Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Bread

The past year or two, I have gotten really in to baking bread. Homeade quality is rarely as high as an excellent bakery but since freshness makes a big difference and good homemade is much much better than day old bakery bread, I find it's more convenient, more fulfilling, more delicious and cheaper to bake rather than buy under more circumstances. Additionally, when I bake at home the resulting bread doesn't have all the stabilizers and preservatives they use to keep commercial bread shelf stable for longer. At a more abstract level though, there is something very powerful about baking bread myself. Just by putting a few ingredients together, exposing it to heat we end up with something wildly different. This surprising process by which wheat is turned into loaves was the key factor that led to the rise of cities based on agriculture (in much of the world). I am moved by being part of the simple discovery with such profound implications.

I find that it is the easiest to make this recipe using a digital scale. They can be had for pretty cheap although here is a good one for $30. It's not necessary though--I list volume measure later.

Here are some weights (see above for info on scales):
Flour 860g (we prefer bread flour to all-purpose. You could also make it partially whole wheat or other types of flour but need to work to get the same lift. Since I make a lot of bread I buy King Arthur Special by the 50-pound sack.)
Water 690g
Salt 16-18g (I prefer {misnamed} Kosher Salt)
Yeast 2g (I prefer jars/cartons to packets)

1. Mix flour, yeast, and salt. (salt can kill yeast so i put them on opposite sides before i mix)
2. Add water
3. Mix
4. Let stand in a warm, but not hot, place at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours (18 hours is optimal) [if it is colder than 65 degrees or so in your house overnight, you'll get less rise]

after the 12 to 24 hours have passed
5. Stir dough a couple times so it begins another rise.
5. Preheat oven to 465 with a soup pot/dutch oven with a lid (make sure it is ovensafe)
6. When oven reaches 465, take pot out and dump in the dough
7. Optional--dust top with a bit of flour (this just makes it look nice)
8. Put in over for 38 minutes with lid on
9. After 38 min, remove lid and bake for additional 10 to 20 min, until chestnut brown (some prefer golden but then you'll get less caramelization of the crust)


Ta Da!

It is a really forgiving recipe so if you mess up, don't worry. It will be delicious no matter what.
If you'd like to make an olive bread, follow the same recipe to make the dough. While you are pre-heating the oven, dice some olives. Obviously this will be easier if you buy pitted olives. Stir olive bits into the dough before dropping the dough in the pot. Try to have as little olive brine as possible get into the dough. Don't put the olives in at the beginning since they inhibit the rising of the dough.

Any pot with a tight-fitting lid should work so long as it is oven safe to 465. Here is a good candidate. Note, that if you buy that one, you'll have to swap out the top handle since it isn't oven safe to a high enough temperature. It's pretty easy though, just unscrew the screw and add a replacement.

I find that lining the pot with a silpat like this one completely prevents the bread from sticking to the bottom of the pot and makes cleanup much easier.

Here are volume measures:
6 cups of flour
1/2 teaspoon of yeast
somewhere between 3 and 4 teaspoons of salt
3 and 1/4 cups of water

Thank to AZW for his mentorship in this arena. Thanks to Mark Bittman (popularize-r) and Jim Lahey (originator) for the original recipe.

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