Wednesday, July 29, 2009

So You Think You Can Make Bread

I first started making bread while in high school. The first yeast bread that I can recall making was a Challah, a traditional jewish braided bread which was eaten at any time, but especially on the sabbath and holidays. I was so proud of myself that I took a picture of me with the bread. Of course I cropped myself out of this picture and just show the challah. I still remember that it was a wonderful tasting bread and I was quite proud of myself.

Years later I got a bread machine along with everyone else and I made single loaves. Something was missing using this machine. The breads were boring. After doing some limited detective work, I became the proud owner of a bosch food processing system which gave me the ability to make real bread - grind the flour; roll oat, rye and spelt flakes and using a large mixing bowl with a bread paddle, make about four loaves at a time. The varieties of bread that I could make and did were limitless. The challenge was in using this system, what did you do with four loaves at one time. How much bread can you freeze? How much bread can you eat?

Several food writers have written about a no-knead artisanal bread which I believe originated in New York. Mark Bittman has written about it in the New York Times and it also appears in his recent book "Food Matters". As a side note, this is a great book and I will talk about in a future posting. I have also read about this bread in a cookbook by Bonnie Stern "Friday Night Dinners". I recommend this cookbook as it has wonderful recipes, none of which are complicated and take an afternoon to prepare. All are simple and healthy recipes. Plus Bonnie Stern gives a wonderful commentary to all of the recipes along with many pictures. This artisanal bread is easy to make, no kneading or special oven is required. All you need is a heavy, medium-sized cast iron pot with a lid. I have made this bread twice already and plan to make this bread on a regular basis. The first time I made it I did not add anything to it, the second time I added one cup of chopped black olives and a tablespoon of fresh chopped rosemary. Other variations are 3/4 cup each of chopped toasted walnuts and raisins, 3/4 cup each of chopped dark chocolate and dried cherries, or one cup of raisins. What makes this bread so good is the texture and the crust - hard and chewy. It also tastes wonderful toasted.

Here is Bonnie Stern's recipe:
3 cups of all purpose flour (or part whole wheat)
1 tbsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp yeast
1 1/2 cups water plus 1 tbsp at room temperature
Extra flour, wheat bran, cornmeal, sesame seeds etc.

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and yeast. Stir in the water. the dough will be a sticky mess. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then place a tea towel over it. Put it aside and let it sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. The dough needs to double in size and have bubbles on the surface.
2. Lay a clean tea towel on the counter and flour heavily. Scoop out the dough (it is messy) and pat into a rough rectangle. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let sit for 15 minutes.
3. Place another tea towel on the counter and rub with flour. You need to flour it enough so that the dough doesn't stick. You can sprinkle the flour with bran, cornmeal or sesame seeds.
4. Take the dough off of the first tea towel and place on to the second tea towel. If you are going to add any nuts, olives, raisins or other things, now is time to sprinkle it over the dough. Fold dough into thirds and brush off any extra flour. Fold into thirds again to form a rough cube. Place seam side down on the second tea towel and dust the top with flour, bran, cornmeal or sesame seeds. Fold the ends of the tea towel over the top of the dough so that it is covered. Let rise for 2 hours.
5. After 1 1/2 hours, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. I have a convection oven so I went to 425 degrees F. Place the empty medium-sized heavy cast iron pot with the lid into the oven when you turn the oven on and heat for 30 minutes.
6. Take the pot out of the oven and very gently remove the excess flour off of the bread and flip the bread into the HOT pot. Cover and bake for 30 minutes at 450 degrees F. With my convection oven I bake it for 22 minutes. Remove lid and bake for 20 to 30 minutes longer or until browned. I bake it for about 20 minutes. Cool on a rack. One way to tell if the bread is baked is by tapping it with a wooden spoon. If it sounds hollow, it is good to take out of the oven.

Making this recipe, you can think that you can make bread and share your creation with family and friends. Until next time....


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