I recently attended a workshop led by a local woman with a wood-fired oven in her backyard. She is an artist in every area of her life, but especially with bread. Bless her, she had gotten up very early and fired the oven to get it to temperature for our baking adventures. We watched as she cleaned the oven floor in preparation for baking.
We had arrived to rising dough and we kneaded... no, we caressed the dough and left it to rise happily again. We learned to shape the dough just so, not too loosely and just perfectly taught, into a ball of dough. These were placed lovingly into rye-flour dusted, linen-lined baskets.
These linen liners can be made so simply: cut a square of linen cloth larger than your basket, tuck the square evenly into the basket, pinch together 4 pieces of the linen to ease the cloth into the basket evenly creating darts, pin these darts, cut around the circle of the basket rim leaving a couple of extra inches of fabric, sew the darts and trim, serge or zig zag the circular edge. Perfect!
Once the formed dough had risen again, we carried the loaves out to the wood-fired oven. We each had the opportunity to add our loaf to the hot oven with a long paddle. When all were tucked safely inside, the door to the oven was closed. And we waited. We peeked in during the baking to see that they were rising and browning nicely. The fragrance was amazing!
When done, the loaves' interior temperature was checked. Our baker/instructor tells us that 180 degrees is just about perfect... and ours were!
The loaves were unloaded and left to cool slightly. The loaf I shaped and formed and loaded into and retrieved from the oven was placed in a brown paper bag and carried home to enjoy with some Spinach and Chive pasta with marinara sauce. Delightful!
We also baked a loaf in the home's kitchen in a Dutch oven. Both the kitchen oven baked loaf and the wood-fired loaf were delicious, but there was something 'heady' about the wood-fired oven loaf. Here's how I summed it up: kitchen oven = Budweiser (good, highly drinkable, enjoyable); wood-fired oven = Newcastle Brown Ale (deeper, richer, more soul). What a wonderful day!
Don't have a wood-fired oven in your backyard? Me, neither. Good thing we can still bake bread in our kitchen ovens! Here's a basic artisan bread recipe shared at our workshop (makes 2 large or 3 small loaves):
6 cups (1 lb. 9 oz.) flour
2 cups (10 oz.) whole wheat flour
1 Tblsp. (10 grams) instant yeast (not active dry)
3 tsp. (21 grams) fine sea salt
3 - 3 1/2 cups warm water
Mix all ingredients in the dough bucket. The dough should be shaggy and sticky. If the dough is too dry, add water by the Tablespoon until it feels right. Let rise until double in bulk. Pour onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for several minutes to firm up the dough. Try not to all too much flour... you need just enough to be able to wok the dough without it being sticky. Put it back into the the bucket and let it rise for about an hour until double. Repeat the kneading process. Let it rise for another hour, knead again, and separate into 2 large loaves or 3 small loaves. Mold each piece of dough in to a round and place each onto a linen cloth or piece of parchment paper; cover and let rise until almost double.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
If baking on a stone, put your stone on the top rack and an empty pan on the bottom rack to heat.
If baking in a Dutch oven, place the covered Dutch oven on the top rack that has been placed in the middle position in the oven.
When the oven is ready, slash your loaf with a serrated knife.
If baking on a stone, slide the loaves onto your stone. Carefully add boiling water to the pan on the bottom rack and bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 375 degrees and bak for another 35-45 minutes for large loaves or 25-35 minutes for smaller loaves. Check loaves after 15 minutes and if tops are browning too quickly, lay a piece of aluminum foil lightly over the top.
After the allotted time check a loaf by tapping the bottom. It should sound hollow when tapped. If not, return to oven and bake an additional 5-10 minutes. You can also check with an instant read thermometer; internal temperature should be 180 degrees.
If baking in a Dutch oven, cut parchment to size, carefully take the pot out of the oven and place the dough in the pot. Cover and return to the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, covered. Uncover and bake an additional 10-15 minutes.
When done, leave the loaves on a rack to cool before slicing. Enjoy!