Re-Posted from www.penncrofthomestead.com
I’m a terrible baker. I just am, precision and accuracy are not in my culinary wheelhouse. But I can make some darn good bread. I had never even humored the idea of bread baking because my lack of skills until my father in law started making these divine crusty loaves and convinced me that the recipe he uses is really easy. OK fine, twist my arm.
I started with this recipe from Makes and Takes. It took a batch or two to actually get comfortable with the process. Because a lot of factors affect bread dough, it’s essential to know what each step is supposed to look like, and not necessarily follow a strict amount of ingredients. I’d wager the temperature and amount of water has the largest bearing on the dough. So here’s my bread steps. Again I’m an awful baker, so don’t be afraid!
Ready for the extensive list of ingredients?
- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
- 6 1/2 cups bread flour (I use King Arthur)
- cornmeal (for dusting the pizza stone)
In a large bowl add the flour, yeast and salt.
Use a candy thermometer to get 3 cups of water to 100-110° F. I think that this is actually an important factor. Too cold and the yeast takes forever to activate and too hot the yeast will die. Dead yeast!!
Add the water one cup at a time while you stir. Yes, you could use a stand mixer. I have my mom’s hand-me-down Kitchen Aid that’s older than me, but I hand stir the bread. Why? A few reasons, 1. The original recipe told me so 2. My mom claims that the mixer would take out the airy bubbles this bread gets 3. I’m lazy. Your move. Stir with some elbow grease and a sturdy wooden spoon. All the flour should be incorporated. Add more water or flour depending on the consistency. It shouldn’t look wet, but it should still be sticky.
Dampen a tea towel with warm water and cover the bowl. Put it in a warm area. On top of the dryer. On top of the oven that’s already on. Or outside on a sunny day. Let the dough rise.
Rise time will vary 1-8 hours. SO, just know that the dough must double in size.
Once risen, preheat your oven to 450° F. Prepare a pizza stone with a dusting of cornmeal. Sprinkle some flour on a surface for kneading. (I use regular flour instead of bread flour just because it’s a little cheaper, and you don’t knead to be wasting your precious bread flour. Pun?) Also dust your hands with some flour while you’re at it, otherwise your fingers become a useless doughy mess.
Carefully pull the dough out of the bowl and give it a few kneads. Doesn’t require too much. Divide the dough. I make two loaves. Shape them and place them on the stone. Score the tops for presentation. Then let them rest just like that for a half hour. While they rest put a rimmed baking sheet in the bottom rack of the oven. When you put the bread in fill that heated pan with water. The steam helps put a golden crust on the bread.
Bake for 30-35 minutes. Again, bake times will vary. Keep an eye on them. Allow the heavenly scent of freshly baked bread fill your home. They’ll be ready when the top is golden, and sounds hollow when you tap it.
As much as you want to, don’t slice up the bread just yet. Let them cool on a baking rack first, the middle still will be a little doughy. And that’s it! This bread can be sliced thin for sandwiches or thick for slabs of creamy goat cheese and fig butter. It also makes great croutons.
The hands on process takes 10 minutes. 10 minutes!
I rarely bought sliced bread, just the occasional baguette or rolls when needed. Now, I’ve gotten into the routine of preparing the dough Friday night or Saturday morning and baking Saturday. One batch of dough will usually last us a week or so. Additionally this bread freezes nicely. One loaf stays out, and the other gets frozen and pulled out to defrost when needed. You could alternatively divide the dough and keep it in the fridge for a week to bake on demand. So many options! Just try it and see what works best for you. Now that I’ve got this process down, I’m interested in learning to make bread from my own sourdough starter instead of packaged yeast. I’ll keep you updated with that endeavor!