When I was little I was fortunate to have a mom who stayed home with us and baked. ‘We’ regularly made bread, and I remember eagerly helping; mixing, punching, kneading, tasting the raw dough. I’m not sure how much help we were (Mom?).
As an adult I have loved baking bread, but it hasn’t always turn out (variably deflated, lousy crumb, dry), and I sure haven’t always had the afternoon to dedicate to rising, kneeding, shaping and baking. I had a bread machine, which was exciting for a time, but that, too, didn’t always turn out.
If you like bread, and either:
1) like to bake bread
2) want to learn to bake bread
3) wish you had time to bake bread
– this review is for you.
Baking bread traditionally takes a long time because you are trying to coax the yeast to do their stuff in just a few hours. It turns out that yeast can rise at cool temperatures and produce more complex flavours over time. Furthermore, gluten does not need to be stretched vigorously in order to develop.
In case your mind wanders off, here is the take-home message:
Spend 30 min mixing together a wet dough. Leave the dough in the fridge overnight or up to two weeks. Within that time, grab a ball of dough, shape it into a loaf, let it rise up to 40 min at room temperature, and then bake it. The resulting loaf is complex, has a great crust, and delightful crumb (the miga, or inside, of the bread).
In the following photo demo, I am using the ‘Light Whole Wheat’ recipe by Jeff Hertzberg & Zoe Francois in their book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.
The authors recommend making what is essentially a quadruple batch at a time in a 5-qt container without a tight-fitting lid. A round container is probably preferable so you could mix and store in the same container.
Because my container is obviously ill-suited to mixing, I mix the dough in this round bowl then store it in the plastic one.
The recipe instructs to first mix together the water, salt, and yeast. I know salt can kill yeast, so to be extra careful, I dissolved the salt (1.5 T) in the water (3 c lukewarm) first, then stir in the yeast (1.5 T).
Next is the flour. For this recipe, it is 5.5 cups of AP white flour and 1 c whole wheat bread flour.
Once mixed in, the dough is wet and sticky.
This particular dough may be a little too dry, because it should conform to the shape of the container.
After a night in the fridge, the dough has already risen significantly and could be used to bake bread.
24 hours after mixing the dough, I am ready to bake. You can see that the dough has risen even further in the 8 hours since I last looked at it.
After sprinkling the wet dough surface with flour, I grab a ‘grapefruit-sized’ ball of dough and cut it from the remainder. NB: those of us with small hands often do not attain the desired ‘grapefruit’ amount of dough and must either use two hands or settle for smaller loaves.
The dough is shaped by stretching the surface tight, collecting the ends under the ‘boule’, in this case. Cornmeal keeps the ball from sticking to the wooden peel.
Just prior to baking, dust the surface with flour and cut 1/4″ indentations with a serrated knife. This is an important step allowing the loaf to successfully rise (i.e not explode). As the dough is slid onto the hot baking stone (450F), 1 cup of water is poured into a pan beneath the stone. The steam paradoxically allows the crust to crisp.
35-40 min later, the loaf is dark and crisp, with delightfully spongy crumb.
I highly recommend trying one of the kneadless breads. You will find many resources for this easy, delicious, time-saving style of bread-making. Check out the following titles at your local library!
My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method by Jim Lahey
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg & Zoe Francois