Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Artisan bread - with less equipment

I love freshly baked bread but never felt like I had the time to really learn how to make and bake it. Then I learned about baking bread in a very simple way by reading about it in this post on Where the Wild Ferns Grow.

The method is from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., and Zoe Francois.

It really doesn't take much time at all and once you do it a couple of times, it is even easier. 
1) Stir up the dough. 
2) Let dough rise specified time or longer, it isn't fussy. Refrigerate. 
3) Shape a loaf and let it rest, again, it isn't fussy if it sits a little longer than specified. 
4) Bake. Cool. Eat.

The equipment list is what held me back at first. I didn't have was a pizza peel or a 6-quart food safe container. Although I probably could have made a cutting board work if I'd tried, my mom-in-law gave me a pizza peel for my birthday.

The biggest hurdle was the need for a 6-quart food safe plastic container and the space it required in the refrigerator. The ones I found in stores and online seemed too expensive for what might turn out to be a one-time experiment. In the end, I decided that an ice cream pail was an acceptable food safe container. Since we never get rid of them (you should see the stack of them), I was able to find a couple old ones that are larger than they make them now. 

The ice cream pail works great, but I wish I had a picture of the soft American-style white bread dough that overflowed the pail during it's initial rise. I had left the dough to rise while I was out one evening and when I returned home, everyone was hootin' and howlin' with glee over the dough that was taking over the kitchen!

Add three or so tiny holes along the rim and in the center of the lid with a nail or sewing awl for gasses to escape.
Since then, I just stir up a half batch, which makes two loaves of the master recipe (boule) or one large loaf of the soft American-style white bread. While a full batch of the master recipe will fit in the ice cream pail, I usually only stir up half a batch so I can change up the breads I bake more often. I've made the master recipe with herbs, such as thyme and rosemary and I've made the kalamata olive bread. Both are absolutely wonderful.

The bonus to mixing up half a batch, is it's easy to stir by hand, no mixer required.

Cutting the dough to make one loaf.
Shaped loaf resting before baking.
Slashed loaf, ready for the oven.
My baking stone is a Pampered Chef large round baking stone and it is what is now referred to as the "old" stone. On the Bread in Five website, there are several comments regarding Pampered Chef stones as cracking and some speculation that it is the "new" stone. So far my old stone doesn't show any signs of trouble from being preheated. I am very careful not to spill any water on it when adding water to the broiler pan.

Loaf in oven (sorry for the blur, I was in a hurry to keep oven heat).
The soft American-style white bread is baked in a bread tin and no baking stone is required. My bread tins are all larger than the one called for in the recipe. I compensate by making one half batch, which is equivalent to one-and-a-half loaves and bake it up to one half-hour longer. Although I prefer the crusty loaf, the rest of my family likes soft bread for sandwiches.

Finished loaf, just trying my best to let it cool completely before cutting!
If you have ever considered making bread this way or just desire bread that is better than what I refer to as "mushy" bread, I encourage you to try this method. You get bread that has a great crust and the interior is always moist. The loaves are purposefully small to be eaten while fresh, and please, don't store it in a plastic bag. Just place the cut side down on a cutting board and cover with a tea towel. It really is simple and I've found that it can be done without buying the entire equipment list. 


P.S. Yes, do store the soft American-style bread in a plastic bag to keep the crust soft.