I needed all day to make this bread. Fourteen hours to be exact, although much of that time my hands remained free to garden, eat lunch and dinner, walk the pups (twice), and putter Sunday-style.
I like this kind of bread baking experience. Long but not too difficult, plenty of handling of the dough, with stretches of time to make it a project kind of day.
Last week I told you about making my levain for the pain de campagne from 52 Loaves. My starter worked beautifully, and last evening I baked my first loaf.
We ate it tonight with cheese and salad, doing cheers with our bread slices. Next session I will try baking it less time, and testing it with a thermometer (I baked it for 60 minutes) since the interior seemed a little dry. Otherwise, I have never baked a bread like this before. The crumb boasted beautiful holes, the crust remained thick and crisp (maybe a little too dark from over-baking), and for a first loaf from a brand new starter, it had a complexity of flavor.
However, one aspect of this process I knew would send sparks flying from Mr. Savory, and sure enough, it did: running the oven at 500 degrees for 1 1/2 to 2 hours prior to baking. He actually asked me to show him where in the recipe it calls to do this. I imagine the baking stone heats thoroughly and benefits fully from this energy expenditure. Now I know why a wood-fired clay or brick oven might be desirable!
When I try this bread again, I may delay turning on the oven by a half-hour and see if it makes a difference in the loaf. Crust perfection may not be worth whatever it costs to run an electric oven at 500 degrees for two hours...
William Alexander spent a whole year working on this recipe, and I carried his efforts with me for all fourteen hours. I can't wait for the next loaf.