Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Artisan Bread at Home
Have you every gone to a really, really good bakery and come out with a loaf of just plain, incredibly delicious bread? Or been out to eat and they bring the bread out first and you forget all about the main course you ordered because the bread is what you really want to eat all night? I have figured out how to make it at home.
I adore bread. My oldest daughter asked me the other night, "Mom, if you made a new best friend, would they have to love bread to stay your friend?" It was an odd question (she is the queen of odd, off the wall questions), but I finally said, "yes, I think they would!"
I love to eat bread, and I love to make bread. However, I have had trouble getting my bread to taste like those artisan breads at the bakery. I discovered that the secret is a long, slow rise - and very little (or no) sugar. The trick to a really crisp crust is to add steam to the oven as the bread bakes.
This recipe comes from Home Baking by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, one of my favorite cookbooks. I have reviewed it before, but this is one of my favorite recipes. I don't make this near often enough, mostly because I don't think far enough ahead. This recipe isn't hard at all, it just takes forethought. It literally takes days to make, but 99% of that is just waiting time. Don't let this throw you. Just toss the stuff together and set in in the corner. Add a few things now and then and then bake when ready. Seriously, it is SO worth it! It is named after the authors' son Dom. It does make a really big batch (four huge loaves) feel free to half it, it works fine.
Here is how it goes, this is my very condensed version, the book has much more detailed instructions:
Dom's Large Batch Italian Boules and Focaccia
Put in a bowl:
3 c. water
1/4 tsp active dry yeast
Stir to dissolve, then add:
3 c. all purpose flour
Stir until a smooth batter forms. Cover and let sit 8 to 24 hours, whatever is most convenient.
Add to the batter:
6 c. lukewarm water
Stir then add:
2 c. whole wheat flour
4 c. all purpose flour
Stir until smooth then cover and set aside for 4 to 12 hours as convenient. Then add:
7 to 8 c. all purpose flour
Stir in bowl until you can't stir anymore then turn out to floured surface and knead in the rest of the flour. The dough should be smooth, soft and almost sticky. You really don't want to add too much flour. Put back in the bowl, cover with plastic and let rise 3 1/2 to 4 hours (or over night in a cool place).
To shape the loaves, cut the dough into four equal parts. SEt aisde loosely covered with plastic. Line three 8 to 10 inch round shallow wooden bowls or baskets with cotton clothes (such as tea towels) and flour the cloths well.
On a lightly floured surface, tuck the sides of 1 piece of dough under all around to make a large round boule. Pinch together underneath. Transfer the boule to a bowl or basket seam side up. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Let rise for 1 1/2 hrs, covered loosely with plastic wrap.
Forty-five minutes before you plan to start baking place a baking sotne in the oven. Preheat to 500 degrees.
When it is risen and the oven is preheated, transfer the bread to the baking stone. Transfer it to a peel that has been dusted liberally with corn meal first if that helps. With a really sharp knife, slash three cuts in the top. Spritz the loaf liberally with water and then throw some ice cubes in the bottom of the oven. Shut the door! The ice and the water will add steam to the oven and you don't want it to escape! You can spritz it with water a few more times in the first 5 to 10 minutes.
Bake until darkly golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. It should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Let cool on a wire rack.
While it is cooling, you get to hear the bread "sing." This is my favorite part (other than eating it!). As the crust cools, it crackles quietly. It means it is going to have one of those fabulous crusty crusts. Yum!
If you can't fit all the loaves in at once, don't sweat it! Just bake them in batches, the longer rising time won't hurt them.
You can also make focaccia out of this dough. Before baking, press it out flat and let rise 45 minutes or so. Dimple the surface with your fingers and brush liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt and herbs (basil and/or rosemary are good). We always do garlic too!
Seriously, if you are a bread fan, you have got to try this!