There’s something very comforting about a simple loaf of bread made with simple ingredients. This Shepherd’s Bread is one of those simple breads that’s a pleasure to make and soothing to eat. It reminds me of simpler times.
Karen of Bake My Day is hosting the Bread Baking Babes (BBB) and Friends this month and she chose this comfy bread for the monthly bake. Shepherd’s Bread is similar to Basque Bread, which originated in the Basque region of Spain. The Basque sheepherders traditionally bake this bread in a cast-iron Dutch oven in a pit in the ground. I think this would be a great bread to take camping and bake in a cast iron Dutch oven over a fire. I would like to try that method sometime.
You can also bake this bread above ground in the comfort of your own home. There are several options for baking this loaf in a conventional oven. You can bake it in a clay baker, (La Cloche, Bread Dome, or other), a cast iron Dutch oven, or even freeform on a baking stone. Although I have a cast iron Dutch oven, I opted to make this bread in my Bread Dome. I was pleased with the results.
This is a very versatile recipe. Karen of Bake My Day made an all-white flour version, one with a white flour and rye sponge and another version with amaranth and white flour in the sponge and the final dough. So you can do a lot of substituting, just bear in mind the ratios of half whole wheat (or rye or other grain) and half white bread flour for the sponge and about 25% to 30% whole wheat/other grain to bread flour in the final dough.
Makes: One 2-pound loaf
Adapted from: Bread for all Seasons by Beth Hensperger
The original recipe made a huge loaf so I cut the recipe in half and reduced the amount of sugar. I substituted white whole wheat for some of the bread flour in the dough, but not the sponge. For the dough, my ratio of white whole wheat to bread flour was about 31%, but overall I only used about 24% white whole wheat.
Sponge (take about 2 hours)
- 1 tsp. active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
- 1/8 cup sugar (you can use a little more sugar if you want a sweeter bread)
Dough (first rise about 2-3 hours; second only 15 minutes)
- 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour (I used home-milled flour)
- 2 cups unbleached bread flour
- 1/4 cup extra bread flour for kneading
1) Prepare the sponge:
In a large bowl sprinkle the dry yeast over the warm water, Using a large whisk add 1/2 cup of the flour and the sugar. Add remaining 1/2 cup of flour and beat hard until very smooth, 2 minutes.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temp until soft, spongy and pleasantly fermented, 2 hours.
It was really hot this weekend so my sponge only took about an hour. As you can see, it’s pretty bubbly.
2) Prepare the dough:
Using a wooden spoon, beat down the sponge. In a measuring cup or small bowl, stir the yeast into the warm water to dissolve. Add the yeast, warm water, salt and olive oil to the sponge and beat well.
Add the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating vigorously until a soft dough is formed that just clears the sides of the bowl.
3) Knead the Dough:
Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and knead about 5 minutes until a smooth dough is formed. It should be firm yet springy and resilient. Only add about 1 tbs flour at a time to prevent sticking. M
My dough was a little sticky but I didn’t add more flour at this point. Home-milled flour usually soaks up more water so I decided to wait until after the bulk fermentation to add any additional flour.
Place the dough in a floured deep container, dust the top with flour, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at cool room temp until tripled in bulk, 2.5 – 3 hours.
I placed the dough in a greased bowl rather than adding more flour. This is what my dough looked like after 1 1/4 hours so I didn’t proof it any longer.
Turn out the dough onto a clean surface. It will be slightly sticky from the long rise. Knead in about 1/4 cup more flour to make a firmer dough, about 1 minute. Shape into a tight round ball. Pull the ends tightly to the center of the loaf to form a smooth bottom and sides. Mist the surface with water. Coat the top surface with flour.
As Karen recommended, I placed the dough on parchment paper to make it easier to remove the bread from the pot. It kind of got in the way of the bread baking so I’m not sure if I would do that next time. I don’t normally have any problems removing bread from the La Cloche or the Bread Dome so this part may not have been necessary except it made it easier to place the dough in the pot.
Using a serrated knife or lame, slash the top of the loaf, no more than 1/4 inch deep to allow steam to escape and allow room for the dough to expand.
I used a lame because the serrated knife was a bit too big to maneuver when the bread was in the pot. In hindsight, I should’ve made the slashes before I placed the dough in the pot especially since it was already on the parchment paper. This was an experiment so no harm done except I made the slashes a bit too deep.
Place the lid on the bread dome (or Dutch oven or clay baker) and let the dough proof for 15 to 30 minutes.
In the meantime, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Remove the lid.
I let the loaf proof for about 30 minutes while I was doing other stuff. As you can see, the slashes really opened up.
Spritz the loaf with water and place the lid back on. Bake the loaf for 10 minutes, then lower the thermostat to 400 degrees F and bake an additional 25-35 minutes. Remove the lid after 30 minutes to allow the loaf to brown thoroughly.
If you want to use a baking stone or tiles, refer to Karen’s post for some helpful tips.
Remove the loaf from the pot and let it cool thoroughly before slicing and serving.
This is a great bread and butter bread. Supposedly, it’s best to eat it on the same day you bake it, but I didn’t try it until the next day and it was great. I’m still eating it after two days. The crust was crispy after it baked but it softened up once it cooled. I liked the texture even though it got a little misshapen due to the parchment paper.
You should try this bread… It’s really good! Thanks Karen for choosing this bread!