Baking Bread

After chocolate, bread could be my Achilles heel. Not that bread in itself is an evil, but I love it so much... with butter! We make all of our own bread here (except tortillas) and I'd like to share some of the staples. We don't use a bread machine, although I'm sure many great loaves can be made with this hands-off, time saving tool.

 This was a variation on the no-knead-- Walnut and Raisin!

This was a variation on the no-knead-- Walnut and Raisin!

I'd like to say a couple of things about home bread making. As with everything I make at home, one of the compelling reasons for doing so is controlling the ingredients. I get to know exactly what goes in to each batch, and that is likely just flour, water, yeast and salt. No preservatives, no piles of sugar. And to dispel the myth that this can take hours of time-- it doesn't. It could, if you'd like it to. And there are lots of recipes for types of breads that can take all day. But I tend to go for a smaller window of effort. And remember, these breads will not last for weeks on the counter-- because you will eat them all up! And because they do not contain preservatives. They are easily frozen however, and toast up nicely if you think you won't finish the entire loaf within a week or so. Or share with friends and neighbors!

My favorite artisan-style bread is the famous Jim Lahey recipe for No-Knead Bread. It bakes up into a lovely, crusty enviable round and takes very little effort. It does require some advance planning time, though. 

Here are my notes:

 Fifty pound bags stored in some lovely crocks my dad brought from the east coast

Fifty pound bags stored in some lovely crocks my dad brought from the east coast

  • I plan on a rise time of eighteen hours. For me, this usually means mixing up the dough around 8pm at night, to start the rise/bake process at 2pm for a cooled loaf ready for a 6pm dinner. Or try mixing at 5pm on a Saturday afternoon for a 9am rise/bake for a cooled loaf for Sunday 1pm lunch with soup.
  • There are lots of tricks to achieving a warm enough space to rise your bread. This time of year, I place my dough on the mantle above the wood stove. While this doesn't stay super warm all night, it is the warmest place in our house in the winter. 
  • A super hot oven is critical. Be sure to preheat well ahead of time.
  • I have experimented with a variety of cast-iron dutch oven pots, but the size matters. My favorite now was a gift-- a Le Creuset #22, which is a 3.5 quart size. Pyrex can work too.
  • You can make this more or less whole wheat but keep the total flour amount the same. More whole wheat will make a stickier dough, so plan to flour your surface generously. These days I go for 1 cup whole wheat flour, 2 cups white. We buy our white flour from Wheat Montana in 50 (!) pound bags. Do I have a baking problem?
  • Perfecting this recipe (for me) took some time. Don't give up after the first try! It's all delicious, but it took some time of experimenting with the oven preheat, selecting a dutch oven pot, and trying different ratios of white flour to whole wheat to get consistent results. 
  • The recipe I am including below was originally printed in Mother Earth News, but was adapted from the now famous New York Times recipe. Here is a Mark Bittman video that you might enjoy. He claims even a six year old can make better bread than a bakery... kids, try this! They show a few methods of handling the dough that I just learned by watching this just now! For fur reading, Mark Bittman's article "No-Knead Bread, 10 Years Later."
 An all white flour version of the no knead

An all white flour version of the no knead

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No Knead, Dutch Oven Bread
Hands off, simple delicious artisan bread.
Ingredients
  • 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 3 cups, plus more for dusting all-purpose flour (or whole wheat or a combination of the two)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Cornmeal or wheat bran for dusting
Instructions
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Add flour and salt, stirring until blended. The dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at least 8 hours, preferably 12 to 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it. Sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over itself once or twice. Cover loosely and let it rest for about 15 minutes.Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or to your fingers, gently shape it into a ball. Generously coat a clean dish towel with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal. Put the seam side of the dough down on the towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another towel and let rise for about 1 to 2 hours. When it's ready, the dough will have doubled in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.At least 20 minutes before the dough is ready, heat oven to 475 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven as it heats. When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven and lift off the lid. Side your hand under the towel and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. The dough will lose its shape a bit in the process, but that's ok. Give the pan a firm shake or two to help distribute the dough evenly, but don't worry if it's not perfect: it will straighten out as it bakes.Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake another 15 to 20 minutes, until the loaf is beautifully browned. Remove the bread from the Dutch oven and let it cool on a rack for at least 1 hour before slicing.
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: One 1 1/2 pound loaf
 Flouring it heavily before it rises helps keep it from being too sticky to handle or from sticking to the cloth, especially when using whole wheat

Flouring it heavily before it rises helps keep it from being too sticky to handle or from sticking to the cloth, especially when using whole wheat


My newest favorite bread to make are baguettes. I'm sure the French would scoff at what I call a baguette, but it works well for us. Years ago, Micah bought this baguette pan, and I'm sure you could do without it. It requires even less time start to finish than the no-knead recipe above.

 Finished loaves

Finished loaves

  1. You don't need the special pan. Baking on a cookie sheet should work just fine.
  2. Seriously, I have always made this in the food processor. But considering it today, why? It is so messy to clean up! Likely better to do in the stand mixer, or even by hand.
  3. Be sure the oven is hot! Preheat with the water in the pan already.
  4. Don't worry if the shaping isn't perfect, or you don't achieve the sizes the recipe indicates. It just doesn't matter.
  5. Check your oven after about 20 minutes. You may not need the whole baking time.

I'm modifiying the instructions a bit from this original recipe

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French Bread
This quick to prepare recipe can be made in a food processor or stand mixer with a dough attachment.
Ingredients
  • 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 2/3 cups warm water (105-115 degrees)
  • for pan oil
Instructions
Pulse flour, salt and vinegar in a food processor (or stand mixer with dough hook) to combine.Stir in yeast and water with motor running. Blend until dough forms a ball and pulls away from side of bowl, about 1 minute.Cover processor feed tube (or mixer bowl) and let dough rise about 1 hour. Pulse (or mix) a few times after rise to deflate the dough.Generously oil bread pans with oil.Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and divide in half (dough will be very soft). Press 1 half into a 10- by 8-inch rectangle and fold in the 2 short outer sides to meet in the middle, pinching edges together. Turn over (seam side down), then roll and stretch into a 15-inch-long irregular loaf. Put loaf, seam side up, in a bread pan and turn to coat with oil, leaving loaf seam side down.Repeat procedure with remaining dough. Let loves rise, uncovered in a warm draft-free place for 30 minutes.Put oven rack in upper third of oven, then put a large roasting pan with 1 inch of water in it on the lowest rack. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.Make 3 shallow diagonal slashes down length of each loaf with razor. Bake loaves 30 minutes, then carefully remove pan of water from oven. Remove bread from pans and turn upside down on upper rack, and bake until golden and crusty all over, about 5 minutes more. Cool loaves on a rack.
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 2 17-inch loaves

Always remember to let your loaves cool before you slice in. I know it is hard to wait! But you must! The inside can be a bit gummy if you cut too soon. At least wait until it is warm to touch, not hot.

 Baguette pan

Baguette pan

For a variation on the no knead, try this Walnut Cinnamon Raisin version. Maybe I'll make this for the next meat shares delivery?

BakingJennifer Knoetgen