‘Hero’ because it’s how you will feel when you haul this rustic beauty out of the oven. Every time I make this New York Times inspired recipe, I’m amazed at how technically undemanding this is. The main ingredient is time, but a cast-iron pot with a lid (a ceramic or glass ovenproof dish will also work) is also imperative. The resulting loaf feels somehow ancient and substantial. It has a serious crust, open crumb and a robust bite, with flavour that hints towards a sourdough. You will enjoy making and eating this over and over again.
Makes 1 LOAF
450 g (1 lb/3 cups) plain
(all-purpose) flour + extra
1/4 teaspoon instant dried yeast
11/4 teaspoons salt
380–400 ml (13–14 fl oz) water
Polenta (coarse cornmeal) or wheat bran, for dusting
Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a medium–large mixing bowl. Mix together the ingredients quickly with your hands, then make a well in the centre and pour in the water. Using a circular motion, bring the ingredients together to form a sticky, wet dough.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rest in a warm (if possible) and draught-free spot in the house for a minimum of 12 hours (but 18 is preferable), or until the surface of the dough is dotted with bubbles. (In winter, I’ve found this can be up to 20 hours.) If you tilt the bowl, the bubbles will give the dough a stringy appearance.
Flour your work surface well, scrape the dough onto it, sprinkle with a little more flour, then roughly flatten it with your hands. Give it an envelope fold: pull the front and back into the centre, then repeat with the sides. Sprinkle a generous amount of polenta (the size of a dinner plate) in the centre of a clean tea towel. Place the dough on it seam side up, and sprinkle more polenta on top, before loosely folding the sides of the tea towel to cover it completely. Allow the dough to rise for another 2–8 hours (depending on climate) until it doubles in size and does NOT spring back easily when prodded.
When you feel that the dough is close to being fully risen, preheat the oven to 210°C (410°F) fan-forced. Place a 25–28 cm (10–11 inch) cast-iron (or glass or ceramic) pot and its lid into the oven at the same time. When ready to bake, remove the pot from the oven—be very careful, as it will be ragingly hot. Uncover the dough, slide your hand under the tea towel and swiftly flip the dough into the pot.
Shimmy the dough a bit, so that it sits in the centre, then cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for a further 30 minutes or until beautifully brown. It should look on the flat side and make
a crisp, hollow sound as opposed to a dull thud if tapped. Cool for at least 20 minutes on a wire rack before eating. When you cut into it, the crust should be super crunchy, the air bubbles large and the texture a little chewy.
Recipe and Images from Poh Bakes 100 Greats by Poh Ling Yeow (Murdoch Books, RRP $39.99) Photography by Alan Benson. You can buy the book here.
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