I am a little nervous. I am deviating from the recipe that calls for 20% whole wheat flour and am going to make a 50% mix instead. That’s why weighing everything is so important as per the recipe. I get it that different flours absorb liquid differently and there is no recipe that is foolproof and it is the memory of the feel of the dough in my hands that I must rely on. It feels like riding a bike. Once you have done it you never forget how. I need the prompts from my trusty guidebook to help me get things set up and make the 50% wheat flour by mixing my freshly ground grain with some unbleached white flour, and once the yeast hits the water in the bottom of the bowl, it all starts to come back…adding the flour and stirring until the gluten begins to make little strands on the wooden spoon, letting the soupy mixture called ‘poolish’ sit for many hours (2-11) to ferment at room temperature (at least 75 degrees), then adding more water and yeast and flour to make a dough, pouring the wet dough onto the flour covered counter and vigorously kneading for precisely 15-17 minutes until the dough is smooth and pliable and slightly tacky, forming into a ball and putting it in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm draft free place (80 degrees or so) for more time (2-3 hours) until doubled in volume, punch down, reform the ball, cover again and let rest for about another hour, punch down again, divide the dough, form loaves and place in well floured bowls or baskets, the subtle smell of yeasty perfume permeating the kitchen, cover each with a damp towel and set in same warm draft free place for another hour and a half or so until 1-1/2 times the volume, meanwhile preheat the oven to 450 with the baking stone on the middle rack, cover the wooden ‘peel’ (for sliding the bread in and out of the oven) with some cornmeal, invert the bread on the peel, score with deep cuts in a pattern, slide onto the stone, spray the oven with cold water to create some steam and close the door quickly, let bake for 20 minutes, the intoxicating aroma of baking bread now permeating the entire house, turn down the oven to 400 and bake another 15 minutes or so until crusts are nutty brown, remove from oven, and cool on rack.
I have been so engaged in the process all day that only now, presented with the magic of the finished loaves, do I sigh a deep sigh of relief and awe. It never fails to amaze me how this happens, how turning flour and water and yeast into a thing of beauty can happen every time. It never fails to engage me in its organic flow that is alive with texture and smell and taste and anticipation of joy. When the loaves are cooled, I cut into one to test the ‘crumb’ and experience complete satisfaction! It is perfect to me. Firm crust, dense and moist and yet light inside, a truly authentic freshness….