Thursday, October 6, 2011

You can make your own bread!

Thought I'd write a post today on bread making.  The weather is cooling down around these parts and though I get out of the bread making habit in summer (when we eat more sandwiches--go figure!)  I can think of nothing more heavenly than a steamy bowl of soup or stew with a slice of home made bread slathered in butter.

 I've recently been using the Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day recipe. It's extraordinarily easy and suits me The loaves are small, and not really enough for a family, but you can always make them bigger and cook them longer and feed everyone. Or make several at a time.

 Now, you all know I love my bread machine, but truth be told, I have missed the mechanics of baking bread. Since this particular recipe doesn't include kneading the bread, it still lacks some of that. BUT...I still get to handle it a little and watch it setting on my counter rising and smell the beauty of it that is all yeasty and glorious.  So, I'm going to put the recipe on here, and you can try it and let me know what you think.

  The only thing I needed that I didn't have was a pizza peel. It's a shovel looking thing with beveled edges and a short handle that you let your dough raise on until time for it go into the oven. The reason for not raising it right on the cooking surface is that you want to heat the baking stone before you put the loaf to be baked on it. I happened to have a Pampered Chef baking tray that I use for this. (Pizza stone kits from department stores are much cheaper, I promise--but my daughter-in-law had a PC party and I had to buy something.  lol) The stone gives your loaf that beautiful brown crispy bottom crust and allows the loaf to cook evenly throughout.  However. I did happen to have some leftover glazed tiles that are about 12x12, that my wonderful son tiled my bathrooms in. You cannot bake on those, but you can sprinkle them with cornmeal and put your dough to raise. (A rimless metal cookie sheet would work as well.) And so I did.  And one day, I will break down and buy the other thing, because I'm sure it's easier. But not today. 

  Looking at the bowl in my fridge, I would guess that this batch of dough will make about 4 small round loaves.

  You'll need:

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1⁄2 tbsp granulated yeast (1 1⁄2 packets)
1 1⁄2 tbsp coarse kosher or sea salt
6 1⁄2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour
Cornmeal for pizza peel
   In a large bowl, measure  flour. I use a mixture of whole wheat and white and usually throw in a little wheat germ (because that's just how I roll), lol  In a separate bowl or large glass measuring cup, mix the water, yeast and salt.  Mix it good, I use a large wooden spoon and mix til it's together.

 Now, cover the bowl and let it sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours, and preferably up to 20. This gives the yeast a chance to grow and develop those wonderful flavors we love. When this part is done, you can either hack off a chunk and bake some--OR put the dough into a covered bowl in the fridge. Don't put an airtight lid on it though...the gases need to escape. I used an old big square Tupperware with one side of the lid left unsnapped.

 When you make bread, there are a couple of things to remember.
 * Hot water will kill yeast. Lukewarm is the best.
 *When you handle the wet sticky dough, keep your hands wet and it will be easier.
 * It needs to be warm in your kitchen and not drafty. (Turn off the ceiling fan!)
 *Set the bowl to raise where it won't be disturbed.

Now. After you make the dough, it needs to "nap" at room temperature for anywhere from 2-20 hours. You just cover it up and leave it alone. The little yeastie beasties will grow and the dough will swell and it will go it's merry way. While you do whatever else needs doing. You'll want to find a bowl with a cover to store whatever you don't bake in the fridge. Then, on days when you need to make another loaf, pull it out, hack it off and put the rest back in for next time. When it's time to bake, put it on your peel, let it sit about 40 minutes and into the oven. Easy Peasy.

  Once you decide it's time to bake,(at LEAST 2 hours after raising) you need to get your spot ready (pizza peel, bathroom tile, whatever you're using). Liberally sprinkle the surface with corn meal. This helps keep the dough from sticking to the surface. Cut off a hunk of dough with a serrated knife, about the size of a grapefruit for a one pound loaf.  With wet hands, stretch and fold the ends under until you have a ball. Place it on the surface, making sure there's plenty of cornmeal underneath.  Set it in a warm place and let it rest for 40 minutes. The dough will raise some more.  About halfway through, put your baking stone in the oven to preheat. You will have your oven at about 450. Put a large baking sheet on the very top shelf and pour hot water in it to create steam (about a cup and a half is enough).  You'll want to bake your bread on the middle shelf.  20 minutes later, pull out the shelf with the stone and slide your loaf onto the stone. Help it along if it won't slide easily. I worry about jiggling mine too much and making the bread fall, but somehow it never does. This bread is not fragile. And it will raise some more in the oven. (Again: I am positive that actually using a pizza peel or a rimless metal cookie sheet, would work better than my tile. But, I've never been known to do things the right way, if I can do with what I've got.)  lol

 Next, you want to dash a bit of flour onto the top of your loaf and using that serrated knife, slash an X or a tic tac toe into the top of it. Not real deep, but deep enough to mark it.

  So, slide your loaf onto the stone (I pull out the oven shelf-the stone is too hot to handle easily) and  close the door as quickly as possible so you don't lose all that nice steam that's building up. That steam will give you a crispy chewy crust.

  Bake it about 30 minutes (depending on the size you hacked off in the first place), check it for color and tap the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, it's done!

  Let it cool on a baking rack, if you have one. I jury-rig that too, usually, as I have a baking pan roaster that has a small metal rack in the bottom.  I can almost never let mine cool all the way, as I want a warm piece of bread slathered with butter. If the Irishman's home, it's even worse. He almost stands beside the oven with a butter knife in his hand!

 Once I made this bread a few times, I could do it with my eyes closed.  Very simple ingredients, no sugar, and a beautiful loaf of bread.  I think you'll like it. I bake a loaf about every other day.

  *** I have been experimenting with adding ingredients like seeds and flax and herbs. So far, I've been doing it loaf by loaf. Today I made a new master batch, and put sesame seeds and flax seeds in it. I put wheat germ in too...just because I can.  ***

 Bon Apetit!