Gave up on the previous recipe. Went back to the Sunset Italian Cookbook adobe oven bread, that Pamela used to make and Mark Richards used to make at Finagle’s Freehold (my first house in Minneapolis). Have yet to have results anywhere near as good as I remember, but getting better. One problem was clearly old yeast (the old jar was a year out of date, and the new jar performed better; I assume letting it reproduce with sugar for a while before adding the flour would have made up the difference, though).
And have tried a few experiments, which I haven’t been that fond of.
So, here’s the current version. This is actually 1/2 the quantity of the original, sized for our mixer (I’m going to try increasing this by 1.5x to make three loaves, though). Instructions are detailed for my kitchen; you’ll have to adapt it to your environment, same as me.
- 2t active dry yeast (or 1 packet)
- 2 t sugar
- 2 c water at 110°
- 5 c unbleached white flour
- 1/2 T salt
Dissolve yeast and sugar in water.
In mixer (with dough hook) add salt and flour. Do not forget to add the salt! I find I have to intervene manually a lot to get it really mixed, including taking the dry scraps at the bottom of the bowl and burying them in the middle of the dough ball. (I’m starting to consider making a minor increase in salt, perhaps to 2t.)
Knead a minute or two in mixer, possibly adding up to 2c flour. (My experience has not yet involved adding more than ½c flour; perhaps in more humid weather?)
Form ball and put in oiled bowl. Cover with cling wrap and place in lower oven on “proof” (100° I believe; which is hotter than most recipes call for for yeast to rise; I’m considering trying a lower temp, but this one is very easy to attain with my equipment) for 75 minutes (until doubled).
Punch down, knead a bit (last chance to correct consistency), divide into two long loaves. (Or you can make smaller rolls, etc.)
Shake yellow cornmeal onto ungreased baking sheet. Place loaves on sheet. Cover with floured cloth. Place in oven on “proof” again to rise for 30-40 minutes. (Original recipe had cloth under as well as over, but I find handling the loaves that much is risky, so I’ve dropped the bottom cloth.) (I’ve tried a dual u-shaped pan which is supposed to make better crust, but it’s a very minor difference, and that pan doesn’t fit the upper oven either.)
Preheat oven to 350º. (I use the top little oven; but you could just take the sheet out of the oven and preheat it, wouldn’t hurt anything.) (I tried 400º, more in line with recipes in The Breads of France, but found it got too close to burning the bottom.)
Remove covering cloth. Slash the tops of the loaves with a sharp knife to release steam. Place in oven.
After 10 minutes, spray loaves with water.
After another 10 minutes, spray loaves with water again.
Bake for 40-60 minutes, until done. (Total baking time is thus 60-80 minutes.)
Let cool at least 15 minutes before slicing (although, with a really good bread knife, you can get away with earlier).