Brother juniper's slow-rise french bread+

Yield: 2 loaves

Measure Ingredient
4½ cup High gluten bread flour
4½ cup Unbleached bread flour
2 tablespoons Sea salt
2 tablespoons Active-dry yeast (proof 1st in 4 tb warm water)
3 cups Water
Polenta for sprinkling on the pans

MIXING & KNEADING: Mix all the ingredients except the polenta in a bowl (reserving a little water for adjustments) until mixture is formed into a ball. sprinkle a little flour on the counter, turn out the dough and knead it for about 10 to 12 minutes or until the dough is tacky but not sticky and has a nice elasticity.

Clean the bowl and return the dough to it. cover with either a damp towel, a plate or plastic wrap. FORMING THE LOAVES: Cut the dough into 2 pieces if you are making flutes or rounds or 4 pieces if you want baguettes. Roll each piece of dough into a long rectangle. Fold it in thirds, from the top to the bottom, and roll it out again, keeping the seam on the bottom.

Fold the rectangle into thirds again, crimping the seam with your fingers so that it will not open up. The goal is to create a firm surface tension that allows the bread to rise without spreading out sideways. If the dough becomes too tough to roll out, allow it to rest, covered, for about 3 to 5 minutes. This lets the gluten relax a bit. If it begins to dry out, spray it with water. Sprinkle a baking pan or french bread molds with polenta to prevent the dough from stickng and to give a nice crackle to the bottom of the loaf. do not oil the pan as this will brown the bottom of the loaf prematurely.

place the baguette or flute, seam side down, on the pan.

The slow rise is the trick for the crustiness and flavor of this bread. I quote "you take flour, salt, yeast, and water, mix them together in proper proportions, and form the dough into a ball. You then put it out of the way for an hour and a half. You don't rush it by warming it up. The slow rise lets the bread go at it's own pace.

Developing character and flavor as it goes. When it has doubled in size, knock it down and let it rise again-in a quiet spot." (covered witha plate or towel) You let it rise 3, even 4 times-there is a limit to the risings. Brother Juniper says it is important to learn how many rises a bread can endure before it becomes alcoholic, which will cause it to taste yeasty and musty and weaken the gluten. I haven't found that spot yet. The multiple slow rise is specifically for bread without milk, sugar or other added sweeteners. Complex doughs are suited only for 2 rises, one in the bowl and one in the pan. But getting back to the number of rises. Too many can make a great deal of lactic acid develop which can cause the dough to fall or the crust to split apart. simple French bread can sustain up to 5 rises but 3 is usual. This is how you create a bread with character! THE SOUND OF CRUST: You know the sound. It's when you bite into it and it crackles. It's the sound of perfection. You can also get this sound after you pull this bread from the oven. It just sits there and crackles as the crust develops little cracks all about the top of it.

Fermentation of the dough is the chief character builder in all breads. Each time the dough rises, more sugar is digested, creating carbon dioxide and alcohol. The trapped carbon dioxide stretches the dough, working or developing the gluten until a new creature is formed. As you go along and punch it down a few times it is rebuilding from a new level of quality. The dough is stronger, it contains less sugar and starch and has more protein, and the flavors of fermentation are adding a distinctive character trait.

BAKING TILE (OR TILES): You can ap[proximate the effect of hearth baking by preheating the tile for 30 minutes, sprinkling on the polenta at the last second, and sliding the dough onto the bricks with a wooden oven peel or a long nosed metal spatula. Bake as indicated, rememberring the sprays (see below.) Round loaves, because of their bulk will need 5 to 10 minutes longer to bake and to cool down then will baguettes.

When the bread is ready to be baked, a few well placed slash marks are made with a razor blade or serrated knife. This controls the rising and prevents the dough from tearing as the bread bakes.

To get the crackle, the oven must be hot. 425 degrees in a conventional oven. The heat sets the crust and quickly evaporizes the surface moisture, crisping the crust. At the moment the dough is to be put into the oven, spritz the loaves with a spray bottle. You'll be busy for the next 8 minutes as every 2 minutes you quickly open the oven and spritz the dough again (a total of 4 itmes.) This spraying is most exciting because a dramatic tranformation usually occurs just before the oven is opened. At the last spray you may want to turn the bread if the loaves seem to be rising unevenly. The bread will have made a substantial oven spring, increasing size by as much as 10 to 15%, rising to its fullness as the yeast cells complete their final feeding frenzy in the increasing oven warmth until the heat kills them, martyrs to their (and our) cause.

Approximately 10 minutes after the 4th spray, the bread should turn a light golden color. When it does, give it a final spray and turn off the oven, for a 10 minute (or longer, depending on the size of the loaves) final cooking time. Total cooking time is 26 to 30 minutes for baguettes and up to 40 minutes for larger loaves. The bread continues to bake during this time, with much of the interior moisture evaporating. After this, the bread is removed from the oven but it's still drying out.The crust will be quite hard but it will soften somewhat as the moisture works it way out. You should allow at least 45 minutes for the loaf to cool down before cutting into it.

Your patience will be rewarded by the sound of the crust and the taste that comes with it.

Mary Riemerman (gleaned from Brother Juniper's Bread Book) Submitted By MARY RIEMERMAN On 04-24-95

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