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Slow bread?

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Friends have invited me over for bouillabaisse tomorrow evening. Along with the obligatory bottle of Bandol blanc, I'd like to take a homemade loaf of Jacques Collet's fennel and saffron bread designed specifically to accompany the dish. The ingredient list is simple: water, yeast, sugar, salt, ground fennel, saffron, white flour, semolina flour. With two risings -- first in the bowl, second as a ball on a baking sheet -- making the bread takes about 4 hours from start to finish.

Problem is, the bread tastes best soon after it's baked and I'm going to be dim summing from 10:30 a.m. until, quite possibly, 4 or 5 p.m. Reluctant to abandon the bread-making idea, I've begun wondering about proceeding as follows:
1. Make the dough this evening.
2. Place the bowl in the fridge and let it rise overnight. If insufficiently risen tomorrow morning, give it some time at room temperature before punching it down and forming the loaf.
3. Place the loaf on baking sheet in the fridge for the second rise. Go to dim sum. If, on my return, the loaf is insufficiently risen, give it some time at room temperature before baking.
4. Bake, cool slightly and head off to dinner.

Would that work? I've never tried anything similar but know that some professional bread bakers swear by slow rises. However, I believe they put their loaves in a cool room, not a fridge, for 24-36 hours, not 5-6. And I'm not sure they do a slow rise for the first rise.

Also, as per the recipe, during the one-hour second rise, the loaf is supposed to be covered by a tea towel. If I do a five- or six-hour second rise in the fridge, should I cover it with something more airtight (an inverted bowl, for example)?

Thanks for any guidance or other ideas you can provide.

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  1. I don't think bread does taste best right after it has been baked because you want it to come to room temperature for best crust development (though I will be the first to admit I don't always do that because it's hard to resist). I would let it rise overnight (let it sit out for about 20-30 minutes room temperature to get the yeast going first), bake in the morning and let it cool on a rack while you're at dim sum (10:30-4, like a full work day!). Bring it to your friend's house and reheat it on high oven.

    6 Replies
    1. re: chowser

      Thanks. By "soon after it's baked" I mean within 2-4 hours, which seems to be the optimum window for this bread.

      1. re: carswell

        I guess it depends on when you're having dinner. I don't know how the bread is baked, but I preheat the oven at least half an hour, bake at least half an hour so if you get home after 5, the bread won't be done until 6, at the earliest. Wait 2-4 hours and you're eating at 8-10 (which might be perfect if you're having dimsum until 5). I think, in that case, it would be fine to do the second rise in the refrigerator but let the bread come to room temperature before baking (even 24 hours if you use just a little yeast). You could do a regular first rise at room temperature and leave the second rise in the refrigerator. It depends on how much yeast you're using and how much more you add the second time. The longer the rise time, the less yeast for the second rise.

        1. re: chowser

          Is this the recipe?

          http://labellecuisine.com/archives/br...

          I was assuming it started with a sponge, when I talked about the second addition of yeast which is not the case here. In this recipe, I think you could do both the slow rises in the refrigerator but it might be easier to just start in the morning, do the first rise and then put the second rise in the refrigerator. If you decide to start the night before, I'd leave it out for a little first, before putting in. And, after a refrigerated rise, you want to dough to come to room temperature first before going on.

          1. re: chowser

            Yes, that's the recipe, reproduced word for word from Patricia Wells' Bistro Cooking. Should have thought to search the Web...

            Am beginning to think I might try making the dough this afternoon, do the first rise at room temp, form the loaf and let it rise 24+ hours in the fridge and try to be home by 4 to bake. Momentarily considered getting up early tomorrow to do as you suggest but, alas, I'm a night owl and Sunday's a rare sleep-in day.

            1. re: carswell

              «Am beginning to think I might try making the dough this afternoon, do the first rise at room temp, form the loaf and let it rise 24+ hours in the fridge and try to be home by 4 to bake.»

              This is what I ended up doing and it worked out fine. In fact, I think I'm going to switch to making it this way in the future. The crumb was fine and light but not dry, the crust even and the flavours well developed. The bread also seemed easier to slice than usual.

              1. re: carswell

                Glad it worked out. Longer rises not only make better bread but make it easier to get the timing right with your life, too.

    2. I make bread all the time... and I use the fridge alot because I am busy. I think it will work. If possible, I would try to let it rise the first time at room temp (before you go to bed). It won't take that long if you give it some warmth. I think bread has a better chance at rising in the fridge enough (the second time) when the yeast is allowed to grow (with warmth) the first time.

      1 Reply
      1. re: sedimental

        I agree. Do the bulk fermentation at room temp. Then shape and proof in the fridge.
        You'll probably still need 2 hours though, to let it warm up and finish proofing before baking.

        You could also drastically reduce the amount of yeast so that you can perform the first rise overnight at room temperature (8-10 hours). Then shape in the morning and allow it to proof at room temperature for the entire time you're out (another ~8 hours).

        You could make a couple of loaves using different methods to increase the chance of getting a good loaf.