Crusty, Sourdough Casserole Bread

The newest version of my everyday bread baked with some wonderful, ancient heirloom whole-wheat flour grown in Thessaly, Central Greece.


I bake our everyday bread with a combination of different flours and I have posted the recipe for my basic Wheat, Semolina and Barley Bread with Spices. Before I feel completely satisfied and decide to write down the recipes for my books I try and try them again; then I feel free to experiment again with other combinations of ingredients. In my everyday life I seldom stick to my published recipes, not even when I cook for a formal meal. I always add or substitute this for that, testing variations of the basic recipes using what I have at hand in the pantry or what I harvest from the garden. This is the traditional frugal way of cooking I learned from my mother and from other home cooks all around the Mediterranean.

The latest version of my bread has some of the wonderful organic heirloom triticum dicocum (farro oremmer) flour from Trinity Farm in Thessaly, Central Greece; I also add some rye flour from the same farm, omitting the barley.

Here is how I proceed:
Three days before I plan to bake, I start feeding the sourdough starter that I keep in the refrigerator. It looks grey and dead as I open the container, but when fed with flour and water for a couple of days it comes back to life, gets bubbly and constantly expanding.

DAY 1:
To about 12 ounces (350 g) sourdough starter I add 2 cups all-purpose flour and 1 cup water, stir well to incorporate, cover with oiled plastic wrap and leave on the counter for 24 hours. NOTE: if you use a piece of old dough that is somewhat hard, you need to pulse it in the blender with about 1/2 cup water to make a paste and then proceed to add the flour and water, as needed to get a thick, sticky mixture.


DAY 2:
Take out half of the mixture and transfer it to a new bowl, or better to a container that has a tight-fitting lid. To each half add 1 cup all-purpose flour and about 1/2 cup water, stir well to incorporate, cover each bowl with oiled plastic wrap and leave one on the counter for another 24 hours. I cover the second bowl with its lid–over the oiled wrap–then stick a piece of tape on the lid, write the date and transfer it to the refrigerator. It is my backup starter and lasts for months—I have used leftover starter that I had forgotten in the back of a shelf for 8 months and it still worked fine after I ‘fed’ it for 2 days!

DAY 3:
The sourdough is bubbly, has expanded considerably, and it is ready to be used for the bread dough.

The Bread:

For one large loaf about 3 2/3 pounds (1.700 g.)
(I make my dough with 7-8 cups of flour–the maximum amount my Kitchenaid can handle)


2 1/2 cups triticum dicocum flour—whole wheat emmer (see NOTE)
2 cups whole wheat organic flour
1/2 cup rye flour
2 teaspoons salt
The sourdough (see above)
About 1 1/2 cups water, or as needed

In the bowl of a standing mixer combine the flours and the salt, and pulse a few times to blend.

Take out the bowl, make a well in the center of the flours and add the sourdough and 1 cup water. Process on medium-low for 5 minutes, adding a little more water as needed to get a soft dough that ‘cleans’ the sides of the bowl. It should be soft and somewhat sticky.

Oil a large bowl and a piece of plastic wrap. Turn out the dough onto the oiled bowl, cover with the oiled plastic wrap and let stand on the counter for 1 hour.

Transfer the bowl with the dough to the refrigerator and let rise slowly overnight; you can leave it for up to 24 hours.

Take the dough out and leave on the counter for about 3 hours, to come to room temperature and start rising further. Look closely to make sure it has started to expand before proceeding further.

Generously line with parchment paper a bowl roughly the size of the clay casserole or Dutch oven where you plan to bake the bread.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and using a large dough scraper invert it carefully; you don’t want to deflate it. Take out a piece the size of an orange (about 200g) and shape the rest into a ball: carefully stretch the surface of the dough downwards, tucking it underneath as you rotate a quarter turn and repeat, continuing to turn until you have an evenly shaped ball (see HERE). Do this fast, because the dough needs to be left alone to rise again.

Cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour.

At least 20 minutes before baking the bread, place a 9-to-10-inch-deep (23-to-25-cm-deep) clay or cast-iron Dutch oven with a lid in the middle of the oven and preheat to the maximum about 480°F (250°C).
Very carefully, with thick oven mitts, transfer the hot casserole to a heatproof surface on the counter; uncover carefully, resting the lid on a heatproof surface. Discard the plastic from the dough and, holding the corners of the paper, lift the bread and transfer to the hot casserole. Using scissors, cut three deep slashes on the surface of the loaf, cover with the lid, and transfer back to the center of the oven.

Bake for 20 minutes, the lower the heat to 375ºF (200ºC) and continue baking another 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 20 minutes. With a meat thermometer, check the temperature in the center of the bread—it should be about 215˚F (100°C).

Carefully remove the casserole from the oven and transfer the bread to a rack to cool, discarding the paper. Be very careful how you handle the casserole and the lid—they stay very hot for some time.

When completely cool, slice the bread and serve.

Leftover bread can be frozen. Reheat in a preheated 375˚F (190°C) oven, directly from the freezer, loosely wrapped in aluminum foil, for at least 20 minutes, depending on the size of the piece. Open the foil and heat for another 5 minutes to crisp.

NOTE: If you can’t get emmer or any other old-fashioned wheat flour, use a combination of fine semolina (pasta flour) and spelt flour.


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