This recipe was one that I played with for several years, trying different amounts of flour, starter, liquid……I finally came up with a recipe that I liked. So here is what I ended up with…. loaves of bread that are full of flavor when you smell them, hearty looking and somewhat rustic with a deep golden crunchy crust and a soft airy crumb and a very distinct taste and texture. This bread doesn’t stay fresh for too long because it is made without chemicals and preservatives using only water, unbleached flour, salt and starter. You can add any type of fresh herb to the dough. I like to add rosemary.
I have found when making breads with starters that it is better to weigh the ingredients instead of measuring, so you will need a scale to measure the ingredients.
For the Starter:
Unbleached bread flour, 2,135 grams
Whole-wheat flour, 135 grams (Mix both flours together and keep in a container)
Water (lukewarm), 455 grams
Water (78 degrees), 150 grams per feeding
For the Leaven:
Water (78 degrees), 200 grams
For the Dough:
Water (80 degrees), 750 grams
Leaven, 200 grams
White bread flour, 900 grams
Whole-wheat flour, 100 grams
Salt, 20 grams
Make the Starter: Mix white bread flour with whole-wheat flour. Place lukewarm water in a medium bowl. Add 315 grams flour blend (reserve remaining flour blend), and mix with your hands until mixture is the consistency of a thick, lump-free batter. Cover with a kitchen towel. Let rest in a cool, dark place until bubbles form around the sides and on the surface, about 2 days. A dark crusty film may form over the top. Once bubbles form, it is time for the first feeding.
With each feeding, remove 75 grams of the starter; discard the remainder. Feed with 150 grams reserved flour blend and 150 grams warm water. Mix, using your hands, until mixture is the consistency of a thick, lump-free batter. Repeat every 24 hours at the same time of day for 15 to 20 days. Once it ferments and rises and falls throughout the day after feedings, it’s time to make the leaven.
Make the Leaven: The night before you plan to make the dough, discard all but 1 tablespoon of the matured starter. I have always hated to waste and couldn’t bring myself to throw so much of the starter away, so I started putting it in containers and giving it to friends who bake, with the recipe for the bread. Feed with 200 grams reserved flour blend and the warm water. Cover with a kitchen towel. Let rest in a cool, dark place for 10 to 16 hours. To test leaven’s readiness, drop a spoonful into a bowl of room-temperature water. If it sinks, it is not ready and needs more time to ferment and ripen. As it develops, the smell will change from ripe and sour to sweet and pleasantly fermented; when it reaches this stage, it’s ready to use.
Make the Dough: Pour 700 grams warm water into a large mixing bowl. Add 200 grams leaven. Stir. (Save your leftover leaven; it is now the beginning of a new starter. To keep it alive to make future loaves, continue to feed it as described in step 2.) Add flours (see ingredient list) and 3 tsp. of chopped fresh rosemary, and mix dough with your hands until no bits of dry flour remain. Let rest in a cool, dark place for 35 minutes. Add salt and remaining 50 grams warm water.
Fold dough on top of itself to incorporate. Transfer to a bowl. Cover with kitchen towel. Let rest for 30 minutes. The dough will now begin its first rise, to develop flavor and strength. (The rise is temperature sensitive; as a rule, warmer dough ferments faster. I try to do this is a warm area, so if my kitchen is cool, I put the dough in the oven and on the bottom rack I place a pan with hot water. The steam from the water help keep the temperature warm. You can also buy a proofing box from King Arthur Flour (a good investment if you begin to make bread on a regular basis).
Fold dough, repeating every 30 minutes for 2 1/2 hours. To do a fold, dip one hand in water to prevent sticking. Grab the underside of the dough, stretch it out, and fold it back over itself. Rotate container one-quarter turn, and repeat. Do this 2 or 3 times for each fold. After the 3 hours, the dough should feel aerated and softer, and you will see a 20 to 30 percent increase in volume. If not, continue to let it rise for 30 minutes to 1 hour more.
Pull dough out of container using a dough spatula. Transfer to a floured surface. Lightly dust dough with flour, and cut into 2 pieces using dough scraper. Work each piece into a oval shape using scraper and your hand. Tension will build as the dough slightly anchors to the surface as you rotate it. By the end, the dough should have a taut, smooth surface.
Dust tops of dough with flour, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rest on the work surface for 20 to 30 minutes. Slip the dough scraper under each to lift it, being careful to maintain the oval shape. Flip each, floured side down.
Line two medium baskets(you can get these also at King Arthur) or bowls with clean kitchen towels (I use the white, flour sack type – no lint); generously dust with flour. Using the dough scraper, transfer each oval to a basket, smooth side down, with seam centered and facing up. Let rest at room temperature (75 degrees to 80 degrees), covered with towels for 3 to 4 hours before baking.
Bake the Bread: Twenty minutes before you are ready to bake the bread, preheat oven to 500 degrees, with rack in lowest position, and warm an 11-inch oval Dutch oven (I like cast iron for this).
Turn out one oval into heated Dutch oven (it may stick to towel slightly). Score top twice using a razor blade or a sharp knife and sprinkle with kosher salt. Cover with lid. Return to oven, and reduce oven temperature to 450 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes.
Carefully remove lid (a cloud of steam will be released). Bake until crust is deep golden brown, 20-25 minutes more.
Transfer loaf to a wire rack. It will feel light and sound hollow when tapped. Let cool.
To bake the second loaf, raise oven temperature to 500 degrees, wipe out Dutch oven with a dry kitchen towel, and reheat with lid for 10 minutes. Place next oval into Dutch oven and score top, sprinkle with salt. Cover with lid and return to oven. Reduce heat 450 degrees and bake for 20 min. Remove lid and bake until crust is deep golden brown, about 20-25 min more.
I love this bread with Italian or chicken dishes or soups. They smell heavenly coming out of the oven and the taste is wonderful.