Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Homemade Bread in 5 Minutes a Day

Here continues the saga of my bread making adventures.  I have mastered the basic recipe, and have moved on to whole grains.  Let’s just say that I wasn’t as successful with the whole grains.  But I’m not giving up… I just think I’ll stay away from pure whole wheat flour for a while.  The basic recipe on the other hand, is absolutely delicious, and like all the recipes require little preparation and few ingredients.  What takes the time is the rising, but if you plan ahead, and take the 5 minutes to shape the loaf and set it on the counter when you get home from work, you will have warm, delicious bread ready for dinner. It goes perfectly with a bowl of soup, or toasted for garlic bread.  And as the dough ages in the refrigerator, it sours slightly, and makes the most delicious sourdough bread.  It is wonderful as toast, a sandwich or a Panini.  Try it, and while you work on the basic recipe, I will work on the whole grain recipes.

Homemade Bread in 5 Minutes a Day
Original recipe is as printed, with my notes in italics

Makes 4 1-pound loaves

3 c. lukewarm water
1 ½ T. granulated yeast
1 ½ T. coarse kosher or sea salt
6 ½ c. unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour
Cornmeal for the pizza peel

Mixing and Storing the Dough

1.  Heat the water to approximately 100 degrees (lukewarm).
2.  Add the yeast and salt to the water in a 5-quart bowl or a in a resealable, lidded container (not airtight – use a container with a gasket or lift a corner. I use the bowl for my Kitchen Aid mixer. Use the mixer to combine all the ingredients, let it raise, and then store in the refrigerator covered with plastic wrap.
3.  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 a 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.
4.  Cover the container loosely with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap.  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). To speed up the process a little bit, and if your house is a little chilly, use the warm oven method: preheat the oven to 150 degrees while you are mixing the dough.  Turn the oven off, cover the bowl with a dish towel, and place in the oven until the dough has risen. Typical rising times are approximately 2 hours, but longer rising times, up to 5 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.  You don’t need to monitor doubling or tripling of volume as in traditional recipes. Refrigerating the dough makes it MUCH easier to work with.  Be patient and put it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before you shape your first loaf.

Shaping and Baking the Bread

1.  Prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent the loaf from sticking when you slide it into the oven.  How many of you have a pizza peel in your kitchen?  I certainly don’t, so I skip the pizza peel step and use a silicone baking mat.  You could also use a piece of parchment paper, but by the time you’ve bought a couple of boxes of paper, you could have treated yourself to a baking mat.
2. Sprinkle the surface of the dough with flour, then break off a 1-pound (grapefruit sized) piece. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour if needed so it won’t stick to your hands.  Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all sides rotating as you go, until the top is smooth and the bottom is a collection of four bunched ends.  You can shape it into a ball or an oval. 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.
3. Place the dough on the pizza peel (or silicone baking mat). 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. The dough may need to sit longer if you just took it out of the refrigerator, up to 2 hours. What I have done is shape the loaf as soon as I get home from work, and let it rest on the counter until I start making dinner.  I then bake the bread while I’m preparing the rest of the meal.  Warm, fresh bread for dinner!
4. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat an oven to 450 degrees with a baking stone on the middle rack.  Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on another shelf.
5. Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will allow a serrated knife to pass without sticking.  Slash a ¼” deep cross scallop or tick-tack-toe pattern on the top. (This helps the bread expand during baking.) Optional
5. With a forward motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off the pizza peel and onto the baking stone (or place the silicone baking mat directly onto the baking stone).  Quickly, but carefully pour 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 when initially exposed to room temperature air.  Allow to cool completely on a wire rack for best flavor, texture, and slicing.  The perfect crust may initially soften, but will firm up again when cooled. You don’t have to wait until it’s completely cooled to eat, I couldn’t wait that long to try it. But if you wait until it cools slightly, it is much easier to slice.
6. 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.

There’s a lot here to read, but the process itself is quite minimal.  Give it a try – you’ll be glad that you did!


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