Bread

Bread

By
From
Finding Fire
Makes
1 x 800 g loaf

I once took my ‘mother’ on holiday. I wanted to introduce her to a good friend in Queenstown, and I decided that the clean air and water of New Zealand might do her some good. Unfortunately, she didn’t travel too well. In spite of clearing customs, she couldn’t cope with the pressure on board the plane. She exploded, mainly taking her frustrations out on my luggage, which never fully recovered. It is just as well that I love my mother. Of course, the ‘mother’ is the naturally fermented yeasts that give life to bread. The combination of flour and water is basic but the result is a complex production of organic acids, alcohols and carbon dioxide that give bread its savoury tang and natural rise. I started my mother six years ago using a rye flour base and, as we were living on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland at the time, pineapple juice. The beauty of a mother is that it tells the story of a time and a place with yeasts, flour, air and water that are unique to its environment. Just like the best stories, it can be passed on to friends or family who can make it their own, adding further layers to the story before passing it on themselves.

There is nothing like making bread to make you appreciate the simple beauty of ingredients. Above all others, making bread is a magical process that sees flour and water ferment to transform into cloud-like heavenly bread. I love how the nutty richness of spelt combines with the caramel notes of the malt, and how cooking in a wood fire results in the most incredibly smoky and toothsome crust.

For the mother (makes 300 g/10 ½ oz)

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
600ml filtered water
600g strong wholemeal (whole-wheat) bread flour

Method

  1. 1. In a clean container, combine 100 ml (31/2 floz) of the water and 100 g (31/2 oz) of the flour.
  2. 2. Leave in a cool place for 3 days until the mixture shows signs of life, producing bubbles on the surface.
  3. 3. Combine 100 g (31/2 oz) of the mother with 100 ml (31/2 floz) of the water and 100 g (31/2 oz) of the flour (this is known as feeding). Discard the remaining mother.
  4. 4. Leave for 1 day, then repeat the feeding. Feed the mother every 12 hours until it is strong enough to bake bread. To test this, place a spoon of the mother into a container of water. If it sinks, continue to feed the mother twice per day. When the mother holds together and floats, it is ready.
  5. 5. The mother will continue to develop over time, so be sure to retain 100 g (31/2 oz) after each use for future baking. If you need more, simply increase the amount of flour and water when feeding.

For the bread

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
80g mother (see above)
280ml warm filtered water
250g strong wholemeal (whole-wheat) bread flour
100g spelt flour
50g malt flour
10g salt
20g rice flour, to dust

Method

  1. 1. Combine the mother and 200 ml (7 floz) of warm water in a large bowl. Add the flours and, using your hands, combine to form a rough dough.
  2. 2. Rest for 15 minutes before kneading to form a smooth and silky dough. Cover and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
  3. 3. Add the salt and the remaining 80 ml (21/2 floz/⅓ cup) of warm water, which will cause the dough to break apart a little. Continue working the mixture to bring it back together, forming a smooth dough.
  4. 4. Place the dough in a clean bowl, cover with a clean tea towel (dish towel) and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
  5. 5. Working in the bowl, wet your hands to stretch and fold the dough over itself, tucking the folds underneath. This will work to strengthen and develop the gluten in the flour. Leave to rest for 30 minutes.
  6. 6. Repeat the stretching and folding 3 times, rotating the dough at a 90 degree angle each time. Ensuring to rest the dough for 30 minutes each time.
  7. 7. Carefully turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently shape and tuck the dough under to form a round. Generously dust the inside of the proving basket with rice flour. Put the dough into it, placing the smooth side down. Cover with a tea towel to prevent a skin forming on the top. Leave to prove for 1 hour until the dough has doubled in size, then place in the refrigerator for 12 hours.
  8. 8. Light your wood-fired oven (or prepare your embers if you are using a Dutch oven). Leave to burn until the fire dies down, resulting in gentle embers. You are aiming to bring the wood-fired oven to a temperature of 250°C (480°F) on the base.
  9. 9. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and leave for 3 hours to come up to room temperature.
  10. 10. Gently turn the dough out onto a piece of baking paper and, with a sharp knife, score the top of the loaf with even incisions.
  11. 11. Slide the bread into the wood-fired oven, closing the door immediately.
  12. 12. Bake for 20 minutes, after which time you should either open the door slightly or rake the embers to reduce the temperature slightly. Continue baking the bread for a further 30 minutes; the bread should have a deeply coloured crust. To test if the bread is ready, tap on its base – it should sound hollow. Carefully remove from the oven to cool on a grill cooling rack.

NOTES

  • Prepare the mother 6 days in advance. Unless you are planning to make bread daily, feed the mother once after use and store in a clean container in the refrigerator until required. When needed, remove from the refrigerator and feed twice prior to use until it is active and bubbling.

    Prepare the bread 1 day in advance.

ALTERNATIVE METHOD

  • Bake in a Dutch oven over a fire, or in a conventional oven preheated to 250°C (480°F).
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