Clayton "Wake": Italian Bread
Given Bernard Clayton Jr.'s influence on home bakers in the United States, it seemed fitting for me to bake some breads from his New Complete Book of Breads in observance of his recent death .
This post will be about his Italian Bread. I needed a fairly simple bread that could fit into a compact time so that it would be available to give to acquaintances who have a surgery scheduled for this Tuesday. Not knowing whether their children would be agreeable to a whole-grain bread, much less a sourdough, I opted for a crusty white bread that would go well with the soup that my wife was preparing for them.
The formula, all in volume measurements, is fairly simple:
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon malt syrup [having none on hand, I substituted agave nectar]
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk
2 packages dry yeast
3 cups warm water (105º-115º)
6 cups bread or unbleached flour, approximately
1 tablespoon vegetable oil [I used olive oil]
The process is nearly as simple. Mix together the salt, water, malt syrup, and yeast. Place 4 cups of flour in a mixing bowl, form a well in the flour, and pour in the liquid mixture. If using a mixer, mix 10 minutes at medium speed (2 on a KitchenAide?). If mixing by hand, mix for a similar time. Then add remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until a firm dough forms. Knead for 10 minutes. Place in a large, oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and allow to ferment until tripled in volume. Deflate the dough and allow to rise an additional 30 minutes. [I opted for a shorter hand mix and a shorter kneading time, performing one stretch and fold when the dough had nearly doubled, then allowing to triple the original volume.] Clayton recommends preshaping the dough, about 4 pounds, into boules, batards, or baguettes, then allowing a 20 minute rest. He also recommends brushing the loaves with water immediately before placing them in the oven. I elected to form 4 batards in the final shaping and rolled them in sesame seeds before placing them on the baking sheets, skipping the water brushing step. Allow to nearly double in volume again before baking (Mr. Clayton says "about 1 hour"). Bake in a 425º dry oven for 40-50 minutes until golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Rotate the baking sheets about halfway through the bake to ensure even baking and coloring.
Since I used two baking sheets and had to position one fairly low in the oven and the other fairly high (it's a relatively small oven compared to U.S. ovens), I chose to use convection baking and lowered the temperature 40º, as suggested by Mr. Clayton. At the 20 minute mark, I rotated the baking sheets and swapped their positions.
Other than some clumsy slashing, which is in no way attributable to Mr. Clayton, the loaves expanded very nicely in the oven, more than one might expect given the lack of steam. Here is how they look:
And a slightly closer look:
We did keep a loaf for ourselves, so I will post the crumb shot once we cut into it.
When I next bake this bread (I have before and it is too good not to continue to use it), I will try steaming the oven. I expect that it would enhance the blooming of the slashes as the ovenspring occurs. It is possible that my decision to use the convection setting also had an effect on how much the slashes opened. Given the oven capacity, the convection setting was the better choice in terms of promoting an even bake. I will also probably skip the sesame seeds in future bakes, even though they seemed like a good idea at the time. From Mr. Clayton's description of the dough, I suspect that I had a higher hydration than he would have used. My impression is that he may have packed more flour into a cup than I do.
Given that this formula came from a bakery in Monaco, one can argue about how "Italian" it really is. Regardless of its pedigree, it is good bread. Thank you, Mr. Clayton.