How to Bake Country Bread

My first experiences in baking began a few months ago, when I bought my first edition of Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish. Driven by the desire to eat real Italian-style country bread that was nowhere available in my country I was desperately looking for a solution. And the only solution to me was baking my own bread. Hell, and it was fun!

It took me a while to get to the perfect recipe. There are hundreds of good books and blogs on bread baking, and I really can tell from my own baking experience that the best way to learn it is to go out and just bake.

Let me share with you below what for me is probably the best bread I’ve baked so far.

My bread recipe works best with about 78% hydration. This means, for each 1,000 grams of flour you use 780 grams of water. But this really depends on the quality of bread flours you use. I use about 20% whole wheat for extra flavor and nutritive value.

755 grams white wheat flour
189 grams whole wheat flour
736 grams water
100 grams levain (78% hydration)
1 Tsp instant dried yeast
22 grams sea salt

For preparing the levain, see the levain method for example in Flour Water Salt Yeast. You can also work without levain by adding the double quantity of yeast.

Mix flour and water together and let rest for 30 minutes. This phase is called Autolyse and helps releasing enzymes that support gluten formation. It is really worth doing.

After the Autolyse phase, add levain, salt and yeast and mix together well. There is no need for extra kneading, but make sure you incorporate everything. Now let the dough rest for 4-5 hours at room temperature. Within the first hour, I like to do what is called folding the bread dough. This technique is described in many books about bread baking, and means to pull out a portion of the dough gently, and folding it on top of the rest. Work through the dough to make sure you pull every side. You should feel the texture getting firmer. This is exactly the result we want, and helps the dough hold its structure while rising. To me, this is the number one trick that helped me get from good breD to outstanding bread!

After this first rise, move the dough on a floured work surface to give it a gentle final fold and then the dough is ready to be moved into a proofing basket. Make sure it is lightly floured, and here you can add any topping to your bread if desired, such as sesame or wheat bran.

In the proofing basket, give it a final rise until the bread dough has almost doubled in volume. During this 1-2 hour rise, start preheating your oven to 500F and already put your Dutch oven inside for pre-heating. I like to bake my bread off in a Dutch oven so it develops a nice crust.

When the rise is done, use oven mitts to take out the Dutch oven and carefully insert the dough into the pot. Close the lid and immediately insert the Dutch oven into the oven. I like to turn down the temperature to 450 F at this point. After 20 minutes or so, when the bread has risen substantially, I like to take off the kid and bake the bread until it is really nice dark brown. I always notice that I feel that the bread is already too dark, but when I take it out it’s still not. So give it those extra five minutes. Dark bread means flavorful bread!

When finished, take out the bread and let it cool outside in a warm bread. Let it cool slowly and don’t cut it until about an hour after baking! Enjoy!

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