Kneading for Naught: Hearth Bread

20 Feb

For Valentines Dy this year, the #smugcouple embarked on a cooking extravaganza. This meal had everything: artichoke crostini (or “Arthur-choke” as HoM is fond of saying), a grapefruit granita (to cleanse the palate), frissé salad (with lardons and a poached egg), Boeuf Bourguignon, and a homemade loaf of artisan bread. Timing and organization were key if the #smugcouple were to complete this daunting slate.

The first thing we tackled was the bread. The recipe from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Bread Bible was sprawled out over 4 pages. It called for 1-4 hours of fermentation for the starter AND nearly 4 hours of rising altogether before baking.

We approached this bread with extreme caution. We measured everything with a kitchen scale. The recipe calls for a tiny bit of whole wheat flour for flavour and a lovely speckle throughout the loaf. We used whole wheat flour from the Arva Historic Mill.

Our first mistake was throwing the salt into the starter. Salt, in direct contact, kills yeast. Luckily, because the recipe called for the wet ingredients to be covered by the dry with no mixing, the flour buffered our mistake. We left it for 3 hours while we prepared the “mise” for dinner. Anthony Bourdain who has described mise en place (aka the proper arrangement and organization of ingredients prior to cooking) as a chef’s religion, would have been proud.

Once ready, the dough required a precise course of kneading in a stand mixer for 1 and then 7 minutes. Because of the tight timing of the meal prep, we went with the stand mixer method though the book does provide a hand kneading method. The major difference is time and the end result is probably less chewy by hand though our bagels were kneaded by hand and they had a delightful, chewy texture.

The initial knead

The initial knead

After the kneading, the dough (which looks like alien sludge) is left to rise at room temperature. We had never worked with artisan bread but we’d read that it is wet and difficult to manage. Do not be tempted to add flour because it will detract from the end result: a chewy stretchy loaf.


Rose Levy Berenbaum then called for an envelope fold. We had to look this up online. The texture of the dough at this stage is light, stretchy and a bit tacky. It doesn’t stick to your hands and make a mess. You don’t want to destroy all of the air and gluten development so don’t over-handle!

The envelope fold

The envelope fold

We don’t have images of actually shaping the loaf because we were pressed for time and, at one point, there was only one of us in the kitchen as the other had to take the dog (yyzPercy) for a walk. We remember dreading the bread would be flat and dense because our boule just lay there … growing sideways on the baking sheet.

The final product (pictured below) is the result of a hot oven (475F) pre-heated for an hour, a cup of ice cubes (which mimics moisture injection ovens the pros use), and a baking stone. In the first ten minutes, the bread was at least 8 inches taller than it had been in dough-form.


The lovely crust was the result of leaving the bread in the oven (turned off and door ajar) on the stone for 5-10 minutes. The loaf has a thin crust but incredible chew. The crumb is even with evidence of the simple chemistry that took place over 6 hours.



Lessons from this venture:

  • Making artisan loaves is time consuming but not a lot of work. Next time, we could get up at 5am to make the starter and return to bed before kneading and rising.
  • This is not a bread you make for breakfast or lunch. The time required means it’s a brunch/ dinner thing
  • Reading through the recipe carefully before beginning is key. This recipe was considerably more complex than our bagel recipe. Adding the salt too early nearly spelled disaster for our Valentines feast! Thankfully it didn’t.  Consider it a warning shot fired across our bow. We will be more attentive in the future.
  • The little bit of whole wheat flour made a big difference. It gave a more rustic, satisfying taste and texture than just white flour.

One Response to “Kneading for Naught: Hearth Bread”

  1. Monica February 21, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

    What a fine looking bread! mmmm

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