Italian Country Loaf with Rosemary, Garlic, and Lemon

This bread really brought me back to one of my favourite places in the world, Tuscany. I've been there twice now and I'm in love. If you've followed me for a while, you may have read the post on Italy that I did after my trip there last summer. Smelling this bread as it came out of the oven conjured up images from that trip and the culture that I really envy.

Bread is a staple in Italy. They have it simply - toasted with tomatoes and olive oil or put into a soup. It's not fancy, it's not high end, it's just good food and good ingredients. Quality is a huge part of their cuisine and their life in general.

When you get down to it, bread is one of the most underrated and overlooked things in North America. Most bread that people grow up on is tasteless, bland, and boring. It's just a vehicle for jam or some meats and cheese. But I'm telling you that bread can be an incredible addition to whatever you put on top of it. It makes everything that much better when you taste the real flavour of the bread and the fermentation. 

Am I a little too into homemade bread? Yeah, I probably am.

But as I keep telling you guys, once you make a quality loaf of bread all by yourself, you'll understand what I'm talking about. There's just no comparison to the store bought stuff.

It may be cliche, but in Italy, at least from my experience, a lot of emphasis is put on homemade food and the quality of it. Time is taken to do something right and to do it well. Life isn't always about being the most efficient. Slow down, take a deep breath, and really put yourself into what you're doing at that moment and try not to worry about deadlines, bosses, work schedules, and clients. 

Feel how soft and smooth the dough is when you shape it. Notice how much it's risen solely from your hard work and some wild yeast. Listen to the cracking of the crust as it comes out of the oven. Little details of life that we often pass by because we have so much to do, so many things to take care of. I get it, I do that too, everyone does. I'm just saying that a little awareness of how awesome the little things in life are. Like bread. I'm still amazed by bread, after all this time, and I think I'll always be amazed by bread. 

Tartine Country Loaf
Recipe adapted from Tartine Bread

1 tablespoon mature starter
200 g water at 78 F/25 C
100 g white flour
100 g whole wheat flour

Final Dough
700 g + 50 g water at 80 F/26 C
200 g leaven
850 g white flour
100 g whole wheat flour
50 g dark rye flour
20 g salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon dried rosemary, finely chopped
1 tablespoon lemon zest

The night before you plan to mix the dough, take 1 tablespoon of your mature starter and put it in a large container. Add the water and flour and mix until incorporated. Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rise overnight at a cool room temperature (65 F/18 C).

In the morning, your leaven should have increase by about 20% and be bubbling due to the wild yeast fermenting. If you're unsure if it's read or not, drop a spoonful of it into a bowl of room temperature water. If it sinks, it is not ready to use and needs more time to ferment. 

Combine the 700 g of water in a large mixing bowl. Add the 200 g of leaven (there will be extra, either discard it or add it back to your original starter) and stir to disperse. Add all three flours to the water and mix by hand until you do not see any bits of dry flour. Clean your hands and the sides of the bowl with a dough spatula. Let the dough rest for 25 to 40 minutes. Do not skip this resting period. Working the the nature of the dough, the resting period allows the protein and starch in the flour to absorb the water, swell, and then relax into a cohesive mass.

After the resting period, add the 20 g of salt, minced garlic, rosemary, lemon zest, and 50 g of warm water to the dough. Incorporate the salt by squeeze the dough between your fingers. The dough will first break apart and then re-form as you turn it in the bowl. Fold the dough on top of itself (as explained in my 80% Biga Bread recipe) and transfer it to a new container.

The dough is now in the bulk fermentation stage. It will ferment for 3 to 4 hours in total, depending on the temperature of the room and the dough. Fold the dough every half hour. You want to avoid pressing the gas out of the dough while doing this, so be gentle, especially after 2 hours.

Use a dough spatula to pull all the dough out of the container onto an unfloured work surface. Lightly flour the surface of the dough and use a bench knife to cut the dough into two equal pieces. As you cut the first piece, use the bench knife to flip it so that the floured side rests on the work surface. Repeat with the second piece.

At this point you want to incorporate as little flour as possible into the dough. Fold the cut side of each piece of dough onto itself so that the flour on the surface of the dough is sealed on the outside of the loaf. The outer surface of the dough will become the crust, so you may use more flour on your hands to avoid sticking.

Using the bench knife and one hand, work each piece of dough into a round shape. Tension builds when the dough slightly anchors to the work surface while you rotate it. By the end of the shaping, the dough should have a taunt, smooth outer surface. You want to develop a strong tension in as few movements as possible - use decisive yet gentle force when handling the dough. If the surface rips, you have gone too far in developing tension. Don't worry if it does rip - this is just an indication that you should stop shaping and let the dough relax.

After this initial sapping, let both rounds of dough rest on the work surface for 20 to 30 minutes. This stage is called the bench rest. Make sure the dough is not exposed to drafts, which will cool it too much. A draft can also cause a dry skin to form on the top of the dough, compromising the final shaping. You may need to lightly flour the dough and cover it with a kitchen towel.

To form the final loaf shapes, lightly flour the top surface of the dough rounds. Slip the bench knife under each round to lift it off the work surface, taking care to maintain the round shape. Flip the round so the floured side is now resting on the work surface. What was the underside is now facing up.

The final shaping involves folding - take care not to deflate the dough. Perform one fold and  roll the dough away from you so that the smooth underside of the loaf is now the top and all the seams are on the bottom. 

Cup your hands around the dough and pull it towards you, rounding it against the work surface to tighten the tension and stretch the outer surface to close the seam. Let the shaped loaf rest for a minute. Repeat with the second loaf.

In a small bowl, mix a 50/50 mixture of rice flour and wheat flour. Line two baskets or medium bowls with clean kitchen towels and lightly flour the towels with the flour mixture. The patina of flour prevents the dough from sticking during the final rise. Using the bench knife, lift each shaped loaf off the work surface and transfer it to a basket or bowl so that the smooth side is down and the seam is centered and facing up. The loaves will now rise in preparation for baking.

You can bake your bread after a 3 to 4 hour proofing time or you can let your dough proof in the fridge for up to 12 hours. 

About 20 minutes before you are ready to bake, place a dutch oven in the oven and preheat it to 500 F. If the shaped dough is in the refrigerator, take one of the loaves out now.

Dust the surface of one of loaves in the basket or bowl with rice flour. When the oven reaches 500 F, put on the kitchen mitts and carefully pull the heated dutch oven out of the oven and place it on top of the stove. Be careful as the dutch oven is extremely hot. Carefully invert the basket or bowl and turn the dough into the hot dutch oven.

Make your scoring pattern on top of the loaf with the corner edges of the razor blade, if you have one, or use a very sharp knife. A simple square with four cuts is a good starting point. 

Place the lid on the dutch oven and return it to the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 450 F and bake the loaves for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, remove the lid of the dutch oven. Continue to bake for another 20 to 25 minutes until the crust is deeply caramelized. 

Remove the dutch oven and transfer the loaf to a wire rack to cool. To bake the second loaf, preheat the oven to 500 F again and repeat the process. 

Let cool completely before slicing.