What kind of baker are you? How do you choose to learn? If you missed it, a few posts ago I listed the nine reasons I love baking bread and I touched a bit on my approach. I find this quote from Peter Reinhart in The Bread Bakers Apprentice communicates my approach very well…
My goal is not to make you into a dogmatically doctrinal baker, what I call a letter-of-the-law baker. Instead, I want to help you become a spirit-of-the-law baker. That is, one who has a sense of what the options are and thus is free to choose the options that will bring about the desired outcomes. I want to turn you into a baker who might even transcend structure and break into new frontiers, applying knowledge to make bread that pushes the envelope.
The moment I read this, I knew Reinhart’s book was right for me because his teaching intent jibed with my own thoughts regarding learning. For a time, I used to teach architecture to university students. My approach was always the same, I never tried to sell students on a particular point-of-view but instead make them aware of the underlying principles at play and the context within which they were learning. Then use their knowledge of the fundamentals, personal experience and heightened awareness to visualize options and develop their own point-of-view. Letter-of-the-law and spirit-of-the-law. I dedicate each month to baking one particular type of bread with the idea being that through repetition – the letter-of-the-law – I’ll notice nuances in the process, learn more about the loaves I bake and recognize opportunities – the spirit-of-the-law – to be creative and advance as a baker.
So, let’s review this bake.
I knew that for my first month-long bake I wanted to try a classic, rustic loaf. For bread bakers, nothing defines classic more than Lionel Poilâne’s signature loaf, the big (two kilo) naturally leavened pains Poilâne made with whole wheat flour. I had one recipe, Reinhart’s, but I wanted another which I found on the website WeekendBakery.com. Overall, the recipes and the approach to making the loaves are pretty similar. Each recipe requires two days from preparing the preferment on day one to preparing the final dough and baking on day two.
The Reinhart recipe produces a larger quantity of dough so for folks with limited cooking space like me it’s probably best to just divide and make smaller boules. I went with two boules so that the finished bread would fit into my five quart Dutch oven. Also, the smaller size boules are easier to pick up to place into the Dutch oven for baking. If I had made the larger size, I definitely would have needed a peel to transfer the dough for baking, assuming of course I had a stone to bake it on. That or a super big Dutch oven. I kept the baking temperature the same but reduced the total bake time by 20 minutes to account for the smaller size.
I ended up making a total of eight loaves during the month. Two loaves on consecutive weekends and then like the end of a fireworks show, a barrage of four loaves the last weekend. Seriously, that final weekend felt like work. The four loaves is also my bread baking personal record. Who knew baking was an endurance sport?
The final loaves are shown above in clockwise order. These all followed the Reinhart recipe. For a look a loaf that followed the WeekendBakery.com recipe go here. Oh, that crazy looking loaf at the upper left? Yeah, with that one I made the mistake of trying to use a thin-walled stainless steel pot rather than my thick-walled Dutch oven. I was baking two loaves at once – its partner is loaf number two at the upper right. This error resulted interestly enough in an undercooked exterior that I then attempted to salvage by extending the baking time after finishing loaf number two. Loaves three and four were baked individually and finished as expected. I even celebrated the end of the bake by scoring the traditional broad pound sign on the fourth loaf.
Both recipes produced loaves that rose well in the oven and with a fairly consistent crumb. That crumb makes this bread great for rustic-style sandwiches, toast with spreads, etc. This is an everyday kind of bread that now I couldn’t imagine doing without.
Would I bake this loaf again? Absolutely.