Hearth bread

hearth bread

I’m beginning to think I have a bit of an obsession for Peter Reinhart at the moment. He’s the only man (aside from James) that I mention here at least weekly. And he’s certainly the only one that regularly convinces me to try yet another recipe from his collection.


See, I have a short attention span. I’ll go through occasional flirtatious phases, like last year’s week-long Sundays at Moosewood binge, or my brief fling with Chinese cooking. With food, my brief obsessions are driven more by a need to revisit some period of my past — the month I spent living in Beijing, perhaps, or my first experiments with vegetarianism.  Yes, even my awkward junior high years can be a source of nostalgia, though I’m sure I never would have thought so at the time.


Bread is somehow different. In all of its various guises, it has become an integral part of my own story, from the San Francisco extra sour sourdough I grew up on to my current playful experimentations. And now, it’s a weekly habit — the most enjoyable part of the weekly chores, and a reason to get up before noon on Saturday morning.

Shaped batards

I’ve mentioned this before, but the fact that four simple ingredients can bring about such a dramatically different outcome time and time again is fascinating to me. Add a bit more water here, and your dough becomes an entirely different animal. Use a touch less yeast, and time the rises just right, and all of a sudden, you have something to be proud of.  And with experience, all of these little tweaks eventually become ingrained in your sense of touch.   You learn to feel good bread as it forms beneath your fingers, and that, I think, is where the obsession begins.

Ready to go

Now, back to Reinhart. This recipe is adapted from his Whole Wheat Hearth Bread recipe in Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads. I have a bit of a soft spot for gorgeous, crusty peasant loaves, and this one seemed like it would satisfy this addiction. And oh, did it ever.

Hearth Bread

Makes 1 boule, 2 batards, or 4 mini baguettes.

The version I’m giving you here departs slightly from Reinhart’s recipe. My variation uses whole wheat durum flour, because that’s what I have in the house at the moment, and more water in the biga, to help promote the (relatively) open hole structure I miss in most whole wheat bread. I also bake the bread at a higher temperature, though I think that was actually not the best idea in this case. The sugars brought out in the slow rise darkened the crust much faster than I expected, so the final product was a bit darker than I was aiming for. I’ve included photos, with descriptions, of every step I remembered to take pictures of here, so you have some idea of what your dough should look like at each stage of the game. Oh, and I assure you in advance: this recipe is simpler than it looks. Yes, there are a lot of steps, but most of the time, you’re not actually doing anything.

DAY 1.


  • 1-3/4 c. (8 oz.) whole wheat durum flour, or whole wheat flour.
  • 1/2 t. (0.14 oz.) salt.
  • 3/4 c (6 oz.) water.

To make the soaker, mix all ingredients together until the water is evenly distributed throughout the flour, and the mixture comes together into a dough. Cover with plastic wrap, and set aside while you make the biga.


  • 1-3/4 c. (8 oz.) whole wheat durum flour, or whole wheat flour.
  • 1/4 t. (0.03 oz.) instant yeast.
  • 7/8 c. (7 oz.) filtered water, at room temperature.

Again, mix all ingredients together until the mixture forms a rough dough. Knead in the bowl for a minute or so, until the biga is uniform and sticky, and then cover tightly with plastic wrap.

Let both the biga and the soaker sit at room temperature overnight (24 hours max; place in the fridge if you won’t get back to the bread in time, and take out 2 hours before mixing the final dough so it gets a chance to warm up).

DAY 2.


  • Soaker.
  • Biga.
  • 3-1/2 T. (1 oz.) whole wheat durum flour, or whole wheat flour.
  • 5/8 t. (0.18 oz.) salt.
  • 2-1/4 t. (0.25 oz.) instant yeast.

Cut the soaker into 12 pieces, using a dough scraper or knife. Roll the pieces in a bit of flour, so they don’t stick together, and then add the pieces, and all the remaining ingredients, to the bowl containing the biga. Mix together until the mess forms a rough dough, and then turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 5 minutes, then let the dough rest for a bit. In the meantime, go throw a bit of olive oil into a large bowl and set aside.

Knead the dough for a minute more, then gently form the mass into a ball and place in the oiled bowl. Turn it a couple of times, so the dough surface is covered in a thin layer of oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise for ~1 hour (or less, if your house is warm), until the dough is about 1-1/2 times its original size. If you can’t remember how large your ball of dough was at the start, you can gently touch the surface of the dough to find out if it’s ready to be shaped. If the indentation disappears quickly, give it some more time. If the dough springs back slowly, then you’re good to go.

When the dough has finished rising, shape the bread as you desire.  I prefer the boule shape, which is simple; all you do is evenly tuck the sides of the round ball of dough underneath, until the dough has a taut surface.  Seal the gaping seam you most likely created on the underside of the dough by pinching the edges together, and place the loaf onto a baking sheet or peel lined with a sheet of parchment paper.  Your final product will look something like this.


Cover the shaped dough with a kitchen towel (avoid terry cloth here — fuzzy bread is not the goal), and let rise for another 45 minutes or so, until the bread is ~1-1/2 times its original size.  In the meantime, preheat the oven to 500°F (I used 550, but I think this was a mistake).

When the dough has risen, slash the top of the loaves in a couple of places (without hesitation, and with a sharp knife, preferably), slide the loaf, parchment and all, onto your baking stone. Or, barring that, simply slide the parchment-lined pan you already placed the bread on into the oven.  Before you close the door, quickly spray some water onto your oven walls, or carefully pour a half a cup of water onto your oven floor.  Close the door, and let cook for 15-20 minutes.

Check the bread. If it’s golden brown and sounds hollow when you thump its underside, take it out of the oven and let cool on a wire cooling rack.  If not, turn the loaves 180° and give it 5-10 more minutes.

Let cool for 1 hour (at least) before eating.  Warm bread is lovely, as I learned at the bakery I worked for in high school, but if you want to actually taste your hard work, patience will pay off.  Not that this stopped me from cutting into one of the loaves right away…



Filed under baking, bread

7 responses to “Hearth bread

  1. I found your site on google blog search and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. Just added your RSS feed to my feed reader. Look forward to reading more from you.

    Karen Halls

  2. beautiful. i love making bread (and always think it’s funny when people ask “why don’t you use a breadmaker?”)
    i’m definitely going to try this loaf. it sounds delightful.

  3. I’m going to try one of your bread recipes soon…I’ve just been making a regular whole wheat sandwich loaf weekly and need to spice things up. Thanks for the ideas!

  4. Omg I just made hearth bread a couple of days ago!! Except I got my recipe from the bread bible, and shaped mine into a boule.

  5. liz

    Karen – Thanks! Glad you like it.

    Kelsi — I know what you mean. I get the same puzzled “why the hell would you put yourself through that?” look when I patiently explain that I don’t use a breadmaker because I like using my hands. They all think I’m nuts, but I suppose that’s their loss. Hope you enjoy the loaf…

    Julia — Glad to give you some inspiration!

    Jessica — how’d it turn out?

  6. Mmmm, lovely bread and post!! I’ve been putting off trying other Reinhart recipes just because his recipes for french bread / ciabatta / pizza dough are so yummy that I don’t want to risk it with something that might not be as good 😀

  7. liz

    Heh… I know what you mean. James makes a batch of his pain a l’ancienne every week for baguettes + pizza, so I do the other stuff. The wheat recipes are good — just different, and not quite as adaptable…

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