Friday, August 6, 2010

The Beautiful Boule (Bread)

Making bread is a full on sensory experience. The earthy smell of the yeast proofing, the feel of the dough on your hands (and sometimes arms and elbows depending on how messy I am), the crackle of the crust when it comes out of the oven. There is nothing more comforting than the smell of bread baking (although the smell of freshly cut basil does comes close).

I used to make the type of bread that requires lots of kneading and rising and then more kneading. Even though I find the process grounding and the development of patience needed, sometimes life gets in the way. But, life should never get in the way of having good bread around! Since we do not live in Europe where, I believe, bakeries out number homes, we have to do it ourselves.

As a compromise between time and good bread, I found a godsend of a book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (thanks to one of my good friends turning me on to it).

I make bread so often that we have stopped buying bread from the grocery store because mine is just better. (Now that I have patted myself on the back for a job well done, I can get on to the recipe...)

This receipe makes about 2 loaves of bread and 1 pizza or 3 smaller loaves. The basic dough consists of the following ingredients:

11/2 Tbs yeast
11/2 Tbs salt
3 cups lukewarm water
61/2 cups flour
1 5-7 qt covered container (to hold it all in- larger is better because the dough will need somewhere to go when it rises)

Mix the water, salt and yeast in the container- no need to use a bowl.

Let the mixture proof (i.e. set, sit, just leave it alone) for 5 minutes or so.

Start mixing in the flour. Mix in all of it. The original recipe states that it is not necessary to knead the dough.  I mix the dough with my hands in the container, not on the counter. I use my hands because I find it difficult to turn in all the flour with just a wooden spoon (and I also like getting my hands a little dirty), but feel free to mix it in however you see fit.

Once mixed, allow dough to rise in a warm place for 2-5 hours. I usually put a towel in between the top of the container and the lid. It makes it feel more like the traditional way of making bread and I also believe that it allows it to rise better. I have no proof this theory works, but I like it and it is my bread. Feel free to do what you feel is best.

After allowing it to rise, place the entire container in your refrigerator, cover and all. It can stay like that for a week. You can also freeze it, but since the bread is so good, you will end up making all the dough in a short period of time.

When you are ready to bake some bread, take a cutting board or pizza peel and rub it down with cornmeal to make the dough more easily transferable.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees with a baking stone already in oven.

Remove a softball size piece of dough from your container- using a serrated knife to separate the piece of dough from your original. Form it quickly into a ball and score the top of it with the same serrated knife (no need to dirty something else). Let rise for 20 minutes or so.

"Shoosh it" (i.e. slide it off the cutting board) onto the baking stone for cooking.

The book suggests placing a cup of water in a pan under the stone rack at the start of cooking. I have done with and without and didn't see a difference. I am sure there is one, but I didn't see it and so I am not worried about it. The bread has turned out fine either way.

Bake for about 35 minutes. Pull out of the oven and put on cooling rack until cool.

Best way to keep this bread from getting hard is to turn the cut side down on a cutting board. It will keep the bread soft until the end. Then again, if any pieces get too hard, you can always turn them into bread crumbs.

This bread comes out with a lovely crunchy crust and is well worth the space taken up in the refrigerator by the large container. It is fantastic with Nutella for those of us that prefer a little chocolate spread to get the day going.

Happy Baking!