Sunday, March 18, 2018

Onion and Earth

Onion and Earth

I think bread-baking is a sign of intelligence, inherent magical abilities, and a deep-rooted love of humanity. Think about it, you first have to bring something inert to life, then you have to sustain it for, like, ever, then you use this new life to feed people you love/don't love/know/may not know, right? I don't know about you, but I bake bread for anyone who shows any interest in what I do.

Random person whom I may or may not know: OMG, I LOVE bread!
Me: I'll make you a loaf, are you allergic to nuts/how do you feel about olives?

Any opportunity to bake bread is, well, an opportunity to bake bread, and one that I rarely pass up. Speaking of not being able to pass up an opportunity to bake bread, this week has been a doozy. 10 loaves baked on top of a really busy school schedule, and by now you know that I've started work writing the bread book so...

I've been experimenting with some things. Indeed there are predecessors to today's loaf. Ugly things that came out tasting heavenly. There is such a thing as too-high-hydration, you know. It's funny, when people first start baking bread, everyone wants to be the high-hydration badass until they realize that, well, not every dough should be so hydrated that you can pour it into a glass and drink it. In fact, it's downright wearying to have to wrestle with those things. Plus, too much hydration will give you a very flat bread. The finesse, we find, comes from just enough hydration for a particular bread so that it sings its own unique song.

I know you've been with me on this journey long enough to know that potato bread is tricky. At first mixup, the dough is hard. Like an egg. Like a football. Wait, do you have an ostrich egg? I do. It's like that. Hard and cream-colored and oval.

An egg of dough

You have to use a cool hand with the hydration at mixup because the potato releases A LOT of water, and if you've added a wee bit more than you should have then you're... well, you know what you are. The hard little egg becomes a soft and lovely dough after autolyse, and your bread is a thing of such remarkable glory. The crumb, oh, the crumb!

Anyway, a few sloppy loaves this week. Hydration too high. They were insanely delectable, but looked like the elephant man. We ate them with our eyes shut.

I baked this week's bread in our new Fourneau, which frankly, I've no idea how I've lived without for so long (Fourneau, why you take so long??)

My friend Ania calls this loaf 'Indian bread' because there are nigella seeds in it. 'Hey, what's that Indian bread you made, you know, the one with the seeds?' Layers and layers of laughter. It's a thing that I schemed up one afternoon after spying a dirty russet in my fruit bowl on the table. Potato bread is, hands down, my absolute favorite bread (I might say this about all my breads...). I contemplated this potato, baked it up, wondered what I would bring to the blog when I spotted my friend Joe's post wherein he had just baked up a potato chive thing. Joe and I are always on the same baking page, so weird, halfway across the world and we're both baking potatoes unbeknownst. Anyway, I thought, clever Joe, you know, the whole baked potato and chive thing. I began to think of the nostalgic loveliness of baked potato and allium, and I had been wanting to do a caramelized onion bread for a while so... Immediately then the little seeds popped into my head, et voila! the idea for today's bake.

It's incredible, this bread. The texture is ethereal, the flavor sublime. Nigella seeds are intriguing. The little obsidian things look like sooty sesame seeds but taste of, hold on, onion and earth. I know. Weird, right? But seriously, it's worth seeking them out. And don't cheat and use black sesame seeds for this loaf. It will not be Indian bread. It'll be onion bread with sesame seeds. Here is what my Parisian friend said after having received half of it: I rarely ate such a good bread (and I'm french). Merci! Très tendre aussi... délicieux! His name is François and he's super duper Français, so he would know since bread-savvy is sort of in his DNA.

For this loaf I used home-milled sprouted spelt for nuttiness, Giusto's flour because it's the bomb, russet potatoes (Joe uses Yukon Gold), a giant yellow onion, and Nigella, the queen of seeds. Please do not be tempted to increase the hydration at dough makeup. It WILL be a hard little egg of a thing, but trust, it will slacken to the right consistency at the finish of autolyse. In fact, the onions will increase the hydration even further, so, this dough ends up pushing hydration to the limits. Have a look at this post here if you need convincing.

With warnings in place, and Sunday at our feet, I give you Onion and Earth.



12g 100% rye starter
75g freshly stoneground sprouted spelt flour
75g h2o

Mix all of this up together until you arrive at a medium viscosity paste. Ferment until it gets loose and bubbly, active looking. Mine went for 7 hours


400g Giusto's Artisan Bread Flour
100g freshly stoneground sprouted spelt flour
300g h2o
216g caramelized onions
150g russet potato, riced
14g nigella seeds, soaked in hot water for about an hour
10g salt

About 2.5 hours before dough mixup, bake your potato. It will take about an hour and a half to roast a huge potato, then another 45 minutes to cool and rice. You will need a potato that weighs at least 225g to arrive at the 150g that you need for this loaf. My potato was over 500g, hence the hour and a half.

When the levain has successfully fermented, dissolve it in the 300g of water then add the flours and the cooled, riced potato. Squish all of this up. The dough will be quite firm. Resist the temptation to add more water. You will be surprised after autolyse how much water the potatoes release into the dough. You can always increase hydration after autolyse if you think it needs more water. But remember, you will be adding the onions which provide hydration and make the dough a challenge to work with.

Autolyse this potato egg for 1.5 hours.

After autolyse, you will see how slack the dough has become. Squish the salt and drained nigella seeds into the dough. If your potato was not as watery as mine, now is the time to add some h2o, but do so in small increments, say, 5g - 7g at a time, but again, remember the onion factor. Trust me, it will get more extensible/slack when you start doing your turns, and you might be sorry you added all that h2o.


The remainder of your bulk fermentation should be 3.5 hours (remember, we autolysed for 1.5 hours already, we always want to do 5 hours bulk TOTAL, so, if you do a shorter/longer autolyse, you would adjust the rest of the bulk according to the length of your autolyse).

A half hour after you add the salt and seeds, perform a series of turns. A half hour after this, do another series. Another half hour later, add your onions using the photos below as guidance. Rather than squishing them into the dough, we fold them in. So, lay a layer of onions over the dough, fold a flap of dough over this layer, then add more onions and repeat this folding and adding until all of the onions have been added to the dough, and you end with a flap of dough so that all of the onions are encased. I think I got mine in there with three layers of onions...

Please note how slack the dough has gotten during autolyse, from hard little egg to this...

After you've added the onions, let the dough ferment untouched for the remainder of bulk.

After the bulk, scrape the dough onto a worktable that has been dusted with rice flour. Pull in the sides to make a loose round and bench for 10 minutes.

After the bench, shape though dough into a batard (lord, I am STILL working on my batard shaping). The dough will be very soft and you may wonder if this will work at all. It will. Trust.

Pop the batard into a banneton that has been lined with a linen piece dusty with rice flour. Pop the dough into the fridge and ferment for 17 hours.


One hour before you plan to bake your bread, preheat the oven to 500 degrees, this that has been outfitted with your Fourneau oven (including its little door). Make sure that its been situated to one side of the oven because you will be pulling the steamed loaf out of the Fourneau after the steam and baking it out on the stone outside of the oven. (I have found that my wet doughs spread to touch the sides of the Fourneau and will burn if you leave it in there. If you are making doughs with lower hydration/smaller loaves that do not touch the sides of the oven, you may do your entire bake inside the Fourneau).


When the oven is preheated place a triple layer piece of parchment over the mouth of the banneton (the triple layer will prevent a burned bottom), invert the dough onto a peel, or, if you have the metal tray with the silicone mat that comes with the Fourneau 2.0, invert onto this. Remove the banneton and cloth, score the dough and slide into your Fourneau oven, installing its little door. ** If using the metal tray/silicone mat, you will slide this whole thing into the Fourneau, if you don't have this, slide the dough and all its parchment layers into the oven.

Bake for 15 minutes at 500 degrees. After 15 minutes, lower the temp to 425 and bake for 15 more. After this 15, pull the loaf out of the Fourneau oven and slide it onto the stone next to it (if using the metal tray/silicone, slide that out and bake the loaf out on this, same if you are using parchment). Don't worry, the shape has set during steam. The Fourneau has captured it so that it won't spread anymore. IF you have noticed that your bread is NOT touching the sides of the oven at all, then you don't have to pull it out of the Fourneau. It can bake out where it is. 

Slide back into the oven. Potato bread browns quickly, and more so because of the sweet onions, so you may have to drop the oven temp to 400 degrees. Use your shrewd eye. Bake for another 30 minutes, or even another 40 minutes to ensure that it's baked through. The internal temp of the dough will be 210-215 degrees. Spin the dough a couple of times while it is baking for even browning. You will get a seriously caramelized crust when all is said and done. Oh man, so good!

Cool at least 2 hours before slicing.

To the staff of life!



  1. ummmmm total bread porn. gotta get the FOURNEAU wow...thanks for pointing to them i didnt know out them.


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