Rustic Fermented Bread

I am a baker. A baker who does not like making bread. I love bread, I enjoy the scent, the kneading and of course it's consumption. However no matter how hard I've tried over the years I end up with a doughy center or holes the size of golf balls. So when I came across fermented, no knead bread I knew it was for me.

Why ferment anyway? Well it's as simple as this: no sugar. When the yeast is allowed to grow, or come to life, over a longer time period there is no need to "shock" it to life with warm water or sugar. This type of bread making takes forethought and preparation but the pay off is divine. We still use sprouted grain bread but I'm making 1 - 2 loaves of this rustic bread per week as it makes great croutons, yummy grilled sandwiches (think panini) and excellent with warm herb infused olive oil.

If you do not own a dutch oven try using any pot with a tight fitting lid. Many blog posts you'll find some rather expensive kitchen gadgets (like this Le Creuset, it is well worth the money tho) but they aren't always necessary. In spite of all the gadgets in my kitchen there is always something I do not own, so I improvise. Get creative and maybe even search the web for ways other cooks have done the recipe a different way. 

So here is what you'll need on day one:
3 cups unbleached flour - this is very important, it must be unbleached. Wheat Montana is what I use currently from Bulk Nat Foods, that is until I move onto wheatberries and grinding myself.
(Here is where you can experiment using different flours. Right now I'm using an organic, non GMO all purpose that's also good for bread. Not using spelt, rye, whole wheat, etc at the moment but you can try different combos, I'd just keep the majority a plain all purpose of some sort until you get the hang of it).
1 1/4 tsp sea salt 
1/4 tsp active dry yeast, Saf Instant Red is the brand I currently use
1 1/2 cups cool, unchlorinated water (spring, filtered or distilled)
Herbs of choice if you want a flavored bread, but I leave this out for our regular bread

Combine all the dry ingredient into a bowl and mix well. Make a well in the middle of the flour mix and pour in the water. Mix it with a rubber spatula until incorporated. It will be sticky and that's okay. If it's too dry add a little water at a time until it's sticky.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for about 15 - 18 hours. The warmth of your home may depend on how quickly it rises. If the heat is on it may only take 12 - 14 hours. I tend to let mine go about 16. (See those little bubbles in the photo? That means it is ready!)

Tools for day two:
Dutch oven with a lid
Cornmeal (I use a non gmo organic from Bulk Natural Foods here in TN)
Dough scrapers or two rubber spatulas, HERE are the scrapers I use
Dough mat, cutting board or a clean counter top
Flour for dusting
Oven mit or pot holders
Cooling rack

Uncover the dough and turn it out onto a pastry mat or cutting board (you could also use a cookie sheet, the counter top, etc). Dust the top of the dough with a little flour, cover with a tea towel (these are best as they are lint free). Let the dough rise another 2 hours. 

After this time put the dutch oven (without the lid) into a cold oven. Turn the oven on and preheat it to 475 degrees. 

When the temp has reached 475, remove the pot with potholders and sprinkle a tiny bit of cornmeal onto the bottom of the pot. Uncover the dough and using dough scrapers shape it into a round ball of sorts. Lift it into the pot and sprinkle the top with a little cornmeal. 

Cover with the lid and bake 30 minutes. After this time remove the lid and bake an additional 10 minutes (or until the loaf is golden brown, could be less or could be more depending on your oven). Transfer the baked bread to a cooling rack and allow it to rest for at least one hour before cutting it. 

The bread will have a nice crisp crust and a soft interior. Keep it in an airtight container or bread bag. It will soften once stored but you can crisp it back up in the oven if you want to. Another good use for day old bread is turning it into bread crumbs and croutons. Here is how I make my croutons for soups and salads. 

Rustic Herb Croutons - 
Cut the slices into cubes. Heat a large skillet over med / high heat. Add butter, olive oil, thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary, salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder. Stir and mix well. Add cubed bread. Stir frequently to prevent burning. Remove from heat when toasted on all sides. Measurements are up to you but make sure you have enough butter and oil in the pan to fully coat the bread. Store in an airtight container up to three days.

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