If you have been following my bread blog, you may recognize part of this title, from a previous blog entitled, “Too Much Kitchen S***” aka Bread Making Essentials. The term, coined by my husband, who unfortunately, cannot appreciate my interest in searching out the “perfect” kitchen gadgetry seems apt for this topic. I shall here attempt to demonstrate the thoughtful consideration that lies behind every kitchen device that occupies space in our kitchen. The secondary motive is to offer what I hope will be useful information for those who may wish to learn about making hearth breads.
In my first “Too Much —–” I identified essential bread baking equipment with the underlying supposition that the reader was going to be using bread pans. But there are a whole raft of other beautiful breads that cry out to have as much crust as possible exposed to a hot stone, at a very high temperature. And so, here are the items which I use to make hearth breads.
Hearth breads may be proofed as free-standing loaves on parchment paper, or they may be proofed in proofing baskets, called brotform (German) or bannetons (French, pro. “ban-e-TAH”). The French have a long history of making breads and various techniques to produce them. The banneton is a bamboo proofing basket which I purchased online. I have never seen one in a kitchen store, though I have looked. Believe me, I have looked. I have two bannetons, an oblong and an oval shape. Apparently the round banneton is extremely popular because they were on back order for a long time when I was ready to order mine. Breads that are appropriate for a banneton are those that need the structural support during the proof, but after removal, they are able to maintain themselves adequately for the immediate transfer to a hot oven. Hearth bread recipes will tell you if you need to use a banneton. The banneton is not washed in between uses. In fact, mine have never been washed. Rather, the banneton is dusted liberally with brown rice flour which does a great job of
releasing the dough onto the peel for delivery onto the hot baking stone. A homemade alternative to a banneton might be a round bottom bowl that you line with cloth. I would suggest you first lay the cloth out flat and rub as much brown rice flour into the weave of the fabric as you can before lining the bowl with it. Before I bought the bannetons, I cut and sewed a circular liner for making a quite large loaf, called a “peasant” loaf.
For hearth breads that do not need the support of a banneton, I like the following method. I cut a piece of parchment paper and lay atop a peel, or cookie sheet that will be serving as a peel. Before putting the shaped loaf on the parchment, I sprinkle it with semolina flour that I keep in a handy dispensing container. When the loaf is ready to be baked, the parchment goes into the oven along with the loaf. The parchment can remain in the oven throughout the bake. If, however, you move the bread in the oven, or desire to turn your bread 180 degrees during the bake, I would suggest removing the parchment at that time. The bread will move quite freely independent of the parchment, and you will not risk the parchment sidling up alongside the oven wall and catching fire. Ah, yes, a painful lesson learned. I had two loaves baking on parchment a while back. They were nicely browned and I thought they were done, so I pulled one of them out to test the internal temperature and decided that they could use a few more minutes. (The recipe in Local Breads said that the loaves should have a dark, crackly, almost charred finish.) So, back into the oven it went. When I opened the oven 3 minutes later, the tops of both loaves were in flames. Through my tears, I could see that the parchment was askew under the burning loaves and had apparently caught fire from the oven wall. Sigh — they HAD been so beautiful only minutes before. Definitely achieved the “charred finish.” That story I hope explains why I tend to trim the corners off the parchment before popping it into the oven.
A baking stone is necessary for making bread that has the qualities you desire in a hearth bread. You will notice that I have two baking stones. The only reason for that is that I had the round stone a long time ago and it is perfectly good, but not large enough to bake as many loaves at one time as I liked. I didn’t want to replace it with a large rectangular stone (although that would be really nice) so I
found a small rectangular stone to put next to the round one. As you can see, the two still don’t fit together well, so I adjusted the height of the round stone by placing a non-glazed clay tile underneath it on the left. Not exactly pretty, but it works for two loaves if one of them is oblong. (The small rectangular stone also fits inside the oven on our sailboat. More about baking on the sailboat this summer.)