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…

Dark Ale Sourdough

Two dark ale sourdough loaves
Two dark ale sourdough loaves

Some people rate a perfect sourdough based not only on the flavour but on the irregularity of the crumb – a holey, open-crumbed texture with a well risen and crispy scored edge is the holy grail, achieved by using a high hydration dough, a fierce heat and often judicious use of steam. I can take or leave the big holey dough thing; sometimes a dense and flavourful crumb – like a rye bread or a wholemeal loaf – is just as good. But, every now and again, I like to experiment and try to find that “perfect” sourdough.

ale_crumb
The crumb is springy and full of large, uneven holes.

This recipe was born of a simple idea: I like beer, I like bread, and I’ve never (despite seeing many recipes) combined the two. So I took a pretty standard formula for two loaves – 800g of bread flour with 70% liquid, and swapped out 330ml of the water with a bottle of dark ale. The results were even better than I expected.

This sourdough loaf has the open holes and irregular crumb, the dark and crisp crust, and a fantastic flavour (so good that one loaf barely lasted out the day). The dark ale gave it lift, colour, and flavour, without being overpowering. The best part – slicing some of it up and turning it into the best Welsh rarebit ever… more on that later this week.

Sourdough_ale_crust
Well risen and with a crisp and delicious crust

Dark Ale Sourdough – makes two boules

Firm starter

  • 115g white sourdough starter @ 130% hydration
  • 130g white bread flour
  • 55g water

Dough

  • 240g firm starter
  • 800g strong white flour
  • 230ml warm water
  • 330ml dark ale
  • 16g salt
  1. Two days before baking, make the firm starter. Combine the ingredients, knead for a few minutes, and allow to rise at room temperature for four hours. Refrigerate overnight.
  2. The next morning, remove the firm starter one hour prior to making the dough, and break into a dozen pieces.
  3. Combine the remaining ingredients and knead briefly. Autolyse for 20 minutes. Bulk ferment for 4 hours, with a stretch/fold every half an hour for the first 2.
  4. Divide and shape the loaves into two boules. Rest on the counter for 20 minutes, then quickly and gently reshape and place into well floured bannetons. Proof for 2 hours, then place into plastic bags and retard in the refrigerator overnight.
  5. The day of baking, preheat the oven to max with a lidded cast iron pot (Dutch oven) on the middle shelf. Bake one loaf at a time for 30 minutes with the lid on, then 15 minutes with the lid off and temperature reduced to 230˚C.
  6. Remove to a wire rack and rest for at least an hour before slicing.
dark_ale_boules
Dark ale sourdough loaves shaped into boules

The best rye sourdough recipe

This recipe is practically foolproof – a 100% rye bread, made with a rye sourdough starter, and baked to a dense, dark, and chewy loaf that tastes delicious.

rye-crumb
The crust is cracked and dark, despite the low oven temperature. The crumb is dense, moist, and chewy

This simple recipe came about as a result of my oven breaking. I’ve made rye breads before, but needed a straightforward loaf that I could bake at a reasonably low temperature, as my oven has recently taken a dive and now only reaches 180-200˚C.

rye-proofing
Two rye loaves proofing in floured bannetons

It doesn’t get much simper than this – three ingredients, no kneading, and excellent results.

100% rye sourdough

  1. Refresh the rye starter for a couple of days prior to baking. This loaf will not rise much, but the starter will add complexity to the finished flavour.
  2. Combine all of the ingredients and mix thoroughly to combine. Divide in two, shape into rough rounds and place into bannetons floured with rye flour. This bread does not require kneading, or a bulk ferment. Proof the loaves at room temperature for 4-6 hours, or proof for 4 hours then refrigerate overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 200˚C with a lidded cast iron pot (“Dutch Oven“) on the middle shelf. Bake loaves one at a time for 45 minutes with the lid on, then reduce the temperature to 180˚C and bake for 15 minutes with the lid off.
  4. Cool on a wire rack for two hours before slicing. Slice thinly.
rye-loaves
The two finished rye loaves