Sunday, August 2, 2009

I'm a Breadbaker - finally!

I've been going Artisan bread crazy the last two weeks! After many years of sweat and tears (no blood, thankfully) I've finally found a method that is perfect. No more kneading, praying, rising, praying, baking, praying, only to be left with something less than edible!

I adapted my Artisan bread recipe from Global Gourmet
, who adapted theirs from the book; Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François.

This is an absolute no-fail, in my opinion. The best part is that it takes no time at all, even the busiest people can fit this into their schedule, and enjoy homemade artisan bread on a daily basis.

Unbelievably Easy Artisan Bread

* 3 cups lukewarm water
* 1-1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (here, 'plain', not rapid-rise yeast is sold in 3 packet sets, you will use '2 and a bit' packets to achieve 1 and 1/2 tbl)
* 1-1/2 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
* 3 and 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all purpose (not self rising) flour
* 3 cups organic plain organic wheat flour
* Cornmeal

-Water should feel just a bit warm to the touch, slightly higher than body temp. (about 100F)
-Add yeast and salt to the water in a large (5qt) plastic food container or bucket. This container should be have a lid that fits, but is not airtight. Stir a little, but don't worry about getting all the yeast to dissolve.

Add both types of the flour, measuring it in with dry-ingredient measuring cups. Gently scoop up flour, then sweep the top level with a knife or spatula; don't press down into the flour as you scoop. Mix with a wooden spoon, this is not as hard as you might think, as this is a fairly wet dough. If it becomes too difficult to incorporate all the flour with the spoon, you can reach into your mixing vessel with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don't knead, just make sure all ingredients are moist. The dough is finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. This takes just a couple of minutes, to the point that the dough will spread out to the sides of the container.

-Cover with a lid that fits well to the container you're using, but make sure it is not airthight - your dough needs to breathe a little. Lidded plastic buckets from your local bakery are perfect for this - just don't seal the lid completely. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it flattens on the top, approximately 2 hours, depending on the room's temperature and the initial water temperature. Longer rising times, up to about 5 hours, will not harm the result. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period, but please note that the flavor is greatly improved after spending a night in the fridge. *Note: your dough will seem quite 'wet', it's ok, that's exactly what you want.

-To bake: Prepare a cookie sheet, by dusting it liberally with corn meal. You may also want to spray with non-stick cooking spray first. Remove your 'bucket o' dough' from the fridge, flour hands generously, and pull up a piece from the center, about the size of a grapefruit, and cut loose with a serrated knife. Stretch your dough, maintaining a round shape, by pulling the dough gently toward the bottom of the ball. Global Gourmet has excellent pics of this step. Pinch the bottom of the loaf together in the center - don't worry about how it looks, rising will smooth out the bottom.
Return your 'bucket 'o dough' to the fridge - the dough will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks, with the flavor improving each day.

-Place your smooth dough ball on your prepared cookie sheet, and leave to rise, uncovered, for about 20 min. You may not see much rising during this step, but it's ok, your bread will rise even more while baking.

-After 20 min, turn your oven on to 450F, and allow to preheat. Place an empty broiler pan, or other shallow ovensafe pan on the bottom rack of the oven. At this time, dust the top of your loaf with flour or cornmeal, and make 3 diagonal slashes, each 1/4 in deep, across the top of your loaf. After 20 min, (even though your oven may not be to 450F), place your loaf in the oven, and carefully but quickly add 1 cup of water to the empty broiler pan. The steam from the pan will allow your loaf to form a crispy crust, while providing a moist interior to your bread.

-Bake for about 30 min., and then test your loaf by checking for a crisp, brown crust. when the crust is very firm to the touch, remove the loaf from the oven, and transfer to a wire cooling rack. The crust will soften slightly as the loaf cools.

-When completely cooled, stored your loaf in a ziploc bag, or other airtight container.
This bread is very versatile. Herbs can be added, either at time of mixing, or to individual loaves, at time of shaping. It can also be used for flatbread, foccacia, or pizza dough. For variations, visit Global Gourmet or do a Google search on 'Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a day'.

After my great success with this recipe, I just don't see my self buying premade bread again! I have used this bread in cold sandwiches, paninis, for pizza, and flatbread - the possibilities are endless!