Rustic Couronne
© ejmorris 2005 - adapted from the recipe for couronne - Pain de Compagne in the novel Bread Alone by Judith Ryan Hendricks
Start making this the evening before you plan to bake the bread...

Ingredients to make 1 large double couronne or 2 medium sized single rings

Poolish: Actual Dough: Preparation

On the evening before you plan to bake the bread:
  1. Mixing: In a small glass bowl, mix ½ tsp yeast into ½ c lukewarm water (do the baby's bottle test on your wrist) and let sit til it's creamy.

  2. Put the wholewheat flour into a medium sized bowl.

  3. Add the yeasted water to the flour and beat about 100 strokes. This mixture will be quite sloppy.

  4. Fermenting: Cover with plastic and ferment on countertop in a draught-free area until the next morning. (up to 8 hours)

Actual Dough
In the morning of the day you plan to bake the bread:
  1. Mixing: In a small glass bowl, put the yeast in ¼c lukewarm water (do the baby's bottle test on your wrist) and mix together until it is creamy.

  2. Pour 2¼ c water into the fermented Poolish and stir it around a bit. Along with the yeasted water, pour the Poolish water into a large bowl. Add the flour. Using a wooden spoon, mix until it is just combined. Knead it a few times to combine well. Cover with plastic and let it rest for about 20 minutes.

  3. Turn the dough out of the bowl onto an unfloured work surface. Sprinkle the salt overtop the dough.

  4. Wash and dry the mixing bowl.

  5. Kneading: Without adding extra flour, knead the dough until it is smooth and silky (about 10 minutes). Let your dough scraper (a spatula works) be your friend if the dough is sticking to the board. I've found that even after 15 minutes of squooshing the dough on the board, it still stays pretty sloppy and sticky even though most of it pulls away from the board.

  6. Proofing: Maneuvre the dough into the large bowl (should be large enough to allow the dough to expand by at least 3 times). Cover with plastic. Let it ferment at room temperature for 20 minutes.

  7. After 20 minutes has passed, very lightly sprinkle the work surface with flour. Carefully turn the dough out. If necessary, gently spread the dough out (try not to disturb any bubbles). Using the bread scraper and still trying not to disturb any bubbles, fold the sloppy left side into the center, then the top into the center, then the right side, then the bottom. As you lift it into the bowl, fold it in half once more. Try to place it in the bowl smooth side up. Cover with plastic.

    Let it ferment at room temperature for 20 minutes again. Repeat this step two more times. (This step is done at 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 60 minutes after the first kneading.) It's usually not until the third time that the dough will look like the smooth soft pillow that is described in books. The amount of dusting flour used in those three maneuvres is not more than a couple of tablespoons and probably much less (sorry, I've never actually measured).

  8. After those 20 minute sessions have passed, let the dough rise undisturbed for about 2 hours until it has doubled and is light and bubbly.

  9. Shaping: Sprinkle a tiny bit of flour on the work surface. Gently turn the dough out, disturbing it as little as possible. Lightly sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. Cut the dough in half. Gently fold (try not to disturb the bubbles) the left side into the center, then the top, then the right side then the bottom. Turn it over. Continue to fold it underneath itself to form an even tight log without actually deflating the dough. Do the same with the other piece of dough. Place them seam side down to form ring shapes on a parchment covered peel. Before sealing the ends of each ring together, link the two rings together in chain fashion. Sprinkle generously with flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for an hour or more - until the dough is about doubled. To test, flour your finger and press gently on the edge - it should very slowly spring back. For comparison, try pressing early on to see how it quickly springs back when the dough has not risen enough.

  10. Baking: Thirty minutes before you are going to bake, put the baking stone on the second from the bottom rack. Pour water into a broiling pan and place it on the bottom rack of the oven. Turn oven to 500F.

  11. At the time of baking, spray the top of the boule liberally with water. Put the bread in oven and immediately turn the oven down to 450F. Bake the bread on the middle rack for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 400F and continue baking for 25 to 30 minutes or until the internal temperature is between 200F and 210F (it should be hollow sounding on the bottom). Half way through the baking, remove the tray of water and turn the bread around to account for uneven heat in the oven. You may also want to turn the oven down one more notch at this time.

  12. When the bread is done, turn off the oven. Put the finished bread back in the oven and leave with the door ajar for 5 or 10 minutes. Remove to cool upended on cooling rack. Wait til the bread is completely cool before cutting it. If you want to eat warm bread, it is advisable to reheat the bread.

The broiling pan of water in the oven is to create steam at the beginning of the baking time to make very crusty bread.

Uneaten bread should be stored at room temperature rather than refrigerated. (the refrigerator causes the bread to go stale faster) Bread can also be stored in the freezer - double bagged airtight plastic. Take it out of the freezer and leave it in the bag until the bread has thawed. To reheat the bread, turn the oven to 500F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread in the oven for ten minutes.