Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cooking Floyd: Easy-Peasy Bread. Really.

Really good, honest bread made with really good, honest ingredients gives me sticker shock.  $5.00/loaf from the local artisan bakers.  Good bread of a slightly lesser lineage from the grocery store, $4.00/loaf.  Ouch!  I can buy 5 pounds of premium flour for $5.00 and a 1 pound bag of yeast for $5.00 that will last me a year stored in the freezer.  That's a lot of loaves of bread for the equivalent of two loaves from the baker!



I've been making bread a long time dating back to the pre-home bread machine era.  Making good bread took a long time, all that mixing, kneading, rising, kneading, rising, kneading, rising and finally baking.  Then a few days later do it all again.  Or make a gigantic batch of dough, bake it off and freeze.  I tried freezing unbaked dough but the stuff took on a life of it's own and continued to rise in the freezer, escaping the bonds of it's plastic wrap and draping all over everything until the cold finally brought it down.  Frozen and thawed baked bread was ok but had lost something.

Along came bread machines.  So cool!  Toss the ingredients in, hit a button, walk away.  Well, almost walk away.  I didn't like the way the machine baked the bread so after it knocked the dough down before the final rise I pulled it out of the machine, shaped it, let it rise and then baked it in the oven.  Most of the work done.  Yay!  I burned out a machine a year until I finally bought a Zojirushi that could stand up to heavy use.  I do recommend this machine.  I still didn't like the way it baked bread but it had a dough cycle on it and would tell me when the dough was ready to be removed and shaped.

Three years ago I came across a method of making bread that took 5 minutes to mix up and allowed me to bake a fresh loaf whenever I needed it in an hour.  I was skeptical but it was worth a try.  Unbelievable!  It worked!  Crusty artisan loaves and rolls, sticky buns, pizza crusts, bread sticks, all from the same dough!  I was in heaven!  Here's how it works.

This is the recipe from King Arthur Flour that I started with originally. I've since adapted it to make a whole wheat loaf and enough quantity to last for two weeks.

Simple Crusty Bread 
Adapted from “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007)
Time: About 45 minutes plus about 3 hours’ resting and rising
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 cups lukewarm water
6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough
Cornmeal.
1. In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. Cover, but not with an airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or up to 5 hours).
2. Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut off a grapefruit-size piece with serrated knife. Turn dough in hands to lightly stretch surface, creating a rounded top and a lumpy bottom. Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it.
3. Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for 20 minutes.
4. Dust dough with flour, slash top with serrated or very sharp knife three times. Slide onto stone. Pour one cup hot water into broiler pan and shut oven quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely.
Yield: 4 loaves.
Variation: If not using stone, stretch rounded dough into oval and place in a greased, nonstick loaf pan. Let rest 40 minutes if fresh, an extra hour if refrigerated. Heat oven to 450 degrees for 5 minutes. Place pan on middle rack.

My adapted recipe:
Ingredients
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 cups lukewarm water
3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten  (this ingredient helps the gluten already present in the flours to create nice long gluten webs that trap the gasses given off by the yeast increasing the bread's ability to rise)
Cornmeal.
*I double this recipe so I can make it less often.*
Directions
Combine the yeast, salt and water in a bowl.  I know, it sounds contrary to combine the salt and the yeast since salt can inhibit the yeast but it works.
In a large container that you can store the dough in, combine the flours and the vital wheat gluten.  Whisk the dry ingredients well to combine.
I use a large lidded tub from the dollar store.  This one is big enough to hold the doubled recipe that I usually make.
Add the yeast mixture all at once to the flour and stir it up thoroughly so there are no dry spots.  When using whole wheat flour, and depending on the humidity of your house, you may have to add a little more water.  Add warm water a couple of tablespoons at a time until all the dry spots disappear.  You may have to get in there and mix with your hands.  Wet your hands to do this because the dough will be sticky and this helps to keep it from adhering to your hands.  When everything is mixed up to the right consistency, the dough will be loose.  This looks wrong but it isn't.
 Cover the dough loosely (not airtight) and let it rise from 2 to 5 hours at room temperature.  I've forgotten it overnight upon occasion and it's been fine.
Lidded, ready to rise
After the rise
Ready to bake
When the dough has risen you can bake it immediately or cover it and put it in the fridge until you're ready.  I lay a piece of plastic loosely on the dough and then put the lid on for storage.  This keeps the top from drying out.  It'll keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

When you're ready to bake the dough, put a baking stone in your oven and turn the oven on to heat to 450F.  Allow the oven and the stone to heat for at least 20 minutes.  I use a pizza stone but they can be pricey and have a tendency to crack.  You can use unglazed quarry tile from the hardware store or an extremely large terra cotta flower pot saucer from the garden center.
I don't have an oven peel so I use the back of a baking sheet for one.  Lay a sheet of parchment sprinkled with cornmeal on top of the baking sheet.
Now wet your hands and pull off a grapefruit-sized piece of dough from the mass in the tub.  While holding the dough, pull the edges underneath and shape into a loaf.  It is sticky!  Remember to wet your hands.  Removing your rings at the start is a good idea too!  When you have it sort of loaf shaped place it on the cornmeal covered parchment and allow it to rest for half an hour.  Cover the rest of the dough back up and return to the fridge.
See?  Stretchy, sticky, loose.
Sort of loaf-shaped.
Let the dough rest for about half an hour.  You don't need to cover it.

After the dough has rested, lightly sprinkle the top with flour and then slash it with a serrated knife.  This exposes more surface area and allows the dough to "spring" and expand when it hits the heat of the oven.
Put a baking pan on the lower shelf of the oven and heat up a cup of water to boiling.  Slide the dough, parchment and all, off the baking sheet and on to the stone.  Pour the boiling water into the pan and quickly shut the door, trapping the steam.  The extra steam will help create a crunchy crust.
Bake the bread for approximately 30 minutes until the crust is well browned.  When the loaf is done, turn it over and tap it on the bottom.  It should sound hollow.  If you have a digital thermometer you're looking for an internal temperature of around 200F for crusty breads.  Place on a rack and cool completely.
This bread dough takes on character as it progresses through a week or two becoming tangy like a sourdough towards the end.  Some folks recommend not washing the tub if making a new batch immediately after removing the last of the previous batch, saying that the bits from the old batch will act as "starter" for the new giving it more flavor.  I keep meaning to try this but I always forget and rinse the tub!

The dough is very forgiving.  You can vary it by sprinkling cheese, nuts, herbs, or seeds on it while shaping, gently folding them in.  It makes great cinnamon rolls.  Spread the dough out in a rectangle on a large piece of cornmeal-sprinkled parchment (this step can be messy), sprinkle liberally with a mix of brown and white sugars and cinnamon, and roll up from the long end.  In the bottom of a 9" cake pan pour a syrup made of melted butter, cinnamon and brown sugar, or butter, maple syrup, and cinnamon, and sprinkle liberally with chopped walnuts or pecans.  Cut the dough log into 2" wide rounds and place cut side down in the cake pan.  Allow to rest for 30 minutes and then bake for 30 minutes until golden brown.  Cool in the pan and then flip on to a plate while still slightly warm.  Play with the dough.  It can do lots of things!

3 comments:

  1. lulou23@hotmail.comJanuary 12, 2011 at 1:57 PM

    What type and brand of yeast do you use?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi lulou!

    I'm currently using Red Star Active Dry Yeast but I've also used SAF Instant Yeast, both with good results.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I DON'T REMEMBER WHERE I FOUND MY RECIPE, BUT IT'S THE SAME AS THIS ONE. PARCHMENT PAPER SEEMED A BIT EXPENSIVE, SO I USED ALUMINUM FOIL ON THE BACK OF A COOKIE SHEET. SPRAY THE FOIL WITH NON STICK SPRAY, THEN INTO THE OVEN ONTO THE PIZZA STONE, FOIL AND ALL. WORKS GREAT AND ALUMINUM FOIL CAN BE REUSED OVER AND OVER.

    I HAD BEEN HAVING PROBLEMS WITH OVEN RISE, I READ A FEW POSTS THAT SUGGESTED A SHORTER SECOND RISE TIME (I HAD BEEN LETTING IT RISE FOR AN HOUR AND HALF TO TWO HOURS). YOUR INSTRUCTIONS SAID 40 MINUTES, I'M GOING TO TRY THAT AND SEE IF MY PROBLEM GOES AWAY.

    THANKS FOR THE TIP.

    ReplyDelete