Okay, Mr. Smartypants, you who know so much about British culture. You sussed me out. You know that the term “bloomer” is about as precise as the word “loaf”. You know that today’s bread isn’t so much a specific combination of ingredients as it is a method; so you could argue that I’m not bringing you a totally new recipe today.
I demur, sir, on the grounds that bread is nothing if not method. Most bread in this world is made up of four basic ingredients – flour, water, salt, and leavener – and results of course vary wildly based on how they’re handled. I suggest that a bloomer is a much a type of bread as the vaunted baguette itself; just because it’s British doesn’t mean it’s automatically disqualified.
For the Americans in the audience, a bloomer is a common term in England for any oblong, rounded loaf of white bread, decorated with a series of diagonal slashes on top. (These are hard to see in the pictures, as I topped the bread with poppy seeds after slashing the dough. Mea culpa.) Other than those basic attributes, it seems like it’s fair game as far as recipes go: bloomers are typically crusty but can be soft, they can be made with a lean dough or can be enriched with butter and milk, can be topped or left plain, and so on.
The recipe that I’ve adapted to make my own bloomer relies on a long, slow rise – about 10 hours total. I’ve used very little yeast, and cold water to help limit their initial activity, which means that the first rise (the fermentation) takes as long as 8 hours at room temperature. The salt is kept to a minimum, rendering the flavor of the crumb a little flat, if you’re unused to such a bread. Such breads are ideal paired with salty foods, such as cured ham or olives; however, I’ve struck a compromise here by topping the loaf with a sprinkling of salt (along with earthy poppy seeds). Feel free to omit the salt topping if you like.
All that time spent rising means that this bread has a fabulously complex flavor, as those all-important dough-conditioning acids and enzymes have had plenty of time to develop, resulting in far better taste and texture than you could otherwise achieve. The slightly wet dough creates lovely big holes throughout the bread, and the massive oven spring is a sight to see.
The rather flat but fully-risen dough turned into a cheerfully rotund loaf in the oven heat, and when removed to the cooling rack, the crust sang that happy, crackling song that is the rare hallmark of a well-made loaf. Sliced and dipped in a little olive oil, I could see I had a real winner on my hands. Yes, even though it’s not a real recipe.
Adapted from Bread, by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter
Makes one large loaf
23 ounces (about 4 3/4 cups) unbleached bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
15 ounces (2 cups minus 2 tablespoons) cold water, about 40º F
3/4 teaspoon salt
Kosher or other coarse salt, for topping
Poppy seeds, for topping
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together all but a handful of the flour and all the yeast. Add the water and mix with the dough hook at low speed until a rough dough forms, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn the mixer off, and without removing the bowl or the hook, cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap. Let stand at least 15 or up to 45 minutes.
2. Remove the plastic wrap, and add the salt. Continue kneading the dough, at medium-low speed. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the dough forms a cohesive ball that clears the sides of the bowl, and becomes elastic. If the dough does not clear the sides of the bowl, add the reserved flour until the proper consistency is achieved. The dough should not be stiff, nor should it be too slack.
3. Transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let sit at room temperature until well risen and beginning to collapse, between 6 and 8 hours.
4. Remove plastic wrap and, using a broad nonstick spatula, fold the dough over itself, as though you were folding a letter: 1/3 over the center, then the opposite 1/3 over that. Lastly, fold dough in half again, perpendicular to the first folds (like you’re folding the letter in half). Dough should end up being roughly a square.
5. Replace plastic wrap, let dough rise 1 hour. Turn dough again, following above procedure, then replace plastic wrap and let dough rise 1 hour more. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, or lightly grease it. Forty-five minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450º F. If you have a baking stone, heat it along with the oven; if not, position an oven rack at the lowest possible level.
6. Dust a work surface liberally with flour. Gently scrape dough out of bowl onto the work surface. Dust dough and hands liberally with flour, and using minimal pressure, push dough into rough 8 by 10 inch square. Gently roll up dough, using long edge, and pressing seam to seal as you roll. Tansfer dough to the prepared baking sheet, tucking sides under to form a fat oval shaped loaf.
7. Using a sharp serrated knife or clean razor blade, make several decisive slashes in the top of the loaf at a 45º angle, evenly spaced. Cover loosely with lightly-oiled plastic wrap, and let rise until nearly doubled in size, about 30 to 45 minutes.
8. Spray or sprinkle the loaf generously with water, and dust the salt and poppy seeds evenly over the top. Transfer the loaf to the oven, onto the baking stone if using, and bake at 450º F for 15 minutes. Every 2 to 3 minutes, open the door and quickly spray the bread with additional water, to create steam.
9. After baking 15 minutes with steam, reduce the temperature to 400º F. Continue baking for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, or until well-browned and baked through. An instant-read thermometer should register about 205º F when fully cooked. Remove to a wire rack to cool thoroughly before slicing.
1. If using active-dry yeast, your water should be a bit cooler, around 105º F to 115º F. Instead of mixing the active-dry yeast into the flour, you should dissolve all of it in a little of the warm water, in the mixing bowl. Let stand for about 5 minutes, or until foamy. Add the flour and salt, and proceed as directed.