Monday, January 19, 2009

Artisan Bread in 3, 2, 1

There really is no longer an excuse for not making bread at home. After the "No-Knead Bread" sensation of '06 and '07, someone managed to make it even easier.

There is a new book and website called Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. And really, other than about an hour to rise & bake the bread and another 1-2 hours to cool it completely, it IS that quick & easy.

The Seattle PI (Lord, help them!), ran a great article about the bread last fall. The dough is as simple as mixing together flour, yeast, salt and lukewarm water. Seriously, a monkey could do it. You just let the dough sit out on the counter for a few hours and then refrigerate for up to two weeks.
When you are ready to bake a loaf, just yank off a handful of dough, shape and let rise.

The dough is a little unwieldy, so make sure you have plenty of flour on hand. I like to use rice flour for shaping the loaves, since it is finer than wheat flour. I've stuck with the boule shape, but will tackle baguettes and other shapes next. I think for for $17 on Amazon, the book is probably a worthwhile investment, since they have lots of variation on the dough and other recipes and ideas.
There is a certain satisfaction in filling the house with the smell of baking bread (on a weeknight, no less!) and slicing into a loaf that looks like this and costs about 82 cents.

The Master Recipe
Makes four 1-pound loaves

3 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees)
1 ½ tablespoons granulated yeast
1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt or other coarse salt
6 ½ cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour (measure with scoop and sweep method)
Cornmeal or parchment for pizza peel

Preparing the dough:
In a 5-quart bowl or a resealable, lidded, plastic food container, add yeast and salt to lukewarm water. Don't worry about getting it all to dissolve.

Add in all the flour at once. Mix with a wooden spoon (you can use very wet hands to help if needed) or a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Don't knead the dough; just mix until it is uniformly moist without dry patches.
Cover with a lid that fits well, but is not airtight. Allow to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse, about 2 hours. (You can let it go up to 5 hours.) The dough is ready to use at this point, but will be easier to shape if it is refrigerated at least 3 hours first.
On baking day:
Prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal (or line it with parchment).
Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour.
Pull up and cut off a 1 pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough, using 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 all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. (Most of the dusting flour will fall off.) The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten and adhere during resting and baking. Handle the dough as little as possible.
Place the shaped ball on the cornmeal-covered pizza peel. Allow the loaf to rest on the peel for about 40 minutes, uncovered. Depending on the age of the dough, you may not see much rise (more will occur during baking).
20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, with a baking stone placed on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf that won't interfere with the rising bread.

Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour. Slash a ¼-inch-deep cross, scallop or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top, using a serrated bread knife.
With a quick forward jerking motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off the pizza peel and onto the preheated baking stone. Quickly but carefully pour about 1 cup of hot water from the tap into the broiler tray and close the oven door to trap the steam.
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch. Allow to cool completely, preferably on a wire rack.
Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator in your lidded (not airtight) container. Cut off and shape more loaves as you need them anytime over the next 14 days. The flavor and texture will improve after even one day's storage.

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