Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Bread Number 82: Patience Saves a Gorgeous Rye

A rye awry?
I made the first version of this somewhat-under 20 percent rye bread a few weeks ago and it turned out perfectly. I did not taste it, but gave it away to my younger daughter when I visited her college town while on a business trip. Into the luggage went a freezer bag with two frozen breads and ice packs. I warned security as I've had issues before flying with large blocks of frozen food. Sounds like a comedy, especially if you are flying with raw ground fish to use for gefilte fish.

Back to the rye: This time, the white flour sponge went well. I mixed the dough; did the stretch and folds, and put the dough in the fridge. The next morning, I expected a buoyant dough, ready, enthusiastic even, to be baked. 

Indeed without looking at the dough, I preheated the oven with the dutch oven inside. But when I retrieved the dough, I stared. Not a good sight. A flat dough. To bake, to return to the fridge for perhaps another day, or to leave out, possibly until the afternoon (this being early morning)? Certainly, awry went the plan to have the bread baked and rested by lunch. Not happening. Hardly risen, definitely not buoyant or enthusiastic.

Rice flour mentioned below. Why you should have it and use it.

Not with a muffin

A muffin, a cake, a cookie, none of them do this to me. You mix, you bake, the same result each time, given equivalent ingredients, of course. Maybe I need to do some muffins for a while. To test whether I want to be a muffin proprietress. Corn, blueberry anyone?

So, I write down the time and muster the patience to wait to see if this dough is a dud or 
whether it wakes up and prepares itself to become a lovely bread.  Not everyone wants to be Cinderella. Happy to say the patience rewarded me with a lovely bread, one the spouse singled out for praise. Of course, with 80-plus percent white bread flour, I feel a bit like I cheated.

Still, excellent taste, pretty crust and crumb, and wonderful breakfasts of slices of bread, butter, and something hot to drink. I actually drink hot water - think tea without the tea bag.

Ingredients - totals
100g starter
400g bread flour
100g rye flour
310g water
10g salt

100g starter
200g bread flour
200g water

Mix, cover. I left this out overnight for 9.5 hours and found a bubbly sponge in the morning.

200g bread flour
100g rye flour
110g water
10g salt - half remainder of the Himalyan mineral salt and half regular kosher salt

I admit that at first I only put in 100 grams of water. This was a watch and wait because the first time I ended up putting in 125 grams of water at this stage. With 100 grams, the dough seemed a bit dry, so I added a bit, 10 grams, and then it was fine. All depends on the hydration percentage of the starter, other ingredients, and humidity. Better to add slowly than to regret.

Patience is a virtue for a reason.

Mix, cover. Do two stretch and folds. Mine were each a half hour wait.

Are you going to rise already?
Patience, like yoga I, is a set of lessons I need constant refreshing in. I put this dough into the freezer overnight. Without looking at it, without even considering to look at it, I put on the oven and popped the dutch oven right in to preheat. Well, 10 hours in the fridge is not nearly sufficient. Dough was expanded about one third of the way, but flat.

Turned off the oven. Rested the dough on the counter. Waited. Peeked at the dough every half hour or so. I left the dough out for 4.5 hours.

Rising nicely, but not there yet, real life demanded my attention. Sunday walk, Sunday artwork, well Sunday. Put the dough back in the fridge at mid-day. Four and a half hours later, after a walk with a friend: Now that's a dough.

Thank goodness for refrigerators
Dough was ready, but lots of oven traffic congestion and I was way back in the line. Spousal cooking. On the plus side, the oven would be nice and almost sufficiently hot without an extra hour to heat up the oven. Nice spouse allowed me to steal the lower rack to let the dutch oven just sit in the oven as it heated from zero (well, unheated) to fully hot.

After dinner, with 20 minutes to  allow the oven to fully heat up, oven ready. By this time, dough had been in the fridge for another 7.3 hours. Total times below.

Sponge - rest time 9.5 hours

Dough - two stretch and folds, each separated by .5 hour

Dough fermentation - total fridge time of 17.3 hours, counter time of 4.5 hours

Baking preparation - don;t forget those oven mitts
Oven preheated, with dutch oven inside, to 470 degrees for an hour or the equivalent thereof. (I have a law degree and therefore am entitled to use such words as thereof, wherefore, etc.) 

Now for the dance and the extra mental care to remember to don oven mitts at the appropriate time. Also tidbits on an essential tool - rice flour.

1. Have ready: Dough slasher - lame, some water in a cup or bowl, a pastry brush or equivalent, rice flour, caraway seeds (because this is a rye bread, which means I'm wanting those seeds on top even though I completely forgot to mix any into the dough).

2. Sprinkle some rice flour on a board or on the counter. Rice flour is grittier than all-purpose flour, so it is better at preventing sticking of dough.

3. Take dough out of fridge. Quickly, sprinkle a little all purpose flour on and underneath dough so that you can gently lift it out of the bowl. Then, on the rice-flour-covered board, in less than 30 seconds, shape the dough.

4. Quickly - that's the theme - sprinkle water on top of the dough, generously sprinkle on those caraway seeds, and do a cross slash (or fancy design, up to you).

5. Quickly - oven mitts on your hands, open oven, uncover dutch oven, and - yes, quickly - spoon out a nice amount of rice flour to cover bottom of the dutch oven. This will prevent sticking.

6. Plop the dough into bottom of dutch oven.

7. Turn around, put oven mitts back on.

8. Cover dutch oven and close oven.

9. Remember to put on timer for when you want to check the dough. 

10. Congratulate yourself that once again you donned the oven mitts at the appropriate times and saved yourself from a burn. I actually bought super-duper - up to 600 degrees - oven mitts because the heat went through my normal cute oven mitts.

11. Wait

And the reveal
Lovely oven spring. That white flour knows how to promote a rise. Seductive,gorgeous, but not as good for you as a sensible majority whole grain. Total baking time of 49 minutes, though only 44 minutes the first time. 

Excellent taste, winning spousal praise. Makes a wonderful breakfast.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Bread Number 81: Many Tries to a Solid Whole Wheat

For the last two months, in between travels, in between artwork, in between studies and work, I kept returning to the quest for a perfect whole wheat bread - or at least one I really, really like so much that I want to keep eating it - and making it.

I've been playing around with high hydration percentages, in the 90 to 100 percent range. I finally added stretch and folds, an autolyse phase, and a fridge-to-oven strategy. I also ground the flour in my nice flour mill (thank you German engineering), which lends a nice aromatic - in a good way - to the dough-making process.

A small money wrench in this game of trial and error was that I started playing around with this bread in the high heat of summer, so I was using very little starter, thereby allowing for a long first rise period of fermentation. Making the bread again in the autumn meant that the length of time for fermentation went from long to extremely long.

Dancing allowed in the kitchen
I practically danced this time when I opened the dutch oven and saw a beautiful oven spring and a pretty bread. Success - tasty slices of bread that I ate for breakfast, smeared with butter, this morning.

Now, perhaps, after months away, I will return to the bread forums I used to peruse and participate in. I have gotten so involved in my artwork and studies that bread has taken a back seat. I also feel like I have accomplished much, though not all, of what I set out to learn and do when I picked that high number of 108 and began to make 108 different kinds of bread, arbitrarily determined, of course.

Now for that lovely whole wheat. I will only give the information for the last try of this bread as it was the only satisfactory result achieved.

574g water
41g starter (60 percent hydration)
597g whole wheat flour
12g salt

Make sure to wake up your starter. I forgot the morning before, which meant my starter was not quite ready when I mixed the dough the next morning, probably adding to what ended up being an even longer first rise (more on that to follow).

Ground the whole wheat flour - about 200 grams of whole wheat flour per 1 cup of wheat berries. Good to have a benchmark because I hate milling too much more than I use.

Autolyse - Mixed the flour and water. Slow process because I was listening to an interesting radio program. Covered and left for 30 minutes. Cleaned up kitchen. This also allowed the starter to warm up for a while more.

Mixed dough - Added starter and salt to the autolyse. Mixed well and covered.

Stretch and folds - Did two stretch and folds, one at 40 minutes and the second at another 25 minutes, just before going out to breakfast on Sunday morning (carefully timed before the farmers market and the yoga class - what a stereotype, except I do not wear Birkenstocks or much fleece).

Tick, tock
That fermentation period of the first rise ended up being 21.33 hours, during which time I left the dough in nice warm rooms, followed by leaving it out overnight in a cool kitchen of approximately 68 degrees. That's cool for me. (I'm freezing when it's 65 degrees in the house.) Not a winter kitchen, which stops fermentation, but definitely slowing down the process.

Indeed, before leaving the dough out overnight I had pretty much given up on it. I had no idea it would blossom after several more hours. The dough was exuberant, bubbles practically popping in front of me, on Monday morning. Big smile first thing in the morning when I peeked. Work beckoned, so I put the dough in the fridge. 

15 hours later
After work and after an evening event, a full 15 hours after I put the dough in the fridge, the dough went in the oven. I had actually planned. That morning, I put the dutch oven in the oven and I left a note for someone to preheat the oven at 8 p.m. to 470 degrees. After the one-hour preheat, I threw some rice flour in the hot dutch oven (to prevent the dough from sticking), I shaped the dough, did a cross-slash, and plopped that dough right into the dutch oven. Quickly covered it.

Doing nothing can be the best strategy No stretch and fold. No final rise on the counter. Straight into the oven after shaping. Indeed, this time around the bread turned out so much better than on previous tries when I let the dough sit on the counter (covered, of course) for a rest period and then a final rise of an hour.

Baking took 53 minutes. Lovely oven spring. Wonderful taste the next morning. 

So happy. Time to order more wheat berries and this is definitely a bread to add to the basic repertoire. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Breads Numbers 79 and 80: Barley and Whole Wheat Combos

It feels good to begin to emerge from the last few months of fog and hectic activity. More on the horizon with travels and the Jewish holidays approaching, but somehow I am grounded again and home for a while, as if being here is antidote enough. I have not actually looked at nor posted anything on any bread forums for months, not even my favorite fresh loaf. With work of late resembling the Lucy and Ethel chocolate factory assembly line, only with more interesting work, though not as tasty, my time triage did not make space for conversing about bread or perusing anyone else's wisdom.

No, I have spent more time on art and language studying, giving myself credit for learning even though the learning is slow. The artwork is more therapy than the bread making;  I never feel anxious about how anything will turn out, which is always the case with bread however experienced I become.

Barley and whole wheat - okay

Freshly milled flour can make up for many sins. It smells delicious as the dough comes together and it produces wonderful breads. The milling machine is a little noisy, but that's only for a few minutes while the grinding happens. It is cool to watch the flour magically emerge from the chute and fall into the bowl. I feel one step closer to nature, about the same distance I feel when shopping at the farmers market and talking to actual farmers (our market requires one present at each stall). 

For breads #79 and 80, I made pretty much the same bread twice, two different ways, with the exact same results. Don't get me wrong, the barley and whole wheat breads tasted fine, but we've been spoiled. The bar is set so high when one eats homemade sourdough bread all the time that it takes quite a bit to be impressed. That said, these were fine, good-tasting, breads. Good breakfast of two slices with a little butter. I will finish the barley berries bag, but I won't rush out to purchase another.

For both breads, I did a sponge and an autolyse phase before adding salt to mix the complete dough. Bread #79 had a long first rise of the complete dough. Bread #89 had an overnight sponge phase and 2.5 hour first rise. The ingredients were roughly the same (details below). I expected completely different results, but got pretty much the same bread. A somewhat dense crumb, decent oven spring (considering the proportion of whole wheat and barley flours), and a very nice crust.

Ingredients in total
water - 349g (384g)
starter - 173g (101g)
bread flour - 28g (64g)
barley flour - 94g (98g)
whole wheat flour - 350g (359g)
salt - 11g
sesame seeds on top (optional)

Bread #79 amounts are listed first and bread #80 amounts are in parentheses. Any small difference in amounts were due to my penchant for using all of the freshly-milled flour. Significant differences were due to the decision to use a rather large amount of starter for bread #79, but not for bread #80.



All of the starter
Water - 70g (201g)
All of the barley flour
All of the bread flour

Mix and cover. I left out overnight in a warm kitchen for bread #80. The sponge looks quite similar to a rye sponge. The sponge will get a little puffy and nicely bubbly, but not exuberantly so. Do not expect something like a sponge that all bread flour will produce. 


All of the whole wheat flour
Water - 279g (183g)

Mix, cover, and let sit for about 20 minutes.


Salt - 11g 

Mix, cover, and do three stretch and folds, all 25 to 50 minutes apart. Let the dough rise and rest. It needs somewhere between 2.5 and five hours.

Dough texture warning
This dough is not as pliant as an all-wheat dough. It must be handled carefully as even a strong stretch and fold will cause breakage.

Once the bread has risen, I did one more stretch and fold, covered the dough, and let it rest for 15 minutes. Now, preheat the oven to 450 to 470 degrees. Again, I varied the temperature for these breads. It baked somewhat better at 470 degrees.

I preheated the oven with the baking stone and the top of the la cloche.

I shaped the dough following the 15 minute rest and put the dough in a well-floured brotform, which I then covered. Let sit for one hour. For bread #80 I sprinkled sesame seeds on top of the flour on the bottom of the brotform so that the top of the dough would be covered in sesame seeds. Worked like a charm.

I baked at 470 degrees, covering the dough with the top of the la cloche. I baked for a while longer for bread #80, which resulted in a better done interior. Total baking time was 47 minutes.

Nice. A solidly good bread. Not exciting, perhaps not to be repeated even, but good. This iswhat experimenting is about, learning and getting the full spectrum of possible results. Tomorrow, I will eat this bread for breakfast for the fourth day in a row and I look forward to that. Solidly good.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Waking up and smelling the freshly-milled flour

A quick post to say I think I am back. After months of hardly making bread and not making any new breads to qualify for my 108, I recently baked two new breads, which will be numbers 79 and 80. Preview: They are both combinations of freshly-milled barley and whole wheat flours.

What happened? Vacation, unexpected business trips, and my friend's son's death. The summer was supposed to be a relaxing, happy time. Turned out that new work projects turned my never-travel job into a suddenly lots-of-travel job, which is good, but traveling messes with bread making and other home endeavors. The travels, personal and business, were wonderful, though I returned home each time with a need for R&R more than anything else.

The death really stopped me in my tracks. None of us controls the world and the sudden, needless death of a sweet, promising young man sent that message home big time. To see my friend, her husband and their surviving son have to suffer this loss is truly awful. For a long while, this news sapped my energy to work, make bread, or think about anything remotely frivolous. I did not know this boy well because I met him when our children entered high school. Unlike the pre-school and elementary school friends, the high school peers do not enter the parental universe unless they become our children's close friends.

But I knew this boy through every conversation over the years with his mother and our hearts and our time are still with his family. 

And the bread? It has waited. I am finally getting pleasure from the new flour mill, finally pondering what and when on the Jewish holiday challahs as the holidays quickly approach, and finally considering breads and other baking as life returns to a nice normal.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Kitchen Work + Cleaning = Baking Pause

The bowls, whisks, la cloches, and other accoutrements of bread making are sitting neatly on tables and floors around the house while some renovation gets done. Not a gut renovation, which sounds like a ton of fun, though extremely expensive, but enough of a project that most cabinets and drawers had to be emptied. 

I'd like to say I am taking the time to peruse recipes and plan out the next bunch of breads, but I am focused on cleaning my office/art studio/study/small walk-in closet. When that essential space gets beyond a certain clutter level, I find it impossible to do anything other than clean, though usually my cleaning stops at tidying up. This time, full blast review of books, stuff waiting to be put elsewhere, jewelry I never wear, scarves, shoes, and children's artwork over a decade old that has been sitting under my dresser (awaiting decision of whether to be put in the "special box," now actually three large plastic containers with paintings, drawings, awards, and assorted written work from before pre-school through college).

Now that my art projects have expanded beyond a notebook kept of collages with calligraphy and drawings, to actual paintings, and, perhaps, an installation of old tiles, I need the space to reorganize the art supplies and neatly store the language notebooks. The neatening is very satisfying. I can see the pretty green paper on my dresser and the shelves are no longer jammed with stuff.

Now I can ponder the next stage of making bread.

On bread
The bread requires something I have not previously committed to: an organized schedule throughout the week when bread-related decisions are made, grocery lists added to, checking is done that needed ingredients are on the premises, and dough - or some preliminary stage of it - is started at the proper time. Avoiding starting too late, whereupon I am sleepy and lazy, is a key concern. The one task I have attended to is feeding the starter on time. 

Something else to incorporate into the schedule, though it only takes a few minutes and a lovely piece of equipment, is grinding my own flour. This goes toward starting before laziness sets in, toward deciding on the next bread by Thursday evening, taking out the starter on Friday evening or Saturday morning, and generally beginning the next dough on Saturday afternoon or evening.

Ritual and practice
Like religion, study, exercise, or anything to be taken seriously in life, bread requires presence in the moment and rituals - even homespun, just-for-me rituals - to support a practice. It is a Sabbath unto itself in the pause and preparation called for. Rushing, multi-tasking, and fitting something in when one can least take a breath and pay attention will not do. Bread now asks more of my time, particularly in the timing and quality of that time. 

How important is bread anyway?
Dust does not go well with bread. It just doesn't. I do not want to even start a dough with the fine layer of construction debris everywhere. So, there it was on the cusp of July Fourth and there was no bread for the guests, no sour cream in the house to mix the coffee cake batter. But soon we will have new cabinets and countertops and a chalkboard pantry door.

I've no mind right now for organizing and schedules. Family needs attending to, the dog is growing old, and a dear friend's son was just killed in an accident. How's that for making bread seem small and unimportant?

Death intrudes
A lovely, promising boy - okay, young man - of 24 was ripped from this world in the most arbitrary, but expected way. He was killed in a car accident. I say expected because there are so many thousands of these accidents that they are completely foreseeable, not each in particular, but that they will occur. One moment, he was there, and the next not. A dividing line forever for his parents and his brother, and the truck driver as well who was on the other side of the crash.

I know what it is like to lose someone in an instant. A punch to the gut that lingers on. An unwelcome shadow who lurks beside us for months or years. And so much more so for my friend, who lost a child.

And the kitchen
Soon we will not feel like our sweet contractor is living with us. The shelf and drawer liners will be in; pots, pans, dishes, glasses and all else will again be in place. But, honestly, I don't know where I will be. This is a time for doubt and I am avoiding the making of bread.

Monday, June 22, 2015

First Tries Grinding Grain

Here I am, grinding my own grains, virtually on the cusp of living off the grid; well, not quite. I have no plans to buy and store a years worth of foods. But the advantages of grinding your grains extends beyond the possibility of extreme self-reliance. The aroma of the grain, wheat, so far, for me, is amazing. The taste, even on the two pretty mediocre-looking breads I've made, has been fantastic. 

The home mill is lovely, a testament to German ingenuity and skilled manufacturing. No snide remarks; the Germans excel in efficient, organized design. Just a few tips, however. 
(1) Be sure to put the bowl under the shoot. This is obvious, yes, but rushing around or lack of sleep can turn one second of forgetfulness into a kitchen mess.  
(2) Pay attention. Do not walk into another room; do not wash dishes. The bowl underneath the chute that is delivering the freshly ground flour must be continually or pretty frequently turned. Basically, the flour will pile up in one spot and overflow quickly. So turn the bowl and lightly pat down the fresh flour as the grinding continues.
(3) Be ready for less predictability. Flour companies can test the grain and flour to make sure the protein levels and other indicators stay consistent across most batches. When you purchase wheat, rye and other grain berries, and grind them at home, however, your freshly-milled flour may exhibit a broader range in terms of moisture absorption, protein levels, etc., that will affect dough development. This will require somewhat more attention to a specific dough and less heeding of strict recipe instructions.
So excited
Totally excited and nervous to use the new grain mill. Felt like I was stepping onto another planet or diving yet deeper into the bread universe. No question the taste was ramped up, a whole new level of flavor is achievable with freshly-milled grains. Maybe this is all fantasy and it is merely the aroma of the flour that magically produced in one's kitchen. Who cares? The experience of baking and eating the bread is improved. If this is a placebo, as it were, then so be it.

This bread was 65 percent, approximately, whole wheat. The hydration percentage was 79 percent, which was, frankly, too high for how I developed the dough and baked it. But the taste was still fantastic.

302g whole wheat flour
203g water
5g salt

Mix and cover. Leave out for a few to 24 hours. I left mine out for seven hours. After seven hours, this soaker was like an autolyse with developed gluten strands and requiring of much muscle to incorporate the starter later on.

100g starter (110-120 percent hydration, using all-purpose flour)
100g water
100g bread flour

Mix and cover. Leave out until nice and bubbly. My kitchen was about 75 to 80 degrees and this process took about seven hours. The kitchen would have been over 80 degrees for most of the duration, but someone else in the household was displeased with early morning summer heat and turned on the air conditioner.

5g salt

Mix the dough and cover. I did three stretch and folds at 20 to 40-minute intervals. I let the dough rise for three hours, but I'm not really sure if it needed a little less time. 

Baking preparation
I did a stretch and fold on the wet counter and with wet hands due to the - you got it - wet dough. Left the dough, covered, to rest for 15 minutes and preheated the oven to 475 degrees with the dutch oven inside. During the 15 minutes, I also greased a bowl with oil and sprinkled flour and sesame seeds on the bottom.

After the 15-minute rest, I shaped the dough, as much as a wet dough could be shaped, and placed it, seam side up, in the oiled and floured bowl.

Baking time was only 36 minutes because this was a small loaf. 

Incredible taste. A level beyond any 60 percent whole grain I've made from store- or farners'-market-bought flour. However, because I made such a small loaf, the dutch oven was really too big. It could have used a little side support. 

Now, to get myself to finish up the store-bought flours in the freezer and move on completely to grinding my own. I might throw away the completely mediocre whole wheat flour I have from a major flour manufacturer.

Now that I've been to a whole new land, as it were, cannot go back.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Intimate Look at Steam in the Oven

See postscript below for additional suggestions from freshloaf members.

Last night, I ruined a perfectly good dough, a dough waiting to turn into a beautiful bread, by forgetting to provide steam. The bread turned out flat and sad, like an emoticon in gray with a frown and tired eyes. This was a valuable lesson because it is pretty simple to make sure that the oven has steam, in fact, steam sufficient to fool your dough into feeling like it is baking in a professional oven or even a backyard brick oven or in an oven reminiscent of the Roman ovens.

This can get expensive. Easier strategies involve some money, but there are alternatives.

Buy a baking stone or use oven-safe tiles to put the dough (or parchment paper) on. I have heard of using a baking sheet, preferably with parchment paper, but my breads improved significantly when I started using a baking stone. The bottoms of your breads will be equivalent to that produced by the best bakeries.

Perhaps this did not fit in a "steam" essay, but it has to do with crust and, further, what will go on the stone, if anything. I consider a baking stone a must. It needs little cleaning and no other maintenance. Just preheat before baking and keep it in the oven until it cools down. I generally just leave mine in.

Pay the money, about $60, and buy a la cloche. The Wild Yeast blog has instructions to make a DIY la cloche top that will cost a lot less than buying one. Advantage: You get a Roman oven within your oven. The clay bell-shaped contraption covers the dough and becomes a small enough oven that the moisture from the one dough is sufficient for nice oven spring. Disadvantage: Only one bread at a time can be baked, versus maybe two to four without such a space-consuming accouterment. The DIY la cloche mentioned above is small enough for two to fit on an oven rack.

I just use the top of the la cloche over the baking stone. The exception is that I sometimes use an oblong la cloche, the top of which also works well over loaf pans to ensure that sandwich breads get a good rise as well.

Dutch ovens
As far as steam, dutch ovens do the same thing as the la cloche. They create a small oven within the oven and use the moisture from the dough to produce oven spring during the first 10 minutes of baking. Four caveats: (1) Check the maximum oven temperature for the dutch oven. Mine has a maximum of 475 degrees, but cast iron ones can go higher. (2) Aim seems to be everything: The dough has to be dropped into an incredibly hot receptacle. I have done terribly at this, getting my dough all over the side of the dutch oven, and somehow the breads and their shapes turned out fine. (3) Put flour, seeds, and/or parchment paper at the bottom of the dough so that it does not get stuck in the dutch oven. If it does, wait a few hours for the dutch oven to cool before fighting to liberate the bread. (4) Be careful. The dutch oven gets way hotter than anything else I've put into my oven at the same temperature. I use an oven mitt and a kitchen towel when handling it. Stay calm, breath, and be confident.

The dutch oven produces magnificent results in turns of steam. It retains heat like nobody's business and, in a very small space, efficiently converts moisture to steam to get a rise out of a dough while it turns into a bread. The only disadvantages are the intense heat and the spacial aspect as only one bread at a time can be baked.

Ice or water
Most bread books recommend that either ice or water be used to produce steam in the oven for those first crucial 10 minutes of bread baking. The advice will be to put a pan on the lower rack, underneath the baking stone. Preheat the pan with the oven before baking. I always preheat for an hour to make sure everything I am using - whether a baking stone, a dutch oven, or whatever - is sufficiently hot when the dough goes in the oven.

Immediately after placing the dough on the baking stone, pour a cup of water or ice cubes into the pan. Quickly close the oven door!!! The quicker the H2O is poured and the oven door is closed, the more steam that stays inside the oven and the more steam available to the dough for a lovely oven spring burst of rising.

The advantage of ice is that it is a solid and easier to throw quickly into the pan. It also will not turn to steam - in your face - as quickly. Water can drip. Be VERY careful not to let the water drip onto the oven door because it can crack the glass. Also, the steam from the water can be dangerously hot. These are the reasons why I have only used ice cubes, which, by the way, work quite well.

Disclaimer: I have not tried this. Just intrigued. Many sources recommend preheating lava rocks, the kind used for barbecue, in a pan. They are available at local hardware stores or Home Depot. Pouring water over the rocks just after putting the dough in the oven provides sauna-quality steam. Some recommend pouring a cup of water right before loading the dough as well. Just google "lava rocks bread" and plenty of information will appear at your fingertips.

Dont' cry; eat
The ending to the ruined bread story is a happy one. The freshly ground whole wheat flour infused the bread that hardly rose with such a good taste that I enjoyed the bread and learned my lesson. The bread was dense and not very pretty, but delicious. 

P.S. Suggestions from the freshloaf that I have not yet tried - go at your own risk
These are quotes from a freshloaf (bread forum) conversation.
Steamed towel strategy - http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/20162/oven-steaming-my-new-favorite-way   I can get an oven fully steamed five minutes before the bread goes in and then only need to add 1/2 cup of very hot water to the pan once the bread is loaded onto the baking steel.  The time the oven door is open is minimal and I don't have to remove a heavy, hot cast iron skillet full of lava rocks after the first part of the bake.
I wonder at the safety of putting towels, wet or otherwise, into a hot oven, but there are a few people who have tried this method and they have lived to proclaim its wonders.
Another hot-water-in-the-oven strategy - I find it helpful to preheat the water for two minutes in a Pyrex vessel in a microwave oven before putting it in the oven. It then turns to steam more quickly.
Using an aluminum roasting pan - Inverting an aluminum turkey roasting pan over the loaf "on the stone" with parchment underneath will yield perfect steam results every time (the baking bread creates its own steam).
Spritz the inside of the roasting pan with water before inverting over the loaf - bake the loaf for 10-15 minutes before removing to allow the crust to brown. Cheap roasting pans that come three or four-to-a-pack work great and they're reusable. Center it on the loaf and pooch up the middle of the roaster a bit if your loaf has that much spring (make sure the rim still sits flat on the baking stone's surface).
I love this idea; it's cheap, easy, and requires no hot water or heavy equipment. Plus, unlike my la cloche, with its two long, thin cracks, the roasting pan can be replaced for very little cost and will not fall apart when it goes quickly from hot oven to cold kitchen. Cheap and effective go well together.