A look at what is to come.
Tony Bezsylko believes that much of the bread's unique flavor comes from the flour. He actually uses a mix of three different kinds, an all purpose flour from Heartland Mill and both an unsifted and sifted flour from Lonesome Stone Milling. Pictured above is the sifted, and you can clearly see that there is still a decent amount of bran left. That partly explains why even when uncooked the flour has a such a fascinating aroma, which faintly smells like cinnamon. Seriously, it's crazy stuff.
The Wild Yeast Starter
The next important component is the starter. Instead of a packaged instant yeast, Bezsylko uses wild yeast, which he harnessed with a simple flour and water base. These strange mixtures require attention, and must be fed more water and flour daily to keep going. This particular one also happens to be 11 years old, which sounded crazy to me, but Bezsylko admits that this isn't such a big deal: "In terms of starters, that isn't that old. Some French bakeries use a starter that is a hundred years old."
The Dough Begins
A portion of the starter is tossed into a large container with flour, water, and some salt and gently combined. No machines are used to mix the bread. Over the course of a few hours, he literally stirs the dough by hand, folding the dough on top of itself, and letting gravity do its thing. This tub is set aside for a few hours.
The Dough is Ready
When he thinks it is ready, he dumps the contents onto a cutting board. When is it ready? "I look for a structure, like it has a shape of its own." He does this by poking and prodding it, and by noticing how it peels away from the walls of the container.
Very Wet Dough
As you can tell, this is a very wet dough.
It's the Blob!
Portioning the Dough
A scale is used to exactly weigh the amount of dough for each loaf.
Ball it Up
The dough is then formed into a ball, a process that is a lot harder than it looks, because the dough can so easily stick to the cutting board.
Looks Good, Right?
And Now... More Waiting
Like the previous rest, times are very inexact, though it's usually around an hour for this step.
Get Ready to Shape
The dough is now ready for its final shaping. "Shaping is like an insurance," Bezsylko admits. "Unshapped dough can make great bread, but it occasionally doesn't work. Plus, this is fun."
Shaping the Dough
The dough is folded over itself, the sides are pulled across like a straightjacket, and then it is folded over again.
Now the dough is ready for one last rest. This one is the longest, lasting overnight in the fridge. Bezsylko thinks this step is really important. The cold slows the rise, but the flavor is better. These baskets are dusted with flour, and then the dough is positioned inside.
After the Rest
You can see a big difference in the dough after the rest. Now it's ready for the oven.
Getting Ready for the Oven
The bread is cooked in a 500°F oven, but to help with moisture loss in the beginning, the dough starts off the cooking process in a heavy cast-iron skillet with a lid. Of course, the pan needs to be preheated, making this step much more difficult. A small brick tile is placed on the workstation, heavy gloves are donned, and the massive preheated skillet is removed from the oven. The wickedly hot cover is set aside. Gloves are removed, and then Bezsylko starts the process of coaxing the dough out of the basket.
Transferring the Dough to the Skillet
When it's ready, he gives the dough a final push and it falls into the skillet.
Cutting the Dough
The top is sliced to help it keep its shape.
All Covered Up
Gloves are put back on, the skillet is covered, and then placed in the oven. I'd like to take this moment to point out that each and every loaf of bread is created this way.
After about 25 minutes, gloves are put back on, the skillet taken out, and the cover removed. The bread is cooked for the remainder without the cover, so that it can properly brown.
Back in the Oven
The loaf is removed from the pan and tossed on the top shelf of the oven, which is lined with brick tiles.
After another 25 minutes or so the bread is finally done. It is carefully removed, and then set aside. Bezsylko props the bread up to make sure it gets enough airflow. He is very against wrapping the bread up.