Tuesday, January 14, 2014

TWD -- Country Bread: good but not great

Joe Ortiz' Country Bread, this week's assignment for Tuesdays with Dorie, was good, but not great. This is the kind of bread I love to make -- a mixture of wheat, whole wheat and rye flours with little or no sugar and oil -- a true artisan bread.

Baskets from Discount Drug Mart
I chose to divide my dough in half and make two loaves, not one, using baskets from our drug store (when you live in a small town you buy everything from window shades to lettuce at Discount Drug Mart.) I bought two wicker baskets there years ago and they are the perfect size to make 1 12-2- pound loaves of bread. I let the dough rise in the baskets seam side up, turn them out on a pizza paddle covered with cornmeal and slide them onto baking tiles.

I had three problems with Country Bread. The first was the yeast. I bake with instant yeast and the recipe called for active dry yeast. I know to use less instant yeast than a recipe for active dry yeast calls for, so I allowed for that fact. What I didn't allow for was the difference in rising times. My dough rose faster than the recipe indicated and I think my loaves were actually over-risen when I slid them in the oven.

My second problem was the amount of water. I thought my dough didn't have enough. Somewhere in the Baking with Julia book, it indicates a cup of flour used in the recipes should weigh 5 ounces. Using this as my guide, I used the minimum amount of flour called for (a total of 30 ounces) and used the 20 ounces of water indicated. That equates to a 66 percentage of four/water ratio. I normally like my bread with a 68 percent ratio and was tempted to add more water to get there, but decided to follow the recipe instead just to see what would happen.

My last problem I believe is the fault of the recipe. I view the baking temperature to be too low for this kind of bread. I normally start an artisan loaf at 460 degrees, then reduce the heat (only if it's browning to fast) after about 10 or 15 minutes. At 425 degrees, my loaves didn't brown that nicely.

When I cut into one of the loaves, I saw that the crumb was too tight and too dry -- an indication that more water was needed and that the dough had over-risen and had somewhat collapsed in the oven. Should I make this loaf again I would add more water, shorten my rising time on the second rise and jack up the oven temperature to at least 450 degrees.

The finished product

For those who love to make this kind of bread, I recommend two books: "The Bread Bible." by Rose Levy Beranbaum and "Bread" by Jeffery Hamelman.


  1. Your loaves look good! Mine rose considerably faster as well.

  2. The shape of your loaves look good. I had a problem with the measurements too. I adjusted the water. I much prefer recipes that give the ingredients in weights.

  3. I love the pattern you achieved from your baskets! Just beautiful!

  4. Hi Bette!
    Yes I do agree: recipes that gives the ingredients in weight are so much more useful.
    Some years ago I had to "import" US measuring cups as it was not possible to find them here (so happy my hubby works for an international company. It hasn’t been difficult to find a US co-worker that was coming to Switzerland).
    Luckily today I can find them here as well – so if one breaks is ½ tragedy only ;-)
    I needed the cups to check the “real” weight of the ingredients as on the web there were too many discrepancies. One cup of the all-purpose flour I use do really weight 140 g (4.93 ounces).
    Back to our Country Bread – I am so sorry that it did not turn out as expected after two days of work.
    We loved it...
    xx Carola

  5. Great pattern on the bread. I definitely will try using a basket to proof my loaves in next time.

  6. I do wish more American cook books would allow for weight measurements - especially since all authors do not use the same method for measuring dry goods like flour.

  7. I had no idea that instant yeast was any different than active dry yeast!!! I'm gonna have to look into that! sorry you didn't enjoy the result that much!

  8. Your bread is gorgeous...with that lovely texture! You definitely know your way around bread baking...thanks for sharing your expertise.

  9. Beautiful bread. It was a hit here. The crust is so wonderfully crunchy!