This one was intense.
It is a homemade bread recipe for the slightly deranged. It is a homemade bread recipe that takes 3 days of your time, albeit with long gaps. It is, in a nutshell, the neverending homemade bread recipe.
Ok, maybe this is all a slight exaggeration. But I will warn you once more, you have to be really, really into baking for this one. Your entire weekend will be planned around the fermentation schedule. The whole process might feel a little excessive but the results, however, are magical. To make bread this good, this flavorful, this, well, artisanal tasting might just be worth all the long, patient suffering endured beforehand. It has brought me to the dark side of baking, or at least taken over any weekend when I decide I want a fresh loaf.
Here is my most important suggestion to anyone that wants to try this recipe for the first time: read the directions first, maybe even twice. It might also help to watch the posted video to get a sense of the steps involved. Trust me, familiarizing yourself with the steps will be useful later. You’ll end up referencing the written recipe many times over, unless you are a pro at memorization.
Anyways. So you’re ready to do this. The only part of the recipe I felt was a little off, timing-wise, was how long the poolish, or yeast starter, took to properly ferment. It says the initial fermentation will take 12-18 hours, which from my experience is too short. In the 3 times I have baked this bread, it has taken 24 hours, 16 hours, and 22 hours respectively. Maybe the process is slowed because of the yeast I’m using combined with the temperature in my kitchen. The poolish is supposed to be ready when a tiny piece floats in a cup of water. The first time I was trying this “float test” the pieces kept sinking, making me think that the yeast was bad and the whole concoction was done for. Not true. Eventually it floated to the top, luckily before I gave up on the entire process. So don’t worry if this first step takes longer than 18 hours.
Another helpful suggestion is to diligently weigh out all the ingredients on a digital scale, including the water and salt. This step makes for more accurate measurements and a properly baked loaf. (apparently some people have questioned the salt content of the recipe overall. I had no problem with the saltiness when using the scale.) Following the timings and steps for the kneading, mixing, and multiples rises is also a process in itself but all crucial to help you achieve the impressive final result.
The “slap and fold” step is the most hands-on and fun part once you get used to it. A more extreme version of normal kneading, this process is perfect to do with this stretchy, goopy dough. If you look over the written directions and want to cry from confusion, just watch the video linked to above. This step might feel a little messy and weird at first, but you’ll get used to it quickly, and it really goes help to develop the gluten strands.
After all the kneading, slapping, and various rises involved, the dough still always seems pretty soft to me. The mass will spread out as far as it can after I invert it onto parchment paper in preparation for baking. None of this effects the end result. The loaf perfectly fits into my 5.5 quart Dutch Oven and bakes within the suggested times, usually closer to the low timing while in a 475 degree oven.
Waiting a few hours for the bread to cool is torturous. My last suggestion is to bake it at the very end of the night. Instead of hovering over the bread to cool you can simply wake up to a happy breakfast. The end product is outstanding, robust with an intense crust. Feels fancier than what you thought you could make at home.
Some other notes:
- I do not have rice flour, so I used the suggested backup of cornstarch/flour. It was fine.
- I also do not have a razor or lame on hand to slash the dough. A knife was my substitute, which barely works. No effect on the end flavor.
- My marble slab was the perfect place to work on the “slap and fold” step of the recipe. This accessory along with a bench scraper makes for an easier process.
Recipe: BA’s Best Bread Recipe
Kitchen Mess: 3 out of 4.
Recommended For: Masochists, Weekend Bakers, Things To Do During A Snowstorm, Bread Obsessives
Not Recommended For: Impatient Bakers, Busy Schedules, The Person Who Would Rather Buy A Loaf At The Bakery Down The Street And Be Done With It