Monday, January 19, 2009

Shaping & Baking

By now, you are probably ready to be done with this bread.  
Just hold onto your panties, it's coming, and it's gonna be good!

The dough has been folded and risen a number of times (about 2 1/2 - 3 hours total).   If you plan to bake your bread on a baking stone, have a couple of sheet pans ready and lined with parchment paper and sprinkled with cornmeal or flour.  Otherwise, sprinkle the sheet pan directly with the cornmeal, and the bread can be baked right there. 
Now you are ready to divide up the dough.  

Gently dump the dough from the bowl to a floured work surface. 
 I divided mine into three 1 1/4 pound loaves.

  Cup your hands around a portion of dough, and slowly begin to work it into a tight round shape. 

 The key to this move is to keep the sides of your pinkie fingers on the table surface at all times, and just shift your hands around in a clockwise/counterclockwise fashion (whichever feels more natural!), shaping the loaf.  

Add a little flour to your hands if the dough is sticking.  If you lift up the round, the bottom should be pretty much sealed over, without any big pockets or folds.
Shift the round to a sheet pan (only put one portion of dough on each sheet pan).  

Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and allow it another hour and a half to rise.  
After an hour has passed, begin preheating your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you are using a baking stone, make sure it is in there before you turn your oven on.
The next step is an optional one, and depends on if you have the equipment.  
You can happily slide your bread (along with the parchment paper) right onto your baking stone (or just stick the pan in the oven) and be oh-so-close to having fresh bread.  
However, you also can try your hand at scoring a pattern into the surface of the bread.  This requires what bakers refer to as a lame (pronounced lamb), or baker's blade

 Essentially, it is a very sharp, curved razor blade.  If you have a new, clean, sharp razor blade or exacto knife, go for it, just quickly (but gently) slash a few cuts into your bread.  You may need to very gently hold the dough on either side of the cut in order for the edge to slice through.  

As you can see, my lame needs to be replaced and did a rather pitiful job of cutting through.  This took several slices into each cut in order to make them deep enough.  Oh well, the point is made.  
Now - get that bread in the oven!  

The size of your loaves and your oven will determine how long it takes to bake.  Each of my three medium-sized loaves took 20 minutes on the baking stone.  If you made two larger loaves, give it 25-30 minutes.  If you baked on sheet pans, they may take even longer, say, 30-35 minutes.  The end result should be a deep golden brown, and when you take the loaf out, you should be able to tap on the bottom of it and hear a hollow sound.  If you have a instant-read thermometer, go ahead and jab it in the bottom - it should read at about 200 degrees.  If you can stand it, let the bread rest for about 10-30 minutes before cutting.  Right, and unicorns made it onto Noah's Ark as well.  Slice it, tear it, and fight it out of your family members' hands (as they will surely have made an appearance at this point!).  
As mine was baking, I made a big pot of Cauliflower Soup.  This is an awesome soup-dipping bread, and Trav, Justin and I easily polished off one of the loaves of bread.  

Let the extra loaves cool completely, then wrap in plastic or in a zip-top bag and freeze.  When you are ready to serve it, stick it in a 360 degree oven (remove the plastic, for heaven's sake!) for about 15 minutes - fresh again!  
If you have any questions about the process, or comments about how yours turned out, I'd love to hear them!

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