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hearth loaf bread

March 20, 2011

[warning March Madness spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the UNC-Washington game!]

What could be better than drinking a strong cup of coffee, reading the newspaper, and writing a blog post on a rainy Sunday morning?  Well, we can add watching basketball to that list (how tense is the UNC -Washington game right now??).  And eating homemade toast.

Just like UNC at minute 2:05, I’m back in the game…the bread making game.  Yesterday it felt so good to take the time to make a loaf. I haven’t done it in a while.  It seems the last couple of months have been super hectic. I need to make a quarter-year resolution to take the time to make bread, at least once a week.

This is my first loaf from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible.  G gave me this beautiful book a long time ago, but it’s the first time I’ve made bread from it because I haven’t had instant yeast. Well now I do, and I also have two bags of beautiful King Arthur flour (unbleached bread flour and 100% whole wheat flour).  Everyone says it’s the best, but I have only now tried it…and I totally recommend it.  It’s always hard for me to tell what exactly I did to make a loaf come out right, especially when it’s been a while, because there are so many steps involved.  Was it because the bread rose in the right temperature? Did I finally knead it enough? Was the oven a little hotter than normal? Etc Etc.  Maybe it was all of these, but the flour must have been a factor because I think this one of the best loaf breads I’ve made.

(5.4 seconds: 83-84 UNC! Madness!)

Diving into a new bread book, I like to try a basic recipe first.  This is the first in her hearth bread section. You can make it as a round free-form loaf or form it into a loaf pan. I chose the loaf pan, and it comes out as a hearty, yet soft and slightly chewy loaf, which is definitely the best sandwich bread I’ve made.  I also left it out to cool overnight, with a towel covering it. This was more for convenience, since I didn’t finish the bread until midnight, but G thinks it helped with the soft texture of the bread. Oh man, oh man! Make it!

(and UNC moves on…good for my bracket, although my heart was with the Huskies)

PS: Michigan sucks!

hearth loaf bread

adapted from “Basic Hearth Bread” in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible


2 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons bread flour

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

3/8 teaspoon plus 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

1 1/4 teaspoons honey

1 1/3 cups water at 70-90 degrees F

1 1/2 teaspoons salt


First you have to make a sponge. I think a sponge is kind of like a starter, but doesn’t develop for as long. To make the sponge whisk together 1 cup of the bread flour, the whole wheat flour, 3/8 teaspoon of the yeast, the honey and the water in a large mixing bowl — if you plan ahead, which I didn’t, you can do this in the bowl of your mixer, saving you a bowl to wash. Cover with plastic wrap as you do the next step.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining bread flour, the rest of the yeast, and the salt.  Pour this mixture over the first mixture, covering it completely.  Don’t mix it in. You can see from the picture above that as you let it sit the wetter mixture might bubble up through the dry, and that’s ok!  Recover with plastic wrap and let it sit for an hour or more.

After you’ve let the sponge sit, pour the sponge into your mixer bowl (or just put it in the mixer if you started with this). Mix with the dough hook on low speed for a minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, mix on medium speed with the dough hook for 7 minutes. Put the dough ball in a bowl oiled with olive oil, push it down, and cover it with olive oil and the bowl with plastic wrap. Let sit for about an hour, until it has doubled in size.

After an hour, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, gently shape it into a rectangle–not pushing out too much air–and fold it like a business letter (ie. in thirds).  Then turn it length-wise and fold that rectangle into a business letter.  Put back in the oiled bowl, oil the top of the dough, re-plastic wrap the bowl, and let it sit for another hour.

After this second rise, oil or cooking spray your loaf pan.  Turn the dough out again onto a lightly floured surface and shape it into a rectangle. Fold it into a business fold, pushing down the creases as you go to make it smooth. Then turn the dough toward you so it is lenghwise.  Take the long end and roll it toward you, pushing the bottom of the roll into the dough below, and keep rolling — ie. you’re rolling the dough toward you, with each roll tucking it into the dough to make it smooth.  When you get to the end (about three rolls or so) push the end into the dough to make it smooth and tuck in the two side ends.  Roll the log back and forth to make it a big longer and put it in the loaf pan, pushing it down a bit.  If all of this is confusing (next time I’ll take pictures!) just do your best to form it into something that looks like a loaf!

Cover the loaf plan loosely with oiled plastic wrap and let rise for an hour to an hour and a half. You ideally want the dough to rise above the loaf pan…mine barely did, but it came out well!

After about an hour into this rise, place a baking sheet on the lowest rack of your oven and another loaf pan, cast iron skillet, or other oven proof pan, on the floor of the oven. Preheat to 475.  You want it to be hot hot hot before you put in the loaf.

When the loaf is ready, spray it with water and score it down the middle (about a quarter inch deep). Put three ice cubes in the pan on the floor of the oven, quickly put the loaf pan on the baking sheet, spray your oven with water, and shut the door. After 10 minutes, reduce the temperature to 425. Bake for about 20 more minutes. The bread is done when it is golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap the bottom. Let it cool on a rack.

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