Bread Revisited!

Dutch Oven Bread

A while ago, I took up bread making. The goal being to master turning out a consistently awesome loaf of your basic bread using a simple mix – knead – rise – knead – rise – bake recipe; standard fare directly from the first chapter in Rulhman’s Ratio.

From the first loaf, I was able to turn out a generally yummy hunk of bread, but the texture was just a bit dense.

At the moment, I bake all of my bread in a cast iron dutch oven; 30 minutes lid on, 40 or so minutes without the lid. This leads to a wonderful crisp crust and soft interior.

As it turns out, my bread was too dense simply because I wasn’t letting the dough rise long enough on the second rise! Extending the second rise not only fixed the density issue, but I’ve also now cut my ingredients by a third because my existing quantities would actually cause the bread to lift the lid on the cast iron dutch oven!

Dutch Oven Too-Tall Bread

At right is proof! The dimples on that particular loaf (and weird ridge around the top) were created by the lid of the dutch oven which has little pointy bits from which condensation drips off during cooking.


To fill the 7 qt cast iron dutch oven, I had starting with 833 grams of flour, 500 grams of water, and 17 grams of salt. Now that I have the rise figured out, I’m using 700 grams of flour, 420 grams of water, and 14 grams of salt. To this, I typically add some mix of rosemary, honey, sugar, and/or something citrusy, depending on mood.

Most recently, I have started substituting beer for almost all of the water. It adds a bit of richness to the bread, but otherwise doesn’t change the recipe.

Dutch Oven Big Bread

Or, to be precise (literally, the order is the way it is on purpose!), the exact steps are as follows. Note that no amounts are given because this is a ratio based recipe. You can scale it up or down at will. The foundation is 5 parts flower to 3 parts water (or, more precisely, 50 parts flour to 30 parts water to 1 part salt, but salt isn’t that critical beyond not too much).

  1. Start with the liquid — beer or water — and warm it up to about 105℉.
  2. Add yeast (1 packet) and, maybe, some sugar.
  3. Mix well to activate the yeast.
  4. Add flour, then salt (prevents the salt from poisoning the yeastie-beasties).
  5. Add honey/rosemary/olive oil/lemon zest/nothing, depending on flavorings you wish to add. If you add something that is very liquid in any significant quantity, consider adding more flour.
  6. Throw the mix on your stand mixer and let it knead away on a relatively low setting for about 10 minutes (yes, 10 minutes). If you don’t have a stand mixer, get busy with your hands and enjoy the exercise.
  7. Drop the dough on floured surface and knead it by hand. Punch it. Fold it. Pull it. Don’t be gentle.
  8. Once kneaded for a bit, the dough should be fairly stretchy without breaking. If not, beat on it some more!
  9. Lightly oil your mixing bowl, drop the dough into it and cover with a damp cloth. Let rise in a warm spot for a couple of hours. Actual rise times may vary — you are looking for an approximate doubling in size.
  10. Drop the dough back on your floured surface and beat it up some more! Not too much. Enough to reduce the volume by about half again.
  11. Oil your cast iron dutch oven and drop the dough in to rise a second time. Put the lid on and place the pot someplace warm. A sunbeam works very well.
  12. Let the dough rise until it has at least doubled. Be patient. I wasn’t and that was my mistake.
  13. Preheat oven to 450.
  14. Lightly salt the surface of the dough, maybe drizzle some oil on it. I don’t slice the surface of the bread because it ends up deflating the bread too much.
  15. Shove the cast iron pot, lid on, into the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
  16. Turn the oven down to 400, remove the lid, and continue baking for another 40 minutes.
  17. Pull from the oven, drop the loaf out of the pan, and let sit for at least 45 minutes or so.
  18. Enjoy with butter or, frankly, just plain.

Truly, nothing beats the smell and taste of a freshly baked loaf of simple bread from your own kitchen.

Now that I have this part figured out, my next step is to branch out from basic loaves to other shapes. As well, I’m going to start a wild sourdough culture in my backyard and see what kind of bread results.

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5 Responses to “Bread Revisited!”

  1. annbb says:

    Glad at least one of us is continuing the family bread tradition.
    “Wild sourdough culture”? ‘Splain please.
    Your bread looks like all kinds of YUM!

  2. Scott Thompson says:

    When you make your sourdough starter, begin the first two days with Pineapple juice instead of water. The acidity in the pineapple juice will prevent the formation of luconostoc bacteria. Those bacteria won’t hurt anything, but they smell like dirty sweat socks and lend a slightly unpleasant flavor to the starter early in it’s life.

  3. Scott Thompson says:

    “Wild sourdough culture”? ‘Splain please.

    “Wild Sourdough Culture” – Put 2 TBS of Pineapple juice and 2 TBS of flour into a small container. MIx, cover with a paper towel and let it sit on your counter over night. Each day, as you walk by the starter, pull of the towel and stir it up (try to work air into it… yeast love oxygen when they are growing).

    The next day, add 2 Tbs of Pineapple Juice and 2 Tbs of flour. Recover with your paper towel and let it sit over night.

    On the third day, add 1/4 c flour and 1/4 c water (dechlorinated if your tap water has a lot of chlorine). By this point you may see bubbles and other activity in your starter.

    On the fourth day add 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup water. Leave it on the counter over night.
    On the fifth day, pour out half the mixture, add 1/2 flour and 1/2 cup water.

    At that point, you should have captured (cultured) wild yeast and bacteria out of the air, lots of bubbles in the starter. These critters can be used to make sourdough bread. For more info, search YouTube for “Follow the Sourdough” and watch days 1-8.

    Here’s why I suggest Pineapple Juice

  4. Scott Thompson says:

    OK… here is why I suggest pineapple juice (hyperlink didn’t work in that last comment)

  5. NaOH says:

    I’m not saying the pineapple juice technique should be avoided, but I’ve found great success by simply using grapes. An advantage to the grape method is it avoids the introduction of an unwanted acid in the culture. The white film regularly seen on grapes is yeast, so it’s best if organic grapes are used. Likewise, unbleached flour is loaded with yeast. All that said, here’s the approach I’ve used:

    Mix equal parts (by weight) of flour and water. Let’s say 4-6 ounces (114-170 g) of each. Stir to combine. Add a bunch of grapes (still on the stem) in to the mix by running them through the mixture and then leaving in the mix. Cover tightly and let sit for 24-36 hours. (Perhaps there’s something I don’t know, but the idea that yeast do well with oxygen is not one I’m familiar. As I understand it, yeast responds best in moist, warm environments regardless of the amount of oxygen present).

    After 24-36 hours, the mixture may be showing a few small bubbles on the surface and it’s likely beginning to have that yeasty smell of a budding culture. Stir the mixture. Add another 4-6 ounces each of water and flour. Stir to combine. Add a new grape bunch into the mix.

    Repeat again every 24 hours for 5-7 days. The only thing to do differently these days is to stir the mixture, then discard half of the culture before adding more flour and water. The reason for this is simply to prevent having an unwieldy amount of sourdough culture. The addition of grapes could be continued or omitted at this point.

    As for the recipe ratio given in the post, the salt quantity seems a bit high (a typo perhaps?). The general rule on salt in bread is for the amount to be 2% of the flour weight. For a loaf made with 2 pounds (908 g) of flour, that would be 0.64 ounces (18 g). In volume measurements, that’s 1 TBS of table salt or 1 TBS plus ¼ TSP of Kosher salt.

    Step 5: If the addition of flavorings means the use of solid items (like the rosemary), I would suggest adding them after Step 8. The reason is simply that solid items can impede gluten development because they break the strands in the gluten network which the baker is developing. If adding the items after step 8, knead them into the dough just until thoroughly incorporated.

    Step 8: For a dough which doesn’t have significant amounts of fats in the recipe (eggs, oil, etc.), the baker should be able to stretch a piece to a point of translucence.

    Step 9: If you poke a finger into the dough after it has been left to proof for a while (bakers refer to this first proof as fermenting), when it’s ready it will usually not spring back. This is a sign that the yeast has done all it can do for now. This why Step 10 involves a quick kneading of the dough. Doing so redistributes the yeast (e.g., puts it back in contact with the starch it eats), expels the gas which the yeast has produced, and equalizes the dough temperature.

    I know I once sent our host a bunch of files on bread making. He’s welcome to contact me for additional information of any sort.

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