Monday, July 9, 2007

Mixed starter bread

This is adapted (from memory!) from the the recipe in Julia Child's wonderful book of recipes from her friends, Baking with Julia: if you buy just one bread-making and baking book, buy this one. You will, of course, subsequently buy several more, but buy this one first.

To make this, you need to reserve a small piece of dough from a previous batch of bread: the recipe suggests a walnut sized-piece, but this recipe is robust enough that the piece could be bigger (or perhaps even smaller). The dough is made in several stages, and takes a couple of days to make.

Mixed Starter Bread
Stage 1: break up the old dough into small pieces, and place in 1/4 cup of warm water (100-110 F) to soften for a few minutes. Stir in 3/4 cup of bread flour, just to incorporate the flour, not to produce a dough. Cover with plastic wrap, and leave in a warm place for several hours.

Stage 2: break up the dough, place in 1/4 cup of warm water to soften for a few minutes, stir in 2/3 cup of bread flour to incorporate. Leave for several hours, then chill for at least one and at most 8 hours.

Stage 3: Put 1/2 tsp of yeast into 1 1/4 cup of cool water in the bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer with bread hook: break up the dough, place in the water to soften for a few minutes. Add 3 cups of bread flour and 1 tbsp salt, and pulse the mixer on low to get the flour mixed without flying everywhere. Once the flour is incorporated, turn the mixer off, cover the bowl, and leave for twenty minutes: this is the autolyse period: the flour will absorb the moisture and the gluten will loosen enough that it will stretch more easily when kneaded.

Turn the mixer on low and mix/knead for 10 minutes. Place in a large bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap (I admit it: I use plastic wrap: call me a philistine!) and leave to rise for an hour and a half.

Stage 4: Remove from the bowl and gently fold down the dough: don't punch it down: do this gently so as not to break all the texture the dough has. Place back in the bowl and allow to rise for another hour.

Stage 5: Remove the dough, shape into loaves, leave to rise, slash and bake. This is essentially the same as for any other bread recipe, so I'll leave out most of the details except for the following: I pre-heat the oven to 450 with stones in: after a few minutes at temperature, I turn it down to 425 and put the bread in: I throw in a half cup or so of water and close the oven door. This creates steam which assists the crust. After a few minutes I turn the oven down to 375 to continue baking. Bake until the crust is golden and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom: the exact time will depend on your stove, on the type of loaf you've made, etc.

As with all bread, when you take it out of the oven, let it cool on a baking rack for 15-20 minutes!!!! This is really important!

Now, the above is how the recipe recommends: I typically use a larger piece of old dough, about twice as much water and flour at stages 1 and 2, about 1 1/2 - 2 cups of water in stage 3, and a corresponding amount of flour to make a supple dough. I usually make a loaf which is like a batard in length, and perhaps a little fatter (but less than a US "Italian loaf"). I still look at the recipe when I make this, but more as a reminder of which stage I'm at than anything. This recipe is as close to a foolproof recipe for really good white bread as I have found (though as I noted, it does take a while to make!)

As always, if you make this, let me know how it turns out!

Yours, crustily,

No comments: