This week, I made an overnight white bread for Jenn DiMenna.

Don’t let the words “white bread” fool you. This is one of my favorite breads. It takes a bit of time because it uses a poolish – a portion of the ingredients mixed and left to ferment overnight and develop flavor before baking – but it’s not too difficult and it makes a delicious bread with an open crumb and a slight sourness from the overnight preferment. It’s an all-purpose bread; it works for sandwiches, dipped in oil, buttered, naked, or, of course, as avocado toast. This bread is even better the next day, thanks to some flavors that take a bit of time to develop fully.

White Bread with Poolish (makes 2 loaves):

Poolish:

  • 500g All Purpose Flour
  • 500g warm (80°) water
  • .4g (scant 1/8tsp) instant yeast

Dough:

  • 500g AP flour
  • 250g hot (105°) water
  • 21g fine sea salt
  • 3g instant yeast
  • All of your poolish from above

This recipe only has four ingredients: flour, water, salt, yeast (which, incidentally, is the name of the book this recipe was taken from – Flour, Water, Salt, Yeastby Ken Forkish. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s interested in baking). I didn’t take a package shot for this one, because I forgot. It was cold, and my brain was frozen. But it’s just flour, water, salt, and yeast, I think you can figure it out.

Start by mixing the poolish. The evening before you want to bake, mix 500g of flour and .4g of yeast in a big bowl (but not the biggest you have. You’ll need a bigger one for the dough). Add 500g of 80° water, and mix thoroughly until it’s all blended. Use your hand, it’s the best way to get a good mix. Just, you know…wash your hand first. Cover the poolish and let it sit at room temp for about 12-14 hours. After it has time to mature, it should be bubbly and about tripled in size, with bubbles popping on the surface fairly frequently.

In the morning, take your bubbly, ripe-smelling poolish and mix up the dough. Put 500g of flour, 12g of salt, and 3g of yeast into the biggest bowl you’ve got (Forkish recommends a round, 12qt Cambro tub, which is a great buy for bakers) and mix them up. Measure out 250g of 105° water and pour it around the perimeter of the poolish. That’ll loosen the poolish from its bowl and let you pour the whole thing, water and poolish, into your big tub. Mix by hand with a wet hand to prevent sticking. Use the pincer method – make a crab claw with your thumb and forefinger, slice through the dough a few times, then fold the whole thing over onto itself, then repeat. Once the dough is fully mixed, leave it in the tub to rise.

This dough uses a folding technique instead of kneading. Over the first hour or so, apply two or three folds to the dough. When you see it fully relaxed and sprawling at the bottom of your tub, reach underneath, grab a chunk, pull it up, stretch it over the top, and tuck it back down. Turn the tub and repeat until you’ve folded all the dough into a little ball, then flip the ball over. Over time, it’ll relax again, and you can fold again. After those two or three folds in the first hour, let it sit undisturbed for another hour or two, until it’s about grown about two and a half times its original size. This is the post-rise image:

Flour the side of your tub or bowl, then, using floured hands, gently ease the dough along the floured side onto a floured work surface. Try to avoid tearing or deflating the dough. Pick up the dough and lay it out in a roughly even shape.

Using a sharp knife or bench knife, divide the dough into two roughly even pieces. Now it’s time to shape.

Shaping is very important and definitely can be intimidating. Gently grab a bit of the dough, pull it up and over, then plonk it back down, like when you were folding earlier. Rotate the dough a couple times until it’s all gathered into a ball, then flip the whole thing over. Place the ball on a non-floured surface. Wrap your hands around the dough and pull it towards you, letting it grab the surface a bit and tighten up. Rotate and repeat until you have a ball with a tight skin. If you’re confused by my description (and who could blame you) let the master show you here.

Dust the top of the loaves with flour and put them in a well-floured proofing basket (or bowl with a well-floured tea towel in it), seam side down (the top should just be smooth skin). Cover them with a towel and let them proof for an hour.  45 minutes prior to baking, put two cast iron dutch ovens in the oven and preheat to 475°.

A word on baking vessels: A cast-iron dutch oven is ideal. If you don’t have one, [or yours is dirty, like mine] ceramic cloche or casserole dish will also work. What you want is something that will hold onto heat really well and has a lid to trap moisture. If you only have one vessel, that’s okay. Put one ball of dough in the fridge about 20 minutes before baking and just bake one after the other. Bake the room temp one first, take the other one out of the fridge when you take the first out of the oven. Let your vessel reheat, empty, in the oven for about five minutes before putting the second loaf in.

If you don’t have a cast iron dutch oven or ceramic anything, in a pinch, a pizza stone or regular baking sheet with a bowl overtop will still work, you just won’t have quite the same crust.

Finally, it’s time to bake. Carefully take the lid off of your baking vessel (with an oven mitt, obviously). Gently flip your dough onto a flour surface so the seams are up (with the seams up, the crust will break naturally in a unique, rustic way [as seen below] rather than along define slashes like you sometimes see), then pick it up carefully and carefully put it in the baking vessel. Carefully. Put the lid back on (carefully) and let it bake for 30 minutes, and do not peek. Peeking will let all the moisture out and ruin your Maillard reaction which is what gives you a great crust. After 30 minutes, take the lid off and let it back for another 20-30 minutes, until a dark chestnuty brown all over.

Left: the loaf right out of the proofing basket. Right: the finished loaf

Take it out of your vessel and let it cool on a cooling rack for at least 20 minutes. I know it sounds crazy, but this bread really needs to finish baking, and it does that after you take it out of the oven. It will taste all the better for it. In the meantime, enjoy the Song of My People. When this bread starts cooling it will contract a bit, and that crispy crust will crackle and pop loudly. It’s a beautiful sound that means you’ve done something right.

Thanks to Jenny for the request. See you all next week!

I’m going to forgo the short steps list for this one, since it’s kind of complicated. Sorry.

Categories: bread

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