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.
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:
- 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."
- 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
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.
- You don't need the special pan. Baking on a cookie sheet should work just fine.
- 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.
- Be sure the oven is hot! Preheat with the water in the pan already.
- Don't worry if the shaping isn't perfect, or you don't achieve the sizes the recipe indicates. It just doesn't matter.
- 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
- 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
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.
For a variation on the no knead, try this Walnut Cinnamon Raisin version. Maybe I'll make this for the next meat shares delivery?