A Bread-baking Experiment

At the end of the year, Bon Appetit published a list of great recipes for using a Dutch Oven. One included in the group was called BA’s Best Bread.  I still had some time off from work and thought it would be fun to try. A classic 3-day bread starting with a poolish. In typical fashion, I really didn’t read the entire (4-page when printed) recipe, but thought it would be fun. I still had never used my Dutch oven for bread-baking, and thought I should try with a “real” recipe.

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Of course, I didn’t have any rye flour, but did have white-whole wheat, since I had taken advantage of a free-shipping offer from KAF prior to the holidays. I did also have some pumpernickel flavoring from there (the flavors really are great that they sell – pumpernickel in particular – since it’s all of those minor ingredients you need, but don’t have on hand unless you bake all the time) – the first ingredient is rye flour, so I just added a teaspoon or two and made up for the rye with a bit more white whole wheat. It added a LOT of color, but probably not more than if I had used regular whole wheat anyway. Also – if you look at the photo closely – very interesting weight measurements. I do actually bake a fair amount of bread, and so I’m kind of used to the “feel” of it – these are really exact! And yes – I did weigh all of the ingredients faithfully – also, who knew how little one gram of flour actually is!

Anyhoo, poolish made and left to ferment for a day – by timing made it such that it was going to sit longer than the 14-18 hours, but it was a test for me, so it worked out how it did – I mean my life can’t be driven by a loaf of bread (even if it’s supposed to be “BA’s Best”).

The next day a lot of slapping, dropping and a little bit of kneading ensued. There was making the initial dough; letting it rise for a couple of hours; a lot of dropping of the dough back onto the counter from a height – for a while; then slapping it around in the bowl; and finally forming. This was the “work day” and the recipe warns that if you’re not tired at one point – you are really not doing it right! It was kind of fun manhandling it and dropping the dough from a a couple of feet above the counter so that you could hear a good thwack! The dough was then supposed to be placed in a kitchen towel-lined colander that was dusted with rice flour – fortunately there was an alternate – but of course, it’s really hard to get that to stick uniformly. A round of parchment is placed on top – and then the whole thing is plopped into the refrigerator for a day or two. Since this wasn’t exactly a photo-shoot – no pictures – that’s probably a good thing because I think I looked fairly ridiculous for much of the time.

Fast forward. Might even have been the 2nd day – over the holidays there are other priorities like making merry and such. I dutifully put the oven on (mine actually says it goes waaaay above 500 degrees, but I stopped there. No fear, my beautiful black Staub pot that I got last year has a metal handle on the top – no barriers or compromises. Typically, the pot gets heated for about 40 minutes, the bread is removed from the fridge, tuned over onto a plate or something so it can be slipped into said pot, and then… oh, my! there was a huge lump of flour on the top that had to be dusted off. There were also polkadots of a flour pattern due to the colander. Hmmm, but once dusted off, and a few slashes made, I successfully (ish) plopped it into the pan (parchment side down), covered it and back into the oven. 15 minutes or so covered, then another 35 or so uncovered. Guess what? it worked! with the exception of the two little spots that caught on the side of the pot when I was slipping it in – this was one beautiful loaf – if I do say so myself!

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Of course, we are always stridently cautioned to not cut the bread warm. Clearly anyone who enjoys a beautiful slice of warm bread just out of the oven, slathered with butter is a Philistine. Since this was an experiment, we waited. So that it would be perfect.

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We eventually did get to have some bread. And I have to say, I was pleased to see those tell-tale bubbles. The color was a little dark (drat that pumpernickel flavor!).

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The flavor was pretty good. The texture – like all of these, maybe a little moist for me. The crust was really, really good. Perfectly chewy and very satisfying. We’ve enjoyed it plain, and as a bruschetta with ricotta, caramelized onions and roasted butternut squash (yum!) and with leftover beef and horseradish sauce. I had it toasted with an omelette. Like all breads of this kind, it changes a little over time. The crust gets pretty durable… when toasted. We are probably about half-way through it. I suspect it won’t actually be consumed (particularly since I’m making some different bread as I type).

This really was a fun project. We liked it – but it was a huge loaf, and way too much for us to eat while it was/is at its prime. I don’t know that it lived up to it’s title (seriously? this is your very best bread at BA? that’s a bit sad). But I’m very happy to have tried it. I’ve always wanted to try baking a bread with a poolish, since my friend Teri had a baking blog years ago and we would get samples (she’s the reason I ever started myself!). I’m incredibly happy with using my Dutch oven for an artisan bread. No doubt, I will go back to my normal “5-minutes a day” recipe, where I can adjust the loaf size for our use. And see if the smaller quantities of dough will work in the Dutch oven – if not, I might just have to look for a smaller one! 😉

Now, back to finishing up my Walter Sands sandwich bread – oh and some cinnamon rolls with half of the dough. I’m quite contented to be pedestrian, if that’s what I am. It will suit just fine. I’m also excited that I finally got around to a project like this.

 

 

No-Knead Artisan Bread

One of the things I’ve been trying to get back into this year is bread-baking. It’s something I enjoy a lot, but don’t do enough (and of course, don’t really need!). My grandmother Johnson taught me to bake bread when I was pretty little – still living in Michigan. She wasn’t one to be very “grandmotherly” like so many of the farm-women who comprised our neighbors in our small town. Clara was more of a “city” person by then, though as I’ve learned over the ages, she really was at heart, a small-town farm girl.

Grandma Johnson, second from the left

My grandmother's recipe, in my 5th-grade handwriting

Clara grew up on a farm in New Mexico, where she met my grandfather Arvid. Fast-forward half a century or more, and there she was in our “modern” kitchen in rural Michigan teaching me how to bake loaves of bread and cinnamon rolls! Those were some of my fondest memories of her, since, as the only girl in a family of lots (!) of older boys, it was a nice time to have together. By that time, my grandparents had lived in Southern California for a long time, which is how all of that “city” stuff got in the mix.

Fast-forward less time, and I have been baking quite a bit over the past year. I find it’s relaxing, and connects me to things that are simple and important. To paraphrase – loving people and cooking them tasty food. Plus, it’s a handy skill to have…

My friend Teri got me started with the French Fridays with Dorie cooking group (and this blog) because she was baking with another group – working their way through The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. While I loved the concept, I knew that I wouldn’t have the …. to take on something so ambitious. BUT, then I ran into some blogs about No-Knead Artisan Bread. I thought – well, I can do that! All of the recipes are basically the same. KAF has the same general formula as the one in Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. The concept is great, and it is plenty forgiving. Here’s the recipe.

As with all yeast breads, the biggest trick is not killing the yeast. So the water should be at about 100 degrees. Modern yeast is a bit more forgiving.

The warm water is mixed with the yeast and salt first. I’ve found that it’s somewhat important that this is incorporated thoroughly, though I have to admit it will still work if not!

The dough at this point is a bit “rough”, but really, all you’re trying to do is get the flour moistened.

After a couple of hours of resting on the counter, it looks a little better. Though not exactly like what you’d expect! Essentially, the dough rises, and then kind of flattens out on top. That’s when you know it’s the perfect time to put the dough in the refrigerator (though you can go on either side of this successfully).

Whenever you’re ready to bake, out comes the dough from the refigerator. For this recipe, it’s easy, simply cut the dough in half to get the right size. You coat your piece of dough with flour to make it possible to handle, turning it to form a ball, while folding the edges under to make a nicely shaped loaf.

This is placed on a peel covered with cornmeal, and allowed to rest for 20 minutes. Then, pre-heat the oven (with a bread or pizza stone, and a metal pan for water) to 450 degrees for another 20 minutes. Have ready a cup or so of hot water. Dust the top of the bread with some flour, slash the top of it, and then slide the bread from the peel to the stone, put the water in the metal pan, quickly close the oven door – and then wait… for about 30-35 minutes.

The bread is baking with the steam, which creates the classic artisan crust. The stone also helps draw moisture away, and keeps the heat even. The internal temperature of the bread should reach 200 degrees. That happens at about the same time that the crust has reached a deep golden brown.

When the bread comes out of the oven, place it on a wire rack to cool. Ideally, you can hear the bread “sing” as it cools. Of course, if there’s a lot going on, kind of hard to do that. BUT, it happens! Wait until the bread cools to slice (though it’s difficult, I know). The leftovers are great too – I made a little tartine saint-germain with my bread and a bit of rare prime rib (what a great use for leftovers). Perfectly rounded out by “cheating on winter” pea soup.

tartine saint-germain - with cornichons, mayo and roast beef

I still haven’t found time to make those cinnamon rolls again, but maybe soon…