The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


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As I begin to work my way through Dan Lepard's The Handmade Loaf, there is a bread pictured on the inside cover that got me wondering. It looks like a boule with an appendage twisted with pointed tips and makes me think of a handle to hold while carrying or cutting. Dan didn't identify the bread by name and I haven't seen anything like it before so until I hear otherwise from Dan or someone who knows the real name, I'm calling it Medieval Bread. I used the first recipe for White Leaven Bread as the mix and tried to shape the dough as pictured.Waiting until after proofing to shape the twist was a mistake I suspect. If you have the book, you will be amused at my rookie attempt to replicate the image.

I have made Dan's Black Pepper Rye and the White Thyme bread which were delicious but I think I should progress in an order that will let me understand Lepards thinking. After looking at nearly every bread in the book, I see the ratios of leaven and timing are different than I have been accustomed to using. There are also a few specialized techniques that I haven't used and ingredients while common at home are unfamiliar to me in baking. Pickle Juice would be a good example. It would be easy for me to get distracted by the many wonderful new recipes and ignore the common sourdough white loaf. As I discovered, that would be a mistake.

I made the White Leaven bread by the book except I substituted 30 grams of sifted rye into the 500g white bread flour. Dan suggests using fresh yeast and as soon as I find a local source for 1 pound bricks I intend to make the change from Instant Dry (IDY). Most of the brick fresh yeast sold in the US is made just a few miles from here so it's just a matter of finding a distributor.

The method of developing the gluten in all of the recipes in this book are most easily done with your hands or a plastic scraper. Dan is insistent on minimal kneading, waiting 10 minutes and again just a few seconds of kneading and wait 10 minutes. After a few cycles of this you begin to see the dough come together well and become smooth and silky. Following the initial development comes a schedule of stretch and fold, waiting between folding sessions. All very gentle and effortless steps. The result is a perfectly incorporated and developed dough with just the right amount of aeration.

Remembering that these same four ingredients can be mixed and handled in many ways to arrive at vastly different ends, I am very pleased to have followed the procedure exactly. The bread is wonderful. For me a perfect outcome is a bread that looks wonderful and has a full flavor with a long lasting after taste. The crust has been baked to a dark brown and has a deeper caramelized flavor that contrasts the crumb. When I manage to bake a bread that has this contrast and tastes this good, I'm really pleased.

I know there are many bread books out there to choose from. Many are very similar and will produce great breads. If you are serious about making breads that are not merely great but outstanding, "The Handmade Loaf" or the US version "The Art of Handmade Bread"  is available from our link for $12. At this point it's the best value in my library and I'm delighted with the best breads I have made. Lepard has traveled Europe and befriended some of the old time bakers in far off the beaten path corners of the world. Developing these recipes for modern use is a gift to those of us who strive to bake these old style hearty breads.

No snickering at my attempt to make the twisted boule now!


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