Thursday, July 7, 2011

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day

I've never made bread before.

Okay, that was a lie.  I have a breadmaker and have used it a handful of times - growing up, my Mom used.hers.a.lot.  I thought I would too but here's the deal, the loaves that I turned out were just *okay*.  Here's the other deal, cleaning that thing was just a hassle.  If you know me, it doesn't take much for me to feel like something is a hassle.  While the little stir knob thing in the bottom of the breadmaker might not be a big deal for someone else but for me that was just a deal breaker.  I don't even KNOW what is so irritating about it, but it just makes me crazy.

I've also made some pretty great Olga's-like flat bread (sweet and soft and oh man what a recipe!).  Beyond this though, I've not ventured into bread making.

Until now.

Well, until a couple weeks ago.

About two years ago I stumbled across a post talking about bread on Mother Earth News.  I thought, "Wow, that looks so easy even I could do it!" and promptly filed it into the part of my brain labeled "Stuff that is cool and looks fun but will never actually get done" and called it a day.  A couple weeks ago, I accidentally stumbled on the same recipe on a foodie forum and felt like kismet was knocking.  So.  I looked around my kitchen and lo-and-behold I had everything to make the bread (even yeast, which is weird because I never have that...).  I mixed up a batch after the kids went to bed, let it rise a couple hours (when it tried to escape my bowl and have a party on the counter I decided it was bakery time) and then tossed a hunk of dough in the oven for 40 minutes while I worked on a website.  The rest of the dough got a layer of plastic wrap and found itself nestled onto the bottom shelf of my fridge.

The rest is history.  My house smelled SO. GOOD. and the second it was cool enough to touch I tore a piece off and ate it.  Talk about amazing.  Talk about easy.  I saved enough for breakfast (so WHAT I ate half the loaf, I was HONGRY!....... okay, it was just that good) and the kids promptly requested that I never buy a loaf of pre-sliced again.  Now, if I could only be as successful with slicing as I am with baking, and we'd be good to go!

While I did use this exact recipe to make a pizza one night with the most delicious results I've ever had in a pizza (also made my own sauce for the first time that night - I think that made a huge difference), it produced a SERIOUSLY crunchy crust.  I'll be posting a modification of this recipe that I used this week and we all devoured in short order.  It's stellar.

Basic Bread Recipe

Into a 4C Pyrex Measuring Cup:
3C warm water (just warmer than your body temp is perfect)
1 1/2 T kosher salt (if you use regular salt, please reduce the amount!)
1 1/2 T yeast (If you're not measuring from a jar, this works out to be a packet and a half.  One packet is sufficient, that's what I've been doing and the results are equally delicious.)

Into a 5qt bowl: (I use a stoneware one that was my Mom's but I'm stealing it for good mwahaha)
6 1/2 C Flour (Apparently I like to add notes in parentheses.  I don't have anything special to note here, but I didn't want the flour to feel left out.)

Now, dump the water/salt/yeast mixture into the flour.  Grab a large wooden spoon and stir until you don't see any floury areas, then rinse off the spoon and cover your bowl with a loose piece of plastic wrap or something (not tight because you need to let the gas from the yeast escape) and walk away.  Really.  Just leave it alone.  If it helps, pretend the dough is cranky and needs a nap - just leave. it. alone.

Depending on how cranky your dough is warm your kitchen is, your dough should be happy and ready to use anywhere from 2-5 hours.  Generally, I set a timer for 2 hours and then toss the whole thing into my fridge.  You COULD rip off a hunk and bake it right away if you want, but the flavor will be better tomorrow.  Promise.

Inpatient aren't you?  Okay - I usually can't wait either, so here are the baking instructions for those of you who camp with me in Needbreadnowville.


Grab a small handful of flour and dust over the top of your dough, this will help prevent sticking- to you and your choice of sharp implement with which you will sever said dough.  Grab a nice, big handful of dough and pull straight up, then use a serrated knife (or kitchen scissors if you, like me, also prefer to run with scissors) to separate the oven bound from the fridge bound.

Form a boule.  If you don't know how to do this, watch a quick video on Youtube.

Set a timer for 20 minutes.  When that time is up, toss a metal pan on the lowest rack of your oven, make sure there's a rack in the middle to put the bread on, and preheat your oven to 450.  Set the timer for another 40 minutes.  When THAT time is up, score your dough (I use scissors, but by now you know why) after sprinkling a little flour on top if you like the looks of that and toss it in the oven.  Pour a cup or so of water into the pan on the bottom rack, the steam does nice things to your bread.

I bake mine for about 30-40 minutes.  When it's done let it cool on a wire rack.  I store mine on the counter with a floursack towel wrapped around it.  A loaf in our house only lasts a day, maybe two if it's lucky - I bake almost daily.  Dough is happy to hang out in the fridge for up to two weeks and the flavor develops as it ages.  ALSO - Don't bother washing the bowl in between batches of dough!  Scrape all the remaining stuff into the new dough and the flavor will have a head start (a la sourdough).

If you have a difficult time imagining what's going on here, a simple Youtube search will provide a wealth of visual learning opportunities - that's what finally got me going, I couldn't seem to just look at the recipe and imagine it working.

This method and recipe results in a VERY crusty loaf.  If you want softer bread, wait a little bit and I'll post that recipe too.

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