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Baking in Bogotá, the sequel


That's how you say "wow" in Spanish. 

I've had several "guau" moments in the last few weeks, like seeing Totó La Momposina perform in front of a full big band in La Plaza de Bolívar, or watching the aerial spectacle of Voalá from the national bullring during the Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro here in Bogotá. And, now that winter is back (winter being the rain that falls for 11 months of the year in Bogotá), I have almost daily "guau" moments in our apartment watching the mist wander across the mountains, or seeing a freshly cleaned Bogotá sparkle under a rare glimpse of blue sky. 

Perhaps the most exciting "guau" moment was the discovery of a new bread baking method. Fighting, as I have been, with a temperamental oven that rarely affords me the luxury of two functioning elements (I'm usually given the top or the bottom, but rarely both at the same time) my friend Lindsay, a sage of baking wisdom, suggested I try baking bread in a cast iron pot. What a revelation! My humble pot produces results I thought impossible without a professional baker's oven. Every time I take the lid off my pot I have another "guau" moment. Just look at this gorgeous bread:

I hear Stevie Wonder singing "Isn't she lovely..."

To make this lovely loaf, I have, as you would expect loyal reader, taken snippets of various recipes and instructions according to my needs. My method is largely a combination of Peter Reinhart's multigrain sandwhich loaf, and Chocolate & Zucchini's Natural Starter Bread. It seems quite involved but really, once you have a routine down, you can easily make this bread without much investment of time. I make about two loaves a week which is enough for Latino Man and I, with about half an hour of actual work. Of course, it helps that I'm working from home these days, so I'm around for the required feedings and stretch-and-folds.   

You will need a natural starter for this bread. If you haven't discovered the joys of wild yeast, I suggest following these simple instructions, or, if you live in Bogotá, come on over and I will give you some of Simon

Here's how I turn Simon into that delicious, tart, sour dough loaf:

Day 1 - Morning
I feed Simon 35 grams of flour and 35 grams of water.  I leave him on the bench to have a think at room temperature. 

Day 1: Evening
Before I go to bed I make a levain by combining 70 grams of Simon (which leaves about a tablespoon for the next loaf), 70 grams of flour (I usually use wholemeal at this stage) and 70 grams of water. I put Simon back in the fridge and leave the levain in a covered container on the bench overnight. 

If I'm planning on making a multi-grain loaf, I also make a soaker with...
60 grams wholemeal flour
170 grams of grains and nuts (for this loaf I combined cooked quinoa, almonds and linseeds, but you can use whatever you like)
170 grams of natural or greek yoghurt
5 grams salt
I mix these together, cover the bowl, and leave it on the bench to keep the levain company.  
Day 2: Baking
First thing in the morning, I combine:
All of the levain
All of the soaker
400 grams water
600 grams flour (this loaf was 200g rye, 200g wholemeal and 200g quinoa flour)
10 grams of salt
1 tbs gluten flour (optional - I use this because I can't find "bread" or "strong" flour in Bogotá)
1 tbs honey (optional - the sugar in the bread makes it brown nicely, if you plan on using it for toast)
1 tbs olive oil (also optional - if making a grain-free loaf I suggest omitting the honey and oil for a more french-style bread)

Once thoroughly combined, I leave this mix to autolyse for 30 minutes. By doing basically nothing to it for half an hour, I'm giving the flour time to fully hydrate and giving the gluten a chance to realise what's going on, and start working. After this break, I knead the dough in a mixer with a dough hook for 7 minutes. If you don't have a mixer, you can knead by hand for 10 minutes instead. 

Having autolysed and kneaded, it's time to begin a stretch and fold routine. This process not only strengthens the dough, it helps create those lovely big holes you want to see when you cut into the loaf. Peter Reinhart gives a great lesson in this technique. For this recipe, you want to do 4 stretch-and-folds in 30 minutes. So after you first, set a timer for 10 minutes, then do another. Repeat 2 more times. After the final  stretch-and-fold I cut the dough into two, and put each half in a separate oiled bowl. One of these goes into the fridge to be baked another day (it will last four days in the fridge), the other I leave on the bench. Depending on where you live, you might need to leave the dough for 12 hours to prove. In Bogotá, where the air pressure is almost non-existent, I only need to leave the dough for 6. Basically when it has almost doubled in size, it's ready to bake. 

The rest is simple. I shape the loaf into a boule (once again, Peter Reinhart shows us how), and score in any pretty pattern that takes my fancy. I then put the dough into a cast iron pot and cover with the lid. I have a small Staub cocotte which is the perfect size for half of this bread recipe. If you only have a big cast iron pot, I recommend baking the entire batch at once, otherwise your bread will spread out instead of up. 

Shaped, scored, and ready to bake

This cast iron pot goes into a cold oven (yes, cold), then I turn the thermostat up to 180 degrees celcius. (In a normal oven you might like to go as high as 220, but as my oven is tiny, my pot is always very close to an element. After much trial and error I've discovered that if my oven is any hotter than this, the bread will burn and break my heart.) I set the timer for 1 hour and when it buzzes, I take my cocotte out of the oven, remove the lid and say...


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Reader Comments (1)

I like that Simon 'thinks'. My failed attempt at starter exhibited close to zero productive neural activity. Probably just thinking about movies and girls. You have inspired me to try again.

April 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeith Thomas

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