a simple crusty white, revisited

The learning curve on my flatbreads has flattened out; I'm giddy with my results.  They've become a regular accompaniment to our Indian fare and Frankie's lunches.  Whenever I spin off into a niche, I inevitably learn a new albeit subtle technique and am able to apply it to other areas, parlaying a history of nifty personal tricks.

What I learned most recently is the value of baking on a cast iron surface while using my 15" diameter low ridge cast

iron pan (Amazon).  It lives in my oven now.  The color and weight of a bake surface has a profound effect on a baked good.  Generally the darker the surface, the darker the bread - unless, I learned, it's high enough in the oven.  So, my pan is positioned in the middle of the oven to prevent overly dark bottoms.  Additionally, I learned to value how much heat is stored in that heavy mass.  I can cook pita / naan with only the broiler on.  The bottom of the bread browns from the residual heat of the steel and the top cooks via the top element, it's a nice combination.  I've used this set up for pizza too.  This heat capacity also translates to a vicious capacity to transform water to steam, more on this later.

With that in mind, I meandered back into the crusty, lean, free form loaf.  I've always admired the gods of slack doughs and natural starters - alas, that is not me.  I've dabbled many times unsuccessfully in this area and failed.  My bread today is a simple straight dough (entire dough mixed at once) but reasonably high hydration, low yeast loading and long retarded rise.  Gods of bread, kill me, I'm a commercial yeast guy.  Also, I'm not a fan of cooking in preheated cast iron, it's a great trick, but a little risky for a clutz like me and shape-limiting.

Today's loaf was mixed from unbleached white (Montana Sapphire, 360 g), atta flour (an Indian whole wheat, commonly available from local stores, 40 g), water (300-310 g, ca. 75% hydration), yeast (Fleischmann's instant active, 1/2 t), salt (7 g).  I've found that 10% or so of whole wheat and its ability to absorb more water, makes a high hydration dough more manageable.

I mixed with a wooden spoon, then used my wet hand to squish it around.  I did a few turn and folds for the first hour at room temp.  A few more turn and folds and let it rise about 6 hours.  Another turn and fold, bench rested for a 20 min or so (dog walk), loaf formation into a boule,  placed it in a banneton, placed the banneton in a plastic bag and tossed it in the fridge overnight (ca. 8 hours).  Removed it,  let it warm and finish the proof about 2-3 hours.

Baking.  Oven preheated with the cast iron in there at 500F for an hour (your oven needs to be clean to sit at 500F empty).  I dusted the proofed loaf with atta, inverted it onto a peel, slashed the top and slid it on the cast iron.  Then I opened the door and misted the crap out of the oven using a hand pumped water sprayer (from Lowe's).  I sprayed the walls and the actual cast iron the bread sat on.  I repeated this a few times for the first 10 minutes of baking.  Then turned the oven to 425 and let it go for 30 minutes.  The loaf came out and the crust slightly fractured on cooling (the singing).  Not a lot, but it happened.  The fractured crust means a lot to me.

That's it
i. tightened up the dough with a small addition of wheat
ii. long slow rise
iii. baked on cast iron with steam at 2 temps
It's a keeper.

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