Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fresh from the Oven - Jeffrey Hamelman's Rustic Bread

I've just joined the bread baker's “Fresh From The Oven” challenge. We’re a bread baking community… just making one loaf at a time.

This month's challenge is hosted by Brianna from She has chosen a Rustic Bread from Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes. Thanks Brianna for a great and interesting challenge and I'm looking forward to many more.

The recipe - and is also given below.

This is a basic recipe that introduces a simple pre-ferment with minimalist ingredients. It gives good practice at shaping techniques, simple enough for beginners to learn on, and good practice for those that are already familiar with artisan loaves.

According to Jeffrey Hamelman in “Bread: A bakers Book of Technique and Recipes”, the benefits of using pre-ferments include bread flavour, dough strength, keeping quality, and reduced production time. The development of bread flavour is primarily due to the production of organic acids during fermentation. These organic acids also have a strengthening effect on the dough structure of the bread and such are a major contributor to dough development.

The down side of pre-ferment is it has a limited life expectancy. It will only last at most 48 hours in the refrigerator before it’s leavening potential is expended. It can be frozen for up to a week before it will begin to suffer with loss of vigor. Overall, the effort to make a preferment is minimal and you get a superior tasting bread.

On with the bread…

It was slow going. It has been very cold here in Melbourne, Australia and we even had snow in the bayside suburbs, unheard of in my 30 years in Melbourne. My house was also cold and that added to it. The dough for the pre-ferment was very stiff and floury but with a little bit of kneading, it soon became hydrated and came together easily. I didn’t need to add any further water, probably because I used my Danish dough whisk (from Breadtopia – ideal for mixing heavy bread dough).

The dough was supposed to sit overnight for 12 - 16 hours, but by the next morning (12 hours) it had done very little. I left it out until the afternoon. Still nothing much happening. I was going out for the evening, so I put it in the refrigerator until the next day. By the second morning, it had risen up. I warmed it up in the oven on lowest heat (30'C). My oven doesn't show 'F but my little internal thermometer reached 75'F. That did the trick. It had a lovely little dome and smelled lovely and yeasty. It didn't actually recede in the middle as Hamelman has written. I then mixed it with the other ingredients and continued as per the recipe.

Hamelman's trick for getting a nice brown crusty bread - use a baking stone and preheat it in the oven for at least one hour beforehand. At the same time, preheat a sturdy cast iron pan placed on the oven floor. When the oven is good and hot and the bread ready to load, bring a cup of water to the boil. While the water is heating, I throw in 3 to 4 ice cubes onto the hot tray. This moistens the oven (different to steaming).

Place the bread on a peel, score it (I use a sharp bread knife) and mist it slightly.

Open the oven door quickly, load the bread onto the stone, pour the boiling water into the superheated cast iron pan, and shut the door right away (you need two pair of hands to do this all at the same time so it's good to get some help --- and don't forget to wear a long sleeve shirt and gloves as the steam is hot!!!!).

You should only steam for the first third of the baking cycle and finish the bake in a dry oven. Open the oven after about 15 minutes (just as the bread starts to color) to let the excess steam escape then close the oven.

I stupidly put it in the Fan-forced oven but didn't adjust the heat down or decrease the time. After thinking it wouldn’t be very good, I was absolutely WOWED!!!! by this beautiful bread with it’s lovely crumb. It has a lovely, crisp crust, although slightly darker than I would have hoped for. It had a slightly sour taste (most likely from my longer than normal pre-ferment) and just a little bit of nuttiness from the addition of the rye and whole wheat flour. I've learnt a lot from making the bread (reason why we take challenges after all) and am very happy with the results.

1 lb. bread flour (3 1/2 cups)
9.5 oz. water (1 1/4 cups)
1/2 tablespoon salt 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast

Final dough:
10 oz. bread flour (2 1/2 cups)
6 oz. whole wheat or rye flour or a mixture of them (around 1 1/2 cups)
12.5 oz. water (1 1/2 cups)
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
all of the preferment

For the pre-ferment:
Disperse the yeast in the water, add the flour and salt together in a bowl and mix until it is smooth, adding more water, 1 teaspoon at a time, if necessary. The dough will be very stiff and dense. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (or a little trick: I use shower caps that I get from the $2 shop. They can be washed, reused and you can puff them up so they don't touch the dough) and leave the pre-ferment out at room temperature overnight (12 to 16 hours). If more time is needed before baking, you can put it in the refrigerator but bring it back to room temperature before using it.

For the final dough: Add all of the ingredients except the pre-ferment in a mixing bowl. Using a mixer, mix on the first speed for 3 minutes to combine all ingredients then add the pre-ferment in chunks. You can add small amounts of water or flour at this stage to correct hydration. Continue mixing until they are combined then mix on the second speed for 2 ½ minutes.

Alternatively, mix and knead the dough by hand for about 10 minutes. It may not be perfectly combined but the loaves will still bake evenly. The dough will be supple and sticky. Place the dough into a greased bowl and ferment for 2 1/2 hours, folding the dough twice during that time, once after 50 minutes and again 50 minutes later.

To fold the dough, spread it out on a clean well floured surface so the dough doesn’t stick. Fold 1/3 of the dough towards the centre, patting down the dough to degas it, then repeat with the other side (similar to folding a letter). Turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat the folding. Folding the dough helps to de-gas it, even out the temperature and increases the dough strength.

Dividing and Shaping: Divide the dough into two pieces and preshape each piece into a ball. Cover and let then rest for 5 to 10 minutes for the dough to relax before shaping into ovals or balls.

Set aside for a final rise, approximately 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.

One hour before baking, begin preheating the oven baking stone and tray to 450'F (325'C). Prior to placing the loaves in the oven, score them with a sharp bread knife or blade. Bake for 35 to 38 minutes. Take it out of the oven and place on a cooling rack until cool and don’t cut before it is cool.



  1. Your bread looks perfect! So fluffy and yummy! Great job! And I love reading about all the steps, the worries, the adjustments.

  2. That's a stunning loaf & a beautiful crumb. i dream of making loaves like this. You inspire me to work on my dreams! WOW!!

  3. Such a difference that room temperature makes for rising the preferment and dough because mine zoomed up. (Or, that's what winter vs summer time does to bread making.)
    Tasty looking loaf!

  4. Your bread looks amazing, that crumb is perfect! What a cool whisk.

  5. Wow.. that bread looks stunning! bread baking still a very daunting process for me. I'm not brave enough to try it. But, it is one of my new year's resolution this year to have fresh baked bread.

    I bought the Yuzu juice from Simon Johnson. I think they have 3 stores in Melbourne, toorak rd, chadstone and fitzroy. They are ridiculously expensive. I think 500ml bottle will set you back as far as 50$. I bought mine for $10 last month at Simon Johnson's warehouse clearance. It is past their best before date, that's why I need to use them up quick. I heard Nobu is bringing their own Yuzu juice straight from Japan, if you have someone that can be bribed, you might get a better deal. Let me know how you go.

  6. Gorgeous! I love the crust on your bread. Great job on the first challenge!

  7. I miss baking bread. I need to do some more. This looks lovely. I'm going to check out the Fresh Loaf website!

  8. That's a beautiful bread, and being a bread baking fanatic who couldn't bake bread for a while due to an injury, I so appreciate seeing gorgeous breads like yours! However, I just made my first bread since the injury, but using commercial yeast for now. It's a start :)

  9. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.

    Baking Oven