Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Bread

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If you have been to the ranch recently, you have probably had "The Bread" (as Ian calls it). Simply put this is a variation on the many "no-knead" bread recipes that have been circulating on the web for the last few years. I love the concept of these recipes and here's why:

- No need to knead. I may be young and enthusiastic about homemade bread but that doesn't mean that I like the sore wrists, stiff shoulders and gunky fingernails that come with kneading. You could knead if you had the inkling, it wouldn't hurt the bread one bit.

- The second thing I love about no-knead bread is that they are exceptionally accommodating to tight schedules. With a tagline of "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day", it is hard to not be sold on that concept. Now, I may not be a busy career woman who has no time to wait for bread to rise when I get home from work but that doesn't mean that I don't appreciate the time saver of having the dough in the fridge. A house guest neglects to tell me they are bringing a friend along and I only made dinner for three? No problem, I can quickly stretch the meal just by adding a loaf of bread.

- These recipes encourage baking a small loaf of fresh bread with your meals. No making a huge loaf and only eating half before it goes stale or molds. Plus, many yummy bread smells.

- It gets better with neglect! The first day the bread is OK but forget about it in the fridge for a week or so and it develops a tangy sourdough flavor. Skip washing the container between batches to carry that tanginess to the next batch.

- The last thing I like about these recipes it that they are very versatile. "The Bread" is always delicious but just by rolling it out I could make flatbreads, pizza or even cinnamon rolls. The possibilities are endless.

OK so these recipes sound fabulous and I'm all jazzed up and ready to get baking but then I realize that I am not as enthusiastic about following a million teeny steps required to replicate baking artisan bread in my lowly kitchen oven. I'm not keen on lining my oven with bricks, buying an expensive pizza stone or misting the loaves with water every 15 minutes while they bake. Oh and the recipes that want me to proof the dough in linen-lined baskets and then gently turn them over into a preheated 500 degree enameled dutch oven without letting all the air out the dough (to preserve the large holes found in rustic breads) or scorching the bejeebus out of myself? Forget about it. This was supposed to be easy.

I love bread and I can appreciate a delicious artisan loaf but it is not like I live in a big city only blocks from a world-renowned bakery. It would be awesome to make such a thing at home but the realization I came to is that I can coddle this bread along at every point in the fermentation process and create something that is pretty good or I can take a few shortcuts and come out with a loaf that is decent and still fills the house with delicious bread smells.

So here it is, The Bread - my no fuss, no special equipment required, no weird ingredients, bakes while you are making dinner, not perfectly shaped (but that just makes it more legitimately "rustic") Bread.

Ingredients you need
- 6 cups AP flour (bread flour works too if you have that on hand or a mixture with whole wheat but I recommend making a batch first before experimenting with whole wheat)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons yeast (less if using instant yeast)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (I use a coarse kosher salt, but table salt works just fine)
- 3 cups warm water

Equipment you need
- a storage container with a lid that is not air-tight (otherwise the dough can get funky). I use a six-quart, flat-lidded, plastic storage container which is big enough for a whole batch of dough to rise without exploding over the edges but small enough to not take up too much fridge space.
- measuring cups and spoons of course
- sturdy wooden spoon
- baking sheet
- metal pie tin or disposable aluminum pan (a steam pan for the oven)
- extra flour for dusting the loaves
- something to keep the dough from sticking to the pan. I use wheat bran but not everyone has that sitting around. You could use parchment paper, a non-stick spray like Pam or Baker's Joy or you could dust the sheet with cornmeal. Choices, choices!

The steps:
1. In storage container, combine the flour with salt and yeast (no need to proof yeast). Pour warm water over top and stir with wooden spoon. You do not have to incorporate every little dry spot, just stir until well combined like this:

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2. Put on lid and place box in a warm place like on top of the fridge or near a warm window. Let it rest for about 45 minutes to an hour. At this point the dough will be starting to rise but there will still be some dry spots. Roll the dough around a bit with the spoon then brush the dough with a little warm water (or use your hands, whatever suits you) just to make sure there are no dry spot on the top and to keep it from drying out. Let the dough rest until double in volume like this:


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3. At this point you could pull off a hunk of dough and bake it, but if you let it rest overnight it develops more flavor and character and will continue to do so over the new week or so. If you aren't going to be baking right now, toss it into the fridge.

4. Time to make some bread! Take your steaming pan and half-fill with water. Put it in the oven on a lower rack (leave the middle rack for the bread) and turn heat to 475 degrees. While the oven is heating, prepare the dough.

5. Take the dough out of the fridge. Many no-knead recipes want you to bring the dough up to room temperature but frankly I didn't one time and it turned out fine so I haven't bothered doing that since (just one less "fuss" in my recipe). Dust counter or cutting board with flour then tear off about a pound of dough (about the size of an orange). Plop the dough on the floured counter and we are ready to shape the loaf if you can really call it that. I smoosh the dough blob out a bit and think of it as having four corners. Gently grab one corner fold it into the center of the dough securing with a firm press of the fingers. Do this with all four corners to loosely form a loaf. Resist the urge to mess with it more; by pulling the dough too tight or making a taut skin, experience has taught me that these loaves are unable to rise very well and tend to split one side and topple over - though they still taste good.

6. Prepare the baking pan to prevent the dough from sticking. I sprinkle the baking sheet generously with bran then place the shaped dough on the pan. Next, dust the loaf generously with flour and lightly slash the top with a serrated knife.

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7. Bake at 475 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes until the loaf is a deep, golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack at least 30 minutes before slicing (if you can resist).

See, it really is just that easy. The best compliment I ever received about the bread came from Angela's ten year old daughter who said, "Mmm, this bread is good like New Season's (a local natural grocery store) bread". It is not a fancy artisan loaf but it hits the spot and there is just something so satisfying about homemade bread.

So whether you have avoided baking your own bread because you think it is hard or you get home too late from work or your shoulders hurt from kneading or you just don't want to get dough under your nails, this recipe is for you. So get in the kitchen and let's start baking!

3 comments:

Rachel M. said...

You know what is funny...I was just thinking this afternoon about the bread made at The Ranch. :) This looks very yummy. We will have to try it!

Anonymous said...

I love the pictures and stories. Thanks for sharing.

Katia said...

Thanks for stopping by!

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