For the last six months or so, my bi-weekly/weekly loaf has been one from Dan Lepard's wonderful bread book The Handmade Loaf. But this weekend, inspired by Michael Ruhlman's exhortation to use ratios when it comes to bread baking (and everything else, actually), I went outside my comfort zone and abandoned all of my recipe books. And the result was a triumph.
I think this may be my best loaf ever. High, round, crusty with a tender yet substantial interior texture. What was this miraculous non-recipe? Well, you need a scale, but beyond that it couldn't be easier. 1 part sourdough starter (I used the starter I had on hand, but if you don't have any check out this Ruhlman post, which describes an easy 48 hour method for developing one), 1 part water, 2 parts bread flour and 1% salt by weight.
Now I hewed to the 1:1 water and starter ratio (350 grams of each) and the recommended salt level (14 grams), but I also threw in a few handfuls of wheat germ to give the bread a little gravitas, and then just added enough flour to make a dough. I can only assume it was somewhere in the neighborhood of the 700 grams that would have been called for. I kneaded like crazy once the dough was well formed, until it felt tight and it sprang back when I pressed it, and then I left it to rise in a clean, oiled bowl until it doubled in bulk (yesterday that was about two hours, but it varies pretty dramatically).
Following the first rise I punched it down and then formed it into a boule, which I let rise in a bread basket. I had a few errands to run, so threw it in the refrigerator while I was out. Once back, I left it out at room temperature for an hour to take the chill off. And in the meantime, despite the hellish temperature, I preheated the oven, with my Dutch oven inside, to 450 degrees. Once everything was ready, I dumped the formed dough in the Dutch oven, clamped the lid on so that the bread would rise in a humid atmosphere, and baked it for 30 minutes. Then, to ensure a crisp golden crust, I removed the lid and baked for another 20 minutes. And happiness ensued.