My daughter-in-law gave me a copy of “The Panera Bread Cookbook” for Christmas a few years ago. Panera is a very popular American Bakery-Café, and much to my surprise I discovered that Peter Reinhart wrote the book’s Foreward for it. He entitled his contribution “Building a Bread Culture in America”. Much of what he wrote is his own take on the ancient and modern history of bread, grain, and cultures — not leavening but bread culture as in cafe culture. This is what caught my imagination, because I have developed a small but close group of friends who love baking bread — the magic of it, the thrill of watching it rise and spring and crunch and return the affection that we impart on it as we knead and shape the dough. Reinhart’s Foreward sent me quickly into the recipes with a hopeful and excited heart. The recipes were all in US measures: Fahrenheit, cups and ounces. Should have known.
So it’s taken me nearly 2-years (to find the time) to convert this recipe from US volume measurement to metric so that I knew what I was doing, not that I have any better clue for having done so. Conversions were done with the help of a calculator and my husband who double-checked the baker’s percentages for me. There are also ingredients in the recipe that I can’t obtain in the UK without paying through the nose…and since my nose is slightly stuffed at the moment, I can say without fear of exaggeration, ‘you can stuff that’.
Here are the substitutions: I switched vegetable shortening for the same weight in half olive oil or half rapeseed oil. The latter gave the loaf a slight and subtle warm colour. I’m sure that using all olive oil would work fine. I also substituted the clover honey for the same weight in agave nectar (issues with low GI requirements). In addition to the recipe’s starter, which isn’t really a starter but a poolish, I had 50g of leftover Sedrick (my ‘real’ sourdough starter) that I removed from the jar on feeding. I used that for flavour, but whatever addition Sedrick might have contributed, it wasn’t in flavour. Couldn’t taste him at all. I suspect his contribution was entirely leavening as this loaf had gravity-defying oven spring. And then there was the usual problem of finding fresh yeast. I substituted fresh yeast for dry active yeast. I’m apt to try less commercial yeast next time.
One last thing. The recipes in this book are written for stand-mixers. This is the first time that I’ve made bread using an electric stand-mixer with a dough hook attached. I’m not sure that I like it. I have no feel for what the dough is doing, no feel for gluten development — it’s all visual rather than touchy-feely. I’m a touchy-feely type of baker. My silver-colour Kenwood did precisely as required but I just think I’m happier making bread by hand. It was darned fast though.
I fed Sedrick a bit to give him some oomph, and let him sit for a couple of hours until he bubbled and bounced like my boy always does. The poolish, or starter as Panera calls it, only ferments for 30-minutes. That surprised me because I thought it would need longer but in 30-minutes it was definitely ready. Another step in the method that surprised me was the short proving time — just two stints of 30-minutes each time. It’s all very different from how I learnt using Dan Lepard’s method but there’s no doubt that Panera’s methods work. Good flavour, good proving rise, excellent oven spring. I gave the round boule to my J. (youngest son) and his partner; they ate the whole thing with tuna fish for dinner. Crumbs. I kept the bâtard shaped loaf, and P. (hubby) and I enjoyed a slice before bed.
This is not a sourdough loaf with big open crumb and holes. It’s a light and very flavoursome white loaf with a hint of sweetness from the agave nectar/honey. It suited mature cheddar cheese and a cup of Earl Grey very nicely.
Panera’s Country White Bread
237g Warm Water
1 teaspoon Active Dry Yeast (or 2 t. fresh yeast)
138g Plain Flour
163g Warm Water
3 tablespoons Clover Honey or Agave Nectar
2 teaspoons Active Dry Yeast (or 4 t. fresh yeast)
56g vegetable Shortening (I used olive oil)
624g Strong White Bread Flour
1 tablespoon Fine Salt
50g Sourdough Starter
Make the poolish first: In a medium bowl, mix the warm water and yeast together, stir well. Wait until it foams, and then add the flour. Stir it all well, and then cover the bowl with a cloth. Allow the poolish to ferment in the bowl at room temperature for 30-minutes. The first photo is Sedrick, and the second photo is the poolish.
After 20-minutes, start making the dough by mixing the honey, warm water and yeast in the bowl of a stand-mixer. Stir well to dissolve the yeast, and wait until the yeast covers the top of the water with foam (5-8 minutes). Add the shortening/olive oil, flour, salt, the poolish and sourdough starter (if using). Mix at minimum speed until the ingredients start to combine, and then switch from a paddle attachment to the dough hook, and continue mixing for 2 minutes. Test the gluten development by pricking off a piece of dough and stretching it slowly for a gluten ‘windowpane’ to appear — if it quickly tears, mix for another 1 or 2-minutes. Test again. That should be enough; be careful not to over-knead.
Scrape the dough on to your work surface, and cut it into two pieces that weigh 624g each. Roll each piece into a small round, and then place each one in an oiled bowl that’s covered with a damp tea towel for 30-minutes. Alternatively, you can let it rest on your work surface covered with an oiled piece of cling film.
Turn on the oven, and preheat it to 400F/200C, and a metal roasting tray at the bottom of the oven. This will produce steam when the bread bakes. Just put the empty tray in the oven for now, without water.
Remove the proved rounds of dough from their bowls on to a lightly floured surface, give them a quick knead or two, and shape into loaves or into tins. Cover again with a warm, damp cloth at room temperature for 30-minutes to prove.
Five-minutes before the proving time is complete put the kettle on to boil, and then fill the searing hot tray at the bottom of the oven with boiling water. Careful – it will spit steam at you. Quickly close the oven door so that the steam doesn’t escape.
Slash the loaves with a sharp knife, spray lightly with a mist of water, and then bake for 30-45 minutes until the crust is golden brown. During the first 10-minutes of baking, spray with loaves with a fine mist every 5 minutes. Do not spray the sides of the oven as this will reduce the oven temperature — just mist the loaves. This will keep the crust moist and pliable, thereby allowing better oven spring (so I’ve read somewhere but can’t remember where now. If it was ‘you’, thank for the brilliant tip!).
An internal temperature test indicated that this loaf was done way before it actually was, so don’t trust the thermometer test on this one. Instead, rap the bottom of loaf for a hollow, echo sound to test for doneness. (Note: I allowed the loaves to cool while sitting in the oven with the door fully opened as the crust started to soften almost immediately.)
Allow to cool at room temperature for at least 30-minutes before slicing into the loaf.