Like any good relationship, time (19 hours with 20 minutes active work) and commitment (turning the dough 4 times in 20 minute intervals) are essential ingredients in baking a tortano, a ring-shaped loaf of unearthly flavor. And like any loving relationship, sometimes a gentle nudge, a word whispered from another room, falling like an inaudible vowel can elevate the ordinary into the divine. This recipe is from Artisan Baking Across America, Maggie Glezer’s celebration of bread baking, that will transport you across fields of wheat into the world of bakers with their arms deep in dough. It is based on the tortano baked at Royal Crown, a bakery located in Brooklyn. A small potato and 2 teaspoons of honey are the merchants of magic, the voices of enchantment from the other room, casting a spell, making me fall in love again and again and reminding me why I follow the voice of mystery every time I bake. My daughter calls me the best dad in the world when I bake it—a huge step up from being told that I am the most annoying dad in the world.
Whenever we are in New York visiting my wife’s family, I always have to make a last-minute, out-of-the-way dash to Royal Crown before heading to the airport. And though my wife asks, do we really need to go this time, she is always happy to devour the bags of bread and rolls that accompany us on the plane. But now, thanks to Maggie Glezer, whenever I have leftover potatoes, I can say that a “bread grows outside of Brooklyn.”
Royal Crown’s Tortano (from Artisan Baking Across America)
1⁄4 teaspoon yeast
1 cup warm water
3.5 ounces (2⁄3 cup) unbleached bread flour
20 ounces (3¼ cup) unbleached bread flour
14.6 ounces (1¼ cups plus 3 tablespoons) lukewarm water
All the pre-ferment
0.4 ounce (2 teaspoons) honey
2 ounces (1⁄4 cup packed) potato puree
0.5 ounce (1 tablespoon) salt
Day 1: Make the preferment.
Stir the yeast into the water in a glass measure and let it stand for 5 – 10 minutes.
Add 1/3 cup of this yeasted water to the flour and beat this very sticky starter until it is well combined.
Cover with plastic wrap and let it ferment until it is full of huge bubbles, about 12 hours.
Day 2: Mixing the Dough.
In the bowl of the stand mixer, stir together the flour and water into a rough, very wet dough.
Cover the bowl and let it rest 10 to 20 minutes.
Attach the dough hook.
Add the pre-ferment, honey, potato and salt and mix the dough on low speed 15 – 20 minutes, or until very silky and wraps around the hook and cleans the bowl before splattering back around the bowl.
This dough is almost pourably wet.
Shape the dough into a ball and roll it in flour.
Place it in a container at least 3 times its size, and cover tightly with a lid or plastic wrap. Let it ferment until doubled in bulk and filled with large air bubbles, about 4 hours.
Using plenty of dusting flour, turn and fold the dough 4 times in 20 minute intervals: that is, after 20, 40, 60, and 80 minutes of fermenting, then leave the dough undisturbed for the remaining time.
Do not allow this dough to over ferment to the point of collapse, because the flavor and structure of your bread will suffer.
Shaping and Proofing the Dough:
Turn the fermented dough out onto a well floured work surface, shape it into a round and let it rest for 20 minutes.
Sprinkle a couche, tea towel or wooden board generously with flour, and place a baking sheet under the couche / towel if you are using one for support.
Sprinkle a couple tablespoons of flour over the center of the ball.
Push your fingers into the center to make a hole, then rotate your hand around the hole to widen it, making a large 4 inch opening. (The bread should have about a 12 inch diameter).
Place the dough smooth side down on the floured couche or board and dust the surface with more flour.
Cover and let it proof until it is light and slowly springs back when lightly pressed, about 1 1/2 hours.
Immediately after shaping the bread, arrange a rack on the oven’s second to top shelf and place a baking stone on it. Clear away all the racks above the one being used.
Preheat the oven to 450°.
Unwrap the bread and flip it onto a floured peel or a sheet of parchment paper. (Don’t worry about damaging the bread as you handle it; it will recover in the oven as long as it is not overproofed).
Slash it with 4 radial cuts in the shape of a cross.
Slide the loaf onto the hot baking stone and bake until it is very dark brown, 40 – 50 minutes, rotating it halfway into the bake.
Let the bread cool on a rack.