I've been lurking around this website for about a week and decided to join in. I'm an occasional bread baker who would like to improve my loaves. I got into it because my sons have nut/sesame seed allergies. This meant my wife and I could not trust a normal bakery for good rustic bread because there is no way to be assured that the bread didn't get cross-contaminated with sesame seeds or nut products. Still, my wife and I still really love the occasional crusty loaf, so I started to make some bread (I average baking about twice a month).
We are really busy because we have triplet boys (collective age of 27 years old, look at my white hairs!), so I've had to tweak my protocol for baking bread to be as casual and flexible as possible. So, I thought that I'd submit to all of you what I do for feedback, suggestions, comments, etc.
I do love the taste of bread done with a preferment (a biga) and a slow rise, but with our busy schedule, I needed a way to do this with great flexibility. So...
I mix/knead a bread dough (I use the autolyse technique too) using instant yeast, bread flour, salt, and COLD water in a Kitchenaide mixer. I then put it in a lightly oiled stainless steel mixing bowl, cover with plastic and stick it into the refrigerator for a slow, cold first rise (usually about 18-24 hrs).
The next day, I take it out of the refrigerator, fold the dough (which when cold is somewhat stiff), put the dough into a new lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic and then put the whole thing into a weakly warmed oven (Turned on oven for about 1 min, turn it off and then leave the light on -- my oven gets to around 90 F) and wait for about 1-1/2 hr to 2 hrs.
By then, the dough is slowly warmed to around room temperature (maybe slightly warmer) and undergoes a 2nd rise. I then shape my loaves and let proof. After proofing, I do the normal stuff -- slash, wet, bake.
The bread is pretty good (my wife loves it). I bet if I folded it more often it would rise higher in the oven, but as a trade off in my actual hands-on time, it works for me. It has a faintly sour taste (which I happen to like) and the crumb is somewhat irregular but not extremely open like some of the photos I've seen on this website (though my hydration level may help to explain that, I've been hovering around 65-68% for hydration level)
So, what do you think?