Introduction: Hearth Bread

This bread is an easy to make hearth bread with a hard crust and soft inside. It does take some time to make, but not a lot of effort. Because of the time it takes to make, the bread has a slight sour flavor, similar to a mild sour dough. It is wonderful with jam/jelly or with soup. It is also great on it's own.

Note: The photos in this instructable show the use of a mixer;however, I have made this bread for years by hand.

Step 1: Igredients

5 cups of flour (unbleached all purpose works well)
2 cups of warm water (100-110 degrees F)
2 teaspoons yeast (instant or dry)
2 teaspoons salt

Step 2: Make a Starter

In a mixing bowl, mix 1 cup warm water, 1 teaspoon yeast and 2 cups of flour. If you are using dry yeast, let the yeast bloom (soak) in the water for a few minutes before adding the flour. Cover the mixture, and let in sit overnight. (For a stronger sour dough-like flavor, let the starter sit for a couple of days).

Note: I have found that covering the starter with a cling wrap and then a tea towel helps keep the starter from drying out. You will have to scrape a little of the starter off of the wrap, but it makes further mixing easier.

Step 3: Mixing and Kneading

Add 1 cup warm water, 1 teaspoon yeast and 2 teaspoons salt to the starter. Mix well. Add remaining flour a cup at a time and mix in the flour. I have found it useful to hand mix (with clean, bare hands) to finish mixing, wither using a mixer or not.

Now knead the dough. If using a mixer, follow the machine's instructions for kneading. 2-5 minutes should do the job (I like going 4 to 5 minutes). If kneading by hand, knead the dough for 5-10 minutes.

Step 4: The First Rising

Form the dough into a ball, and cover (I reuse the cling wrap and the towel). Now let the dough rise for 3 hours.

Note: The dough will rise best if the room temperature is over 70 F.

Step 5: Rolling on (and Waiting Again)

Now, beat down the dough, and knead it once again (with a mixer, knead of a minute or so. By hand, knead for a couple of minutes). Shape and roll the dough into a ball. For a thicker, harder crust, roll the ball in flour (My wife prefers the bread with a thinner crust).

Cover the ball with a tea towel, and let rise for 45 minutes. (I preheat the oven to 400 F after 30 minutes).

Step 6: Baking

Score the top of the bread. I like to make a cross on the top (like a shepherds' bread), but you could score parallel lines in the top or skip the scoring (the crust will rip open any way).

Now place the bread into an oven preheated to 400F, and bake for 30-35 minutes.

Remove the bread from the oven, wrap it up in a tea towel, and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

NOTE: I bake the bread on a pizza stone, but before we had one, we used a cookie sheet.

Step 7: Variations

For a whole/multi grain bread use 2 cups whole wheat flour for the starter and add 2 cup of the wheat flour and 1 cup rolled oats (dry) when mixing. Rolling the dough in oats instead of flour for step #6 really bumps up the presentation.

2 or 3 tablespoons of fresh rosemary (chopped) makes a nice addition.

Brush the bread with an egg wash before baking for a shiny, deep brown crust. For the egg wash, beat together 1 egg and 2 tablespoons of water.

Lastly, have fun with the size and shape of the loaf. Long french bread like loaves work well. Also, the dough can be divided into 2-4 balls and used as bread bowls for soup. Note: You will need to adjust the bake time.

Step 8: Enjoy

Like almost all breads, this one is most tasty while it is still fresh and warm. Enjoy!

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