hardly an “every day” bread, however, so have also been experimenting with how to make a ciabatta style loaf at home in my dying oven.

The pugilese - "ciabatta" style loaf - proofing in a banneton
The pugilese – “ciabatta” style loaf – proofing in a banneton

I’ve made ciabatta before, using whey as part of the liquid. That post also includes instructions on the stretching and folding of the dough, which is very elastic and can be difficult to manage. The word “ciabatta” refers to the shape – a slipper. These loaves are slightly different. Leavened with a mix of sourdough starter and a little instant yeast, these round ciabatta style loaves are more like “Pugilese”, another Italian bread from the Puglia region. The major difference is the round shape, which needs a well floured banneton due to the slackness of the dough.

pugile_and_rye
Two rye loaves and a pugilese – some of the breads to come out of my “broken” oven

Pugilese – makes 2 small loaves

Firm Starter

Dough

  • 300g firm starter
  • 285g white bread flour
  • 11g salt
  • 3g instant yeast
  • 255g lukewarm water
  1. To make the firm starter, refresh a sourdough starter with white flour to 130% hydration (130g water for every 100g flour). On the day before baking, combine the firm starter ingredients. Knead for a few minutes to combine, then place into a lightly oiled bowl. Allow to rise for 4 hours, then refrigerate overnight.
  2. The day of baking, remove the firm starter from the refrigerator an hour prior to making the bread, and cut up into about a dozen small pieces.
  3. Combine the firm starter with the remaining dough ingredients. The dough will be very wet and “slack”. Autolyse for 20 minutes. Stretch and fold the dough a dozen times, then bulk ferment for four hours. Perform stretch/folds several times during the first two hours of the bulk ferment.
  4. Flour a work surface, two lined bannetons, and your hands. Divide the dough into two equal portions. Try to work quickly but gently, so that the air in the dough is not squeezed out. Shape the dough into rounds and place into the well floured bannetons. Dust the tops with flour and cover loosely with cling film or a tea towel.
  5. Proof for 1 – 1.5 hours. Preheat the oven to 200˚C with a lidded cast iron pot (“Dutch Oven“) on the middle shelf.
  6. Bake the loaves one at a time in the cast iron pot, for 30 minutes with the lid on, then 15 minutes with the lid off.
  7. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for one hour before slicing.
pugilese_and_oil
The best way to enjoy this kind of loaf – with a dish of good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar
pugilese
One of the finished “Pugilese” loaves

Cinnamon Swirl Fruit Loaf

This is just a quick post with one of my favourite fruit loaves – a cinnamon, sultana, and walnut fruit loaf with a swirl of cinnamon sugar through the middle. Using plain (all-purpose) flour gives the loaf a flakier, more crumbly texture than strong bread flour, making this loaf somewhere between a loaf and a cake. It’s also great toasted with fruit jam.

cinnamon_swirl_fruit_loaf
A light, flaky fruit loaf with a swirl of cinnamon sugar through the centre.

Cinnamon Swirl Fruit Loaf – makes 2 loaves

  • 450g plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 20g white sugar
  • 9g salt
  • 6g instant yeast
  • 5g ground cinnamon
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 30g butter at room temperature
  • 110g whole milk at room temperature
  • 170g water at room temperature
  • 100g sultanas
  • 100g currants
  • 100g walnuts, chopped
  • Additional 1/4 cup of white sugar plus 1 tbsp ground cinnamon, combined
  • Poppy seeds, optional
  1. Combine all of the ingredients except the fruit, walnuts, and cinnamon/sugar mix in the bowl of a mixer or in a large bowl.
  2. If kneading by hand, combine the ingredients, then turn the dough onto the counter and knead for 10 minutes.
  3. If using a mixer, combine the ingredients with the paddle attachment on a slow speed, then knead for several minutes with the dough hook until the dough is elastic. Turn out onto the counter.
  4. Spread the dough out and pour over the sultanas, currants, and walnuts. Knead for another 2 minutes by hand to combine the extra ingredients. Shape the dough into a rough ball and place into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and bulk ferment for approximately 2 hours, or until doubled.
  5. Divide the dough into two equal pieces and shape into balls. Rest for 5 minutes. Gently press the dough into a rectangle, working with one piece at a time. Spread the cinnamon/sugar mix over the dough, and roll it up to create the swirl (see photo below). Pinch the seam together, shaping for a loaf tin.
  6. If using, roll the loaves in poppy seeds. Place into greased loaf tins (8.5 x 4.5 inch). Dust the tops with flour or mist with spray oil. Cover loosely with cling film. Proof for 1-1.5 hours until risen about an inch over the lip of the loaf tin.
  7. Preheat the oven to 180˚C with the rack on the middle shelf.
  8. Bake for 40 minutes, rotating the pans half way through.
  9. Remove to a wire rack and cool for at least an hour before slicing.
cinnamon_dough
The dough, covered in cinnamon sugar, read to roll into a loaf