Week 4: 2 Loaves (2 Lessons)

My 4th week of following the advice and recipes from William Alexander‘s fabulous book, 52 LOAVES: One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning and a Perfect Crust, was the week my levain became bread. Well. . . almost.

Sunday marked my first attempt. I combined the ingredients and allowed them to autolyse for 25 minutes.  (This resting period gives the ingredients some time to meld.) Once the dough has rested, kneading can begin.

I measured and weighed the ingredients, the levain, all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, rye flour, salt, a little bit of dry yeast (to give the levain a boost), and water.

In 52 LOAVES William Alexander speaks very highly of kneading by hand, as opposed to relying on the dough hook of one’s KitchenAid. I love any excuse to use my stand mixer, so I was a little skeptical at first. However, with the autolyse process, you only have to knead by hand for about 8 minutes–just enough to get a feel for the dough. By the time your shoulders hurt, your back is sore, and you start checking the clock, you’re just about done.

After a five-hour rise, the bread was molded into a boule and proofed for two hours. Meanwhile, I turned my oven up to 500 degrees and placed a cast-iron pan in the bottom. I prepped the bread for the oven by sprinkling the top with rye flour (which doesn’t burn and turn black the way all-purpose flour would) and making the iconic slashes (gringes) with a knife. The bread was then ready to go in. I turned the oven to 485 degrees, got the bread in,  poured a cup of water into the cast-iron pan (to create steam), and shut the door as quickly as I could. Twenty minutes later, I turned the oven to 425 degrees for the final 20-25 minutes. When my kitchen timer went off, I was shocked to see that my long awaited loaf was nearly black!

Another late night trip to the store, this time for an oven thermometer, confirmed my fears. My oven runs over 50 degrees high! (I always noticed that it cooks things really fast . . . I guess I thought it was just super efficient.)

Undeterred, yesterday launched a second attempt at a loaf. The oven temperature was carefully monitored, and I was optimistic that although I might not achieve “perfection” on this round, at least I might get bread.

Unfortunately, as I walked away from the kitchen, after sliding the doughy boule in to the perfectly heated oven, I spotted the active dry yeast on the counter–still sealed in its package. I had forgotten to add the yeast! 45 minutes later I had a hockey puck shaped loaf that wasn’t burnt. Progress?

Not quite what I was hoping for.

After reading 52 LOAVES, I have a new appreciation and understanding of bread. I even would venture as far as to say that I have learned how to bake bread.  I would not, however, say that  I can make bread in my kitchen.

Thankfully, with only two loaves down, I have fifty more loaves and fifty more chances to try and get this right.

Our author spent a year attempting to re-create the perfect peasant bread. My goal is just to make my bread match the one on his cover!



One Comment On This Post:

May 20, 2010
1:13 am
Kristen M. says...

Oh no! My oven is “extra efficient” too. I haven’t measured just how extra but I usually turn it down a tad and also cut the time short on almost everything. I have yet to make wonderful bread so I applaud you for trying!

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