Artisan Bread if it Kills Me

I love this idea of a free-form loaf.  I’m also kind of parcial  to the idea of cooking bread in a Le’ Crueset Dutch oven.  I decided to try the Sullivan Street Bakery recipe.  I take my total lack of breadmaking skills and get started.

It’s super simple.  Flour, water, yeast, salt.  Combine it and let it sit for 12 hours at room temp.  Here’s my first difficulty.  When do you start a bread that you have to let sit at room temp for 12 hours?  7:00 in the morning?  Then you’ll need to let it rise another couple of hours after you shape it and then cook an hour.  So, 10:00 that night I’ll have some bread?  The whole timing thing really worked me.  I started it at 7:30 at night so that the dough will be ready at 7:30 in the morning.  That makes it a bread that I can only make on a Friday or Saturday night since I would normally be at work at 10:00 or 11:00 in the morning when it’s time to cook it.  See how this is already more complicated than it should be?

When I get up in the morning, the dough, and I use that term loosely (pun intended), is more oozy than a “form a ball” dough.  I’m supposed to put it seam side down in the pot when it’s time to bake it.  There ain’t no seam.  It’s a big, oozy, sticky mess.  I have to fold in more flour to even be able to handle it.  Once it’s slightly manageable I’m supposed to generously flour a cotton (not terry) cloth for it to rest on.  I heavily flour it.  I put down semolina on top of that.  Two hours later the “ball” of dough has failed to rise.  Instead it has spread into a annoyingly flat, sticky disk.  I’m scraping it off the towel with a bench scraper.  I’m hating on the bread dough.

I throw it in the heated Dutch oven.  Literally sling it into the pot.  Who cares?    Put the lid on and to hell with it!  If it sucks, it sucks.  My only concern is that I’ll have sandblast it out of my pot.  If it sticks, I’m seriously going to be pissed. 

It’s brunch time.  I’m having a glass of wine and wait for the 30 minutes to pass until I take off the cover and cook it another 30 minutes.  When the time comes, I’m shocked.  It actually looks like bread.  It even rose a little, though there’s only 1/4 of teaspoon of yeast in the recipe.  I thought that was kind of strange when I started this project.

We took the loaf to dinner at a friend’s house and everyone raved about how good it was.  It did look kind of artsy.  But, you know what?  I’m not fighting with that mess again.  I still need a good artisanal bread recipe.

What about “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” by Hertzberg and Francois?  I have the book.  My friend Jill says it’s great.  The reason I’ve never made this bread is that it calls for so much stuff.  I have a pizza stone but it’s spent most of it’s life on the grill.  Do I want to cook bread on that?  I don’t have a pizza peel to built my loaf on and slide onto the hot pizza stone.  I’m supposed to let the dough rest overnight in a big food-grade container that doesn’t seal too tightly in case it wants to explode.  Forget all that.

I may fail.  But, I’m trying it after the dough has rested in my biggest bowl (thanks, Slade!) covered with plastic wrap in the fridge since yesterday.  Good thing about this recipe.  They say the dough will last in the fridge for up to 14 days.  That takes the timing issue out of it.  Today I’ve pulled off a piece of it the size of a grapefruit, cutting it loose from the rest of the dough with a serrated knife.  I flour my hands and the board.  And I’m actually able to shape a ball by turning the edges in on themselves.  They call it “cloaking” instead of kneading.  And it really is not anything like kneading. 

So, now the ball is resting on my chopping board which is covered with semolina and a little flour.  I’m going with the Dutch oven instead of the pizza stone.  So far, this is a much better experience. When the time comes, I’m going to pick that baby up and plop it into the Dutch oven.  No pizza peel.  No pizza stone.  I’m living dangerously, I know.  Maybe this dough isn’t wet enough to work in the Dutch oven.  I guess we’ll see!

Smells really good…

Maybe not quite as dark as I would like.  But, it’s pretty, isn’t it?  And I’ve got truffle butter in the fridge.  I think I just might be on the right track…


7 responses to “Artisan Bread if it Kills Me

  1. Margie it is beautiful. When I make my husbands Grannies Bread it takes me an entire day. It makes a shitload of bread but what a commitment!


  2. Maybe the humidity affected the Sullivan St. recipe? I’ve made it a jillion times and it always turns out really well and not messy at all. It’s a little on the looser side, but still definitely dough rather than a sticky mess. I don’t do it in hot weather, though. Makes my kitchen too hot to have the oven on for that long!


  3. a shout out and I dont even know why!!! lol


  4. You bought that bowl for me! When you see it again, you’ll probably remember. Actually, you gave me a gift certificate and we went to the Viking Store and picked it out.

    Liz, I really think I didn’t measure the flour properly. I should have weighed the flour. If I ever do it again, I’ll weigh it. Right now, I’m kinda liking this other recipe. I think I’m going to do an herb bread next batch. Maybe some small loaves out of what’s left of the batch tonight.


  5. Wow-what a beautiful loaf-you’re on your way now!


  6. I’ve been making this recipe for years. Mark Bittman has done a lot of updates, including how to do a whole wheat version. Some of these updates are hidden behind the NY Times pay wall, so I won’t link to them (and force you to give up one of your free NY Times articles), but they’re worth hunting down.

    In my years of making it, I’ve cut back a bit on the water to make it a bit less soggy and have had good results. I also generally don’t refrigerate it, and I let it sit for more like 18 hours. Typically, I come home a bit tipsy on a Friday night, mix up the dough while still half drunk, forget about it, and then plop it in the oven the next evening for Saturday’s dinner.

    It should be noted that I know nothing about baking, particularly bread, but my end result even impresses my mother-in-law, a professional (and quite skilled) baker.


  7. I have been making the Sullivan bread for about three months now and it is consistent. I have been allowing it to spend 18 hours on the first ferment and it does have a sticky consistency ( I mix it in a large pyrex measuring cup) then flour the board with about 1/4 cup of all purpose flour, use a silicone spatula to get it out onto the board and then use same spatula to fold the edges in towards the middle, turning it round as I do so. After about ten fold ins towards center it is pretty much no longer sticky. Cover a white cheese cloth with a good sprinkling of cornmeal and transfer the ball to the center of the cloth. Use the cloth to sling some of the cornmeal over the top of the ball as you lift the cloth over the top. Then lifting the cloth with the ball suspended in it like a four sided sling place the whole thing is a stainless steel bowl just a little larger than your ball. I put it at the back of the stove and allow it to rise for the two hours before gently tipping it into the preheated dutch oven. You tip the oven almost on its side with pot holders and then tip the s/s bowl likewise so that the risen bread doesn’t fall from a height into the dutch oven. Lid on and then into the over 30 mins, remove lid and about another 10 minutes will brown it up. The only fault I would have with my loaves is that they are a bit burnt on bottom, but I am working on that. Please note that I weigh my bread flour and water both!


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