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Five-pepper Cajun bread

September 03, 2008

4 cups starter
2 cups room-temperature water, more if needed
3 tablespoons hot sauce (see chef's note)
1 red bell pepper
1 poblano pepper
6 cups high-gluten bread flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
3 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

After you have prepared your starter, in a large bowl, use your hands or a rubber scraper to mix the starter with the 2 cups water and the hot sauce.

Remove the seeds from the peppers and cut into 1/2-inch squares.

In a large bowl, combine the peppers and remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Then mix the starter and dry ingredient mixture until the ingredients begin to stick together.

Place the mixture on a lightly floured surface and knead for 20 minutes. The finished dough should be elastic and dry enough so that it does not stick to the surface. Add a little more flour or water as you knead to reach this consistency.

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The dough must rise twice. For the first rising, place the dough in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let it rise for about 3 hours in a warm place, at about 85 degrees. If it's warmer, the dough will rise quicker; if it's cooler, the dough will rise more slowly.

When its size has increased by about a third, or, when you poke the dough, a dent forms that fills in within 1 to 2 minutes, the first rising is done.

Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface and gently flatten the dough into a disc. Pull up the sides - the four corners into the middle. Flip the dough over and shape it into a ball.

Press a woven, nap-free, tea towel into a colander. Flour the towel to keep the dough from sticking to it. Place the dough, floured side down, into the colander. Sprinkle flour on the dough and fold the edges of the towel over the dough. Let it rise another three hours at about 85 degrees.

About 15 minutes before the loaves have finished rising, place two cloches in the oven and heat the oven to 500 degrees. (If you have only one cloche and are baking one loaf at a time, retard the rising of one loaf by placing it in a cooler place.)

When the oven reaches the desired temperature, remove the top of the cloches, sprinkle the bottoms with cornmeal, and gently dump the loaves (now right-side-up again) on the bottom of the cloches. Slash the top of the loaves with a razor blade, put the tops back on the cloches and return them to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes.

Remove the tops from the cloches, reduce the oven temperature to 425 degrees and continue baking for 35 minutes.

Remove the loaves and place them on cooling racks. If you tap the bottom of a loaf it should sound hollow, and the internal temperature should be about 190 degrees. The bread continues to cook after it's taken out of the oven, so don't cut it for at least an hour.

Makes two 2-pound loaves.

Chef's note: This recipe produces a bread that has some heat but should not be overwhelming, and you can tinker with the ingredients to make it milder or hotter. Try it fresh or toasted, with cheddar cheese or diced tomatoes. Theriault uses Texas Pete Hot Sauce. Use gloves when handling hot pepper and don't rub your eyes.

- Courtesy of Bill Theriault of Halfway

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