European-Style Hearth Bread

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European-Style Hearth Bread

star rating (18) rate this recipe »
Published prior to 2008

These batards (or Italian-style loaves), featuring a crunchy crust and chewy interior marked by irregular holes, are a perfect accompaniment to any meal. They also make great sandwiches. The poolish (or starter), made the night before, gives the bread its excellent texture and flavor; while not difficult to make, this bread does take some time, so plan accordingly.

Like any loaf made without fat, they become stale very quickly. So bake and eat them the same day or, if they're day-old, reheat them for 5 to 10 minutes in a preheated 350°F oven.

Poolish
1/3 cup (2 5/8 ounces) cool water (about 65°F)
1/2 cup (2 1/8 ounces) European-Style Artisan Bread Flour
1/16 teaspoon (a pinch) instant yeast

Dough
All of the poolish (above)
3/4 cup (6 ounces) cool water, about 65°F
2 1/2 cups (10 3/4 ounces) European-Style Artisan Bread Flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

The poolish: In a medium-sized bowl, combine all of the poolish ingredients, mixing just till a cohesive dough forms. Allow the poolish to rest, covered, for 12 to 16 hours at room temperature. When the poolish is ready to use, it will be filled with large holes and bubbles.

The dough: Add the water to the poolish, and mix till smooth. Add the flour, mix till just combined, cover the bowl, and allow the mixture to rest for 20 minutes. This rest period (autolyse, in French) allows the flour to absorb the liquid and the gluten to start its development, making kneading easier and more effective. Add the yeast and salt, and knead the dough till it's fairly smooth but not necessarily elastic, about 5 to 7 minutes by hand, 5 minutes by electric mixer, or 5 to 7 minutes in a bread machine. (The gluten will continue to develop as the dough rises, so you don't want to develop it fully during the kneading process.)

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise, at room temperature, for 1 1/2 hours. To help develop the gluten, distribute the yeast's food, and expel any excess carbon dioxide, turn the dough every 30 minutes during the rising time: gently fold all four sides into the middle, and turn the dough over.

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface, divide it in half, shape each half into a rough log, cover them, and let them rest for 15 to 20 minutes. Again, this gives the gluten a chance to relax. Shape the logs into batards (shorter and fatter than traditional French baguettes) or Italian-style loaves—tapered ovals about 12" long. Place them on a lightly greased or parchment-covered baking sheet, cover them with an acrylic dough cover, or gently with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow them to rise, at room temperature, for about 2 hours; they should rise about three-quarters of the way to doubled. If they rise too much they'll lose their shape in the oven, so be sure they don't over-rise.

Using a sharp knife or razor, and holding it parallel to the dough*, make four slashes in each loaf. These should be more nearly vertical (running down the loaf) than horizontal (running crosswise), each stretching about one-third the length of the loaf. Spray the loaves with warm water.

Preheat your oven to 425°F, making sure you give it plenty of time to heat; this bread needs to go into a HOT oven. Bake the bread for 30 to 35 minutes, or until it's a deep, golden brown. Note: European-style loaves are generally baked longer than American loaves; if you're uncomfortable with a very dark crust, reduce the baking time a bit. Turn off the oven, crack the door open about 4 to 6 inches, and allow the bread to cool in the oven; this will help it retain its crunchy crust. Yield: 2 loaves.

*The blade shouldn't descend into the dough at a 90° angle; rather it should slice under the surface at about 10° to 20°. This will allow the loaf to rise in a more attractive fashion as it's baking.

Hearth bread hints...

Time: Flavor comes from long, slow fermentation (rising) at relatively low temperatures. An ambient rising temperature of 70°F to 80°F results in the best-flavored bread. Using a "pre-ferment" (variously known as a poolish, a biga, a sponge, or a levain), as we do in the preceding recipe, helps develop even more flavor.

Use more water: Wetter is usually better. A slack (wet) dough allows for a more active fermentation and complete development of the gluten structure. A hydration of 65% or more based on total flour weight is a good place to start; the hydration in the preceding recipe is about 68%. (Consider the weight of the flour is 100%, then divide the weight of the water by the weight of the flour to find the hydration level. For example, if your flour weighs 12 ounces, using 6 ounces of water would give you 50% hydration.)

An iron fist, a velvet glove: Handle dough gently during shaping. Forget all you've heard about punching and slapping your dough; hey, dough is a living creature. Do you think it enjoys being punched and slapped? When you're deflating dough at any point during its fermentation process, simply fold it over gently onto itself. And when you're shaping, you don't want to expel all the air; just make sure the dough is smooth, without huge air pockets.

Reviews

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  • star rating 02/18/2015
  • Donna from NC
  • Everything was going along great until the last rising. My dough spread in width, rather than height. I went ahead and baked it hoping the oven heat would cause it to rise a bit, but no such luck. We used it to make paninis so it wasn't a complete waste. I have since watched the KAF video on shaping my loaves, so will definitely be trying this recipe again.
  • star rating 01/12/2015
  • mrmoran from KAF Community
  • I'm having such fun trying a wide range of KAF bread recipes. Most come out great the first time; when they don't, I can usually identify my "operator error" (sometimes with the help of the Baker's Hotline -- thank you!) and get it right on a subsequent attempt. Following the instructions carefully, I was able to nail this on the first try and produced two loaves with a nice complement of holes and super, intense flavor. Being patient with the rises was the key. This is my new favorite of the couple of dozen bread recipes I've tried from this site. Yum yum yum!
  • star rating 01/09/2015
  • Sue from Champlin, MN
  • Excellent recipe - chewy interior, crispy crust, great flavor. I have made bread with a poolish before, but was unfamiliar with adding additional yeast and salt after the dough was formed. I was only able to add 2 C of flour to the poolish, without making the dough too dry. It seemed the proper consistency as it wasn't sticky. Used my bread machine for the kneading. It made 2 11" loaves - I think I could have stretched to make the 12" but wasn't sure how much it would raise. Raised nicely before and during baking. I have a Hearthkit Ceramic oven liner (I guess they are no longer made) but it bakes a great crispy crust!
  • star rating 01/11/2013
  • James from Erie, PA
  • I really wanted this bread to come out right but I don't think it rose enough. At the end I ended up with what I started with as dough. The bread was very dense. I sed Active Dry Yeastvand assumed its the same as instant yeast. There were no large nice holes. I figure I've done something wrong.
    There could be a few points that could have caused this issue with your bread. I would suggest giving our baker's hotline a call so we can help you troubleshoot the problem!-Jon 802-649-3717
  • star rating 12/31/2012
  • Suemac from G'ville, FL
  • I followed the recipe exactly except that I made one free-form loaf rather than two. The loaf interior was fairly dense, but not too much so; similar to 'country batards' I get from a local bakery. I didn't get the large holes others have mentioned - my loaf looked very much like the picture in the recipe. Flavor was wonderful. Will definitely make again.
  • star rating 12/23/2012
  • Carol from West Palm Beach, Fl
  • I've made about 10 different breads. My husband loved this one the best. Changes: Used KAF bread flour. Final rise only took 1 hour. I was in a rush so I put the loaves on parchment and set it on the granite countertop where it is warmed by the ice maker below. I knew it was ready by poking the side. Two minutes into baking I lightly sprayed water on the loaves again. Baked on parchment and baking stone 30 minutes, turned oven off, cranked door open for 30 minutes then transferred to baking rack. Finally a crunchy crust!!! We ate it soon after baking.
  • star rating 09/13/2012
  • addiestudebaker from KAF Community
  • flavor is perfect - prep is long, but not difficult - looks like an artisan batard. Definitely comes out as two rather small loaves. Next time I'll double the recipe and make 3 loaves. Mine did not have a very light interior...a little too dense. I think I may have cut off the last rise a bit too early, though. Will definitely be trying this again, flavor is out of this world. Can't wait to try some different flours (Semolina, etc.). Thanks KAF.
  • star rating 06/11/2011
  • Cindy leigh from
  • Not difficult at all, just allow time for a two day process. Well worth the time. Great holey interior, wonderful crisp crust, very flavorful. The second time I made this, I used my sourdough starter in the preferment. And I subbed about 1/3 of the flour with semolina, which I love. This is an easy, GREAT recipe!
  • star rating 02/23/2011
  • carmelitanan from KAF Community
  • This was the first time I've worked with a poolish. The flavor of the bread is excellent! I would make this bread again. I had 2 problems though. (1) The dough was way too soft and sticky to hold its shape. It was so soft that I cut the time to rise by 1 hr after shaping them into loaves to be baked. Next time I will add more flour. (2) The crust did not give me the crustiness that I expected, it came out more like a pizza dough crust and dull looking. I don't know what I've done wrong (and no, I didn't measure by weight). I would have appreciated a little more detail on what the consistency of the dough should be, that might have headed off the problem I encountered.
    I think that by cutting the rise time, you may have affected the dough's development. This recipe relies on the rise time to develop the gluten structure and absorb the water content. You may have added too much flour which may have taken away from the quality of the crust. This dough should be soft and sticky. I hope you will try it again. ~Amy
  • star rating 01/09/2011
  • Sarah d from KAF Community
  • i made this bread yesterday, and after reading the comments from previous bakers, and looking at my dough, decided to only make one loaf. i think this was a mistake, as the loaf came out too flat. I baked it for about 30min, and while the crust was nice and crunchy, I found the inside to be too chewy, and the flavor was off. so i tried it again today, following the recipe and making the batch into two loaves, also cooking directly on the baking stone with parchment paper, instead of on a sheet. I cut the baking time back to 25 minutes, and cooled it in the oven with the door open for about 15 min, then removed it completely. What a difference! the centers is a much better texture, and the flavor is way better today, but the crust is still crunchy and perfect. I'm glad I tried this a second time!
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