Crusty Bread from the Woodfired Oven
If you want the best, crunchiest bread you’ll find, this is the recipe! A fantastic go-to dough, perfect for cooking in your woodfired oven or regular oven, and easy to fit in with your life – we make it one day, leave it in a cool place overnight to ferment and develop and then bake it the next day so it fits in with you rather than you having to fit in with it.
The video of David making and baking the dough as batons is on our youtube channel here but you can shape it into any style bread you like – rolls round and long, small and large loaves….endless opportunities! Make sure the sound is on (of course!) so you get to hear the awesome crunch of breaking into a baton – a complete joy! Happy cooking and do let us know how you get on!
600g strong white bread flour – we use Shipton Mill No 4
12g fine seasalt
420g room temperature water
1/4 tsp dried quick acting yeast (about 2g – but it’s easier to use a 1/4 tsp measure)
Oven State, equipment etc
3-4 Mississippi, about 250C, oven cleared or small bed of embers
A heat deflector is useful to make as much space in the oven and prevent side scorch from embers
Dough scrapers for mixing the dough, cutting it and handling it super gently
2 plastic bowls one slightly smaller than the other – we use plastic bowls of 2 different sizes so one acts as the lid for the other. They are light and easy to work with.
a long piece of linen or a clean tablecloth to act as a couche cloth; rub it well with plain flour really getting the flour into the weft to create a non-stick coating
Silicon/teflon sheet or baking parchment so you can put all the batons in the oven at once.
- Mix the flour, salt, yeast and water in the large bowl with a dough scraper just so all the flour is wet. You don’t have to knead the dough. Cover the bowl with the smaller bowl. Leave the dough for 30-60 minutes so the yeast can start acting and the gluten will start developing.
- When you’re ready, after 60 minutes or so, turn the dough on to a clean work surface and knead for a couple of minutes just to bring it all together into a smooth ball. Put it back in the large bowl and put the small bowl on top to act as a lid.
- Leave the dough in the bowls overnight in a cool place.
- The next day, sprinkle some semolina on your work surface and turn the dough on to it. We do this by just upending the large bowl so the dough will fall out with gravity and its own weight. You don’t want to start bashing the dough around at this point – just be gentle with it to keep it light and airy.
- Pull the sides of the dough out and in on all 4 sides to create a pillowy rectangle. Turn the rectangle over so the seam is on the bottom.
- Mark the dough into 4 equal pieces with a dough scraper and then cut through the marks with the rounded end, again very gently so as not to deflate the dough.
- Put the dough on to a clean board or work surface and cover for 30 minutes with a clean teatowel.
- Set up your couche cloth – we roll one end round a rolling pin to make it more stable and stop it flopping around. Sprinkle semolina on to the cloth and on to your work surface.
- Gently pick up one of the relaxed pieces of dough and put it on the semolina on your work surface.
- Shape it as per the video (got to 3 mins 5 secs) and then repeat for the remaining 3 pieces.
- Clean the semolina off the work surface to stop the dough skidding around when you are elongating the batons and roll them out (5 mins 9 secs).
- Snuggle up the rolled out doughs into the couche cloth, sprinkle with semolina and cover them up and leave them for 30 minutes
- Make sure the oven is ready to bake the bread (6 mins 25 secs) and get your silicon sheet on the work surface.
- Put the elongated risen doughs on to the silicon sheets and with a very sharp knife, slash the surface of each one diagonally.
- Use your large peel to put the batons and the sheet into the oven and shut the door.
- After 10 minutes, bring the sheet out on the peel and turn it round 180 degrees. Put the batons and the sheet back in the oven for even cooking, shut the door and leave them for another 10 minutes.
- Bring the batons out of the oven and leave them to cool if you can resist them before eating.
Alternatives and Doughy Explanations
- If you’d like to add some wholemeal flour, add about 20% of the volume of the flour.
- It’s easier to scale up if you work in percentages and see the flour as 100%. That makes the water 70%, the salt 2% and the yeast for the overnight dough 0.35%.
- The yeast sounds like a tiny amount but as you can see, the long fermentation means the tiny amount of yeast grows and grows so the dough is absolutely fine.
- The long fermentation also means the flavours and character of the bread develop much more than using a larger amount of yeast and a shorter fermentation time.
- For our couche cloth, we use a long piece of linen we bought for £4 in Totnes market so it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. We never put it in the wash, just shake it out to get rid of any excess flour and semolina before storage and if any dough has got on it, hang it on the washing line to dry it out and it will peel off easily.
- We get our plastic bowls in a local Pound Shop; again nothing fancy but easy and light to use, easily cleaned and stored and they don’t break if they get dropped!
- If you are using a regular oven, heat it to its highest temperature – about 240C – and put a baking sheet in the oven to heat up. Use the baking sheet as a shelf for your dough and do the same thing with the silicon sheet so the breads are baking straightaway and not waiting for a baking sheet to heat up.
- Make sure your slashing knife is really sharp and slash along the top and through the surface of the dough, not gouging into it too deeply.
- If you are using a metal woodfired oven rather than a refractory one, make sure the floor is well heated and sweep the embers to the side with a heat deflector. If you need to add small pieces of kiln-dried wood to the fire to keep the temperature up but as the cooking time is only 20 minutes you shouldn’t have to add too much.
- Remember if 4 batons are too much for you, they will freeze happily. Just defrost and eat later. They may have lost some of their initial crunch so if that’s the case, spray with water and put them in a hot oven for a few minutes to crisp up again.
Phew – that all sounds like a massive amount of work but remember, the yeast is doing the hard work of rising the dough and the longer you can leave it the better in terms of flavour and character for the bread. It is a really minimal amount of kneading for you and an awesome result so do give it a try!
David and Hollyx
PS if you’d like to learn more, join us on one of our breadmaking classes