Friday, July 24, 2009

Easy Homemade Artisan Bread

I grew up with my Dad reading Mother Earth News but I never had a true fascination or appreciation of it until after we bought our home last year. There are so many resourceful and informative articles in there that you can get information overload. Disclaimer: there are a some articles in there at times that go against our Christian beliefs, but for the most part it's a wealth of information. I especially love the eclectic and obscure recipes that can be found amongst the pages, in addition to the home grown, down to earth recipes.

Perusing my back issues, I happened upon a recipe that I am sure I saw before but never paid attention to. It sparked my interest so for the past 2 days I have been working on it. (I'm sure it won't take as long as it did for me, but I started it at night.) What I found was a recipe "5 Minutes a Day For Fresh Bread." The caption on the article read "Discover this ridiculously easy — and cheap! — technique that revolutionizes home baking." Knowing how much our family loves bread, I thought I'd give this a whirl. Check out the link at the bottom of this post for the full online article. There are other recipes for using your dough as well. Instead of using a bread paddle for forming it into a round loaf (artisan) I used a stoneware baking dish that has shallow sides but a roomy surface for expansion. I also wanted to see how this would do in a bread pan. So my photos will vary from the printed instructions some.

The Master Recipe: Boule

3 c. lukewarm water
1-1/2 Tblsp. bulk yeast (or 1-1/2 packets)
1-1/2 Tblsp. coarse kosher or sea salt
6-1/2 c. all purpose flour; unsifted

Mixing & Storing the Dough:

Heat the water to just a little warmer than body temperature (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit).

Add yeast and salt to the water in a 5-quart bowl or, preferably, in a resealable, lidded container (not airtight — use container with gasket or lift a corner). Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve.

Mix in the flour by gently scooping it up, then leveling the top of the measuring cup with a knife; don’t pat down. Mix with a wooden spoon, a high-capacity food processor with dough attachment, or a heavy-duty stand mixer with dough hook, until uniformly moist. If hand-mixing becomes too difficult, use very wet hands to press it together. Don’t knead! This step is done in a matter of minutes, and yields a wet dough loose enough to conform to the container.

Cover loosely. Do not use screw-topped jars, which could explode from trapped gases. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flatten on top), approximately two hours, depending on temperature. Longer rising times, up to about five hours, will not harm the result. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period. Refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and easier to work with than room-temperature dough. We recommend refrigerating the dough at least three hours before shaping a loaf. And relax! You don’t need to monitor doubling or tripling of volume as in traditional recipes.

(images reflect the rising time lapse from beginning, 1 hr later, 2 hrs. later and before it went into the icebox 3 hours later.)

Prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent the loaf from sticking to it when you slide it into the oven.

prinkle the surface of the dough with flour, then cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-sized) piece with a serrated knife. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on four “sides,” rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go, until the bottom is a collection of four bunched ends. Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it doesn’t need to be incorporated. The bottom of the loaf will flatten out during resting and baking.

Place the ball on the pizza peel. Let it rest uncovered for about 40 minutes. Depending on the dough’s age, you may see little rise during this period; more rising will occur during baking. *My personal note: I heated the oven to 170* and then turned the oven off, then I placed the bread in the oven with the door closed for the rest time. This helped take the chill off the dough and allow it to rise somewhat.

Twenty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 450 degrees with a baking stone on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on another shelf.

Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will allow the slashing, serrated knife to pass without sticking. Slash a 1⁄4-inch-deep cross, scallop or tick-tack-toe pattern into the top. (This helps the bread expand during baking.) *My personal note: I brushed melted butter over each loaf before baking. I also sprinkled my free form loaf with spicy Italian seasoning.

With a forward jerking motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off the pizza peel and onto the baking stone. Quickly but carefully pour about a cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the oven door to trap the steam. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is browned and firm to the touch. With wet dough, there’s little risk of drying out the interior, despite the dark crust. When you remove the loaf from the oven, it will audibly crackle, or “sing,” when initially exposed to room temperature air. Allow to cool completely, preferably on a wire rack, for best flavor, texture and slicing. The perfect crust may initially soften, but will firm up again when cooled. *My personal note: this is a much denser bread than my usual homemade loaves, but it has a great taste.

Refrigerate the remaining dough in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next two weeks: You’ll find that even one day’s storage improves the flavor and texture of your bread. This maturation continues over the two-week period. Cut off and shape loaves as you need them. The dough can also be frozen in 1-pound portions in an airtight container and defrosted overnight in the refrigerator prior to baking day.

Recipe Source: 5 Minutes A Day For Fresh Artisan Bread by Jeff Hertzberg & Zoe Francois

Published in Mother Earth News December 2008/January 2009 Issue

Click HERE for printable recipe

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