During my childhood days, I liked to imagine myself living in the countryside with cool breezy weather, nice green pastures, a few cows and goats (for milk), some cute chickens (for eggs), a small fruit and vegetable farm, and a pink cottage with a woody country style kitchen smelled of bread and stew daily. And every morning I would wake up at 6am to knead dough, filled the air with the smell of freshly baked bread mixed with the morning dew. On our vintage wooden table, breads were always there.
This dream is impossible in the area I live in.
But I can definitely make the bread part possible right? I reckon that to make ‘some’ of our dreams come true, we have to do things we’ve never done before. I’ve never baked a rustic bread before and I am quite nervous about it. But after successfully baking this bread, I felt like a tiny bit of my childhood imagination came to life. And I am happy enough.
This Country Bread recipe comes from one of my go-to baking book, Flour by Joanne Chang. If you haven’t gotten the book yet, I suggest you go take a look at it. I have baked quite a few items from it and all turned out very well, especially the Famous Banana Bread. It is the best.
I read the 3-page recipe 5 times before attempting it. This recipe requires some plans ahead because you need to first make the Mother Dough. But it is extremely easy and requires only the most basic ingredients that you can easily get from your nearby grocery store. This bread came out soft, a little chewy and very flavorful. I spread some good butter and cassis jam on the slices while they were still slightly warm and they were wonderful! We (four of us) finished one loaf in one afternoon. That’s how good it was.
BREAD SPONGE (Mother Dough) | Makes about 340 grams
3/4 cup (180g) water
1 1/4 cups (175g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast or 1.7g fresh cake yeast
- In a medium bowl, stir together the water, 1 cup of the flour, and the yeast until well mixed. Place in a covered container and leave at room temperature for at least 4 hours or up to 8 hours.
- Stir in remaining 1/4 cup of flour, which will cause the sponge to stiffen up into a loose dough. Re-cover and leave in the refrigerator overnight.
COUNTRY BREAD | Makes two 8-inch round loaves
1 1/2 cups (340g) water, at body temperature (when you put your finger in it, it should feel neither hot or cold)
2 cups (280g) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for baking
2 cups (300g) bread flour
340g bread sponge (recipe above)
Pinch of active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
Handful of medium-coarse yellow cornmeal for the baking sheet
- In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment (or a large bowl and wooden spoon), mix together the water, 2 cups of all-purpose flour, and bread flour on low speed for 1 minute. You will have a shaggy, stiff dough. Cover the dough with a piece of plastic wrap and let sit for about 10 minutes.
- On medium-low speed, add the sponge, yeast, salt, and sugar and mix for 3 to 4 minutes, or until they are incorporated into the dough. The dough should feel somewhat sticky but still smooth and feel like a earlobe when you grasp a bit between your fingers. If it is stiffer than this, mix in a few tablespoons of water, if it is looser than this, mix in a few tablespoons all-purpose flour. (If you are using a wooden spoon to mix the dough, you must dump out the dough onto a floured work surface and knead for 5 to 6 minutes, or until smooth.)
- Lightly oil a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the oiled bowl, and turn the dough to coat it with oil. Lightly cover the bowl with an oiled plastic wrap. Place the dough in a warm place for 2 to 3 hours. The dough will rise a little and it will feel a little loose, relaxed and somewhat sticky.
- Flour your hands and your work surface and turn the dough out of the bowl. Divide the dough in half with a knife or bench scraper. Shape each half into a ball by tucking the edges of the dough underneath and then continue to tuck the edges underneath until the dough naturally gathers into a ball with a taut surface.
- Sprinkle the cornmeal on a baking sheet to keep the loaves from sticking, and place the loaves on the sheet, spacing them at least 3 inches apart. Cover them completely but loosely with a plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours.
- Heat the oven to 500 degrees F. (It is important that the oven is at the right temperature before you place the bread inside)
- Sprinkle the top of the loaves with some all-purpose flour. Slash the loaves with a knife, about 5 slits. (I find that it is easier to coat the knife with some flour before slashing the loaves.) Place a shallow pan filled with 2 cups of water on the oven rack below the bread. The steam from the water will create a nice moist atmosphere for your bread to grow. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.
- Transfer the loaves to wire racks and let cool for at least 1 hour before serving.
Recipe adapted from Flour by Joanne Chang