Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday: Simple Breads 2 - Crusty Bread

Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

Unless you don't read the news, or unless you have a personal shopper for groceries who doesn't want to bother you with the petty little details of how much things actually cost, you probably can't help but notice that the price of certain basic items are skyrocketing. Dairy products, grains, and oils, in particular, have been shooting up, and with grain prices rising, bread costs have also risen tremendously. Since I have a consuming everything in his path rampaging Godzilla teenage boy to feed, and this boy loves him some carbs, I decided a few weeks ago to start baking bread, an area of cooking in which I've always sucked been less than successful.

Judy Thomas came to the rescue with her "Mother's Miracle Bread," which you can read about here. I love that bread, and so does my family, but it's relatively high in fat and calories, and I wanted to find something lighter. The Week came to my rescue with not one, but two, simple recipes under the title "The World's Two Easiest Breads". Now, I don't know about those folks in The Week, because the first recipe includes 20 hours' rising time, and if you're like me, that much planning ahead is a deal breaker. The second recipe however... ahhhhhhh..... perfect, crusty bread every time. It's truly baguette-like in consistency - crusty chewy on the outside, and soft and light on the inside. And easy-peasy.

The recipe looks complicated, but once you've done it the first time, you'll see how easy it is. This recipe makes four, small loaves - each one perfect for 2 - 4 people at a dinner or over a day's usage (unless you have a teenage boy in the house). I think I'm going to try to mix whole grains in the next time, but for this first series of loaves, they've been perfect.

I also found a wonderful English Muffin bread recipe which is equally easy, and I shall post that one next week. But for now, Nick Fox's New York Times article, as reprinted in The Week, gives us Dr. Jeff Hertzberg's recipe for:

Simple Crusty Bread

Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francis

6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough
4 cups water (yes, bread-makers, you read that right)
1 1/2 TBS yeast
1 1/2 TBS kosher salt

1. In a large bowl, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose (this is an UNDERSTATEMENT - the dough will be very, very sticky and unlike usual bread dough. Just forge ahead anyway.) Cover, but not with an airtight lid.

2. Let dough rise at room temperature at least two hours (and up to 5). Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks. Here's a picture of half the dough after being in the fridge for a couple of days:

3. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on the dough. Tear off about a grapefruit-sized piece (it will be VERY sticky) and form it into a sort-of ball. Drop it onto a parchment paper or wax paper or silpat-lined surface sprinkled with LOTS of cornmeal. It will not be pretty. It will look something like this:

(If you're skilled at the art of using a pizza peel, not to mention if you have a pizza peel, use that as the rising surface and then slide dough onto baking stone. I do not have a pizza peel, and can't imagine trying to slide this sticky dough in any case, so I used the technique that I mentioned above.)

4. Let it rest for about 45 minutes if it hasn't been refrigerated, and maybe an hour to an hour and a half if it has been refrigerated. While dough is resting, put a pizza or baking stone or other surface that can stand a LOT of heat on the middle rack of the oven. Place a broiler pan at the bottom of the oven (or if you have bottom coils, then place it on the lowest position rack). Turn the oven to 450 F. After oven has preheated, make sure the stone or pan has 20 minutes to heat up. The set up should look something like this:

5. Okay, here's the one tricky step of the whole thing: Once everything is rested and heated, prepare one cup of hot water. Dust the resting dough with flour and slash the top three times with a serrated knife. It won't really slash, but just do it anyway - it will work during baking. Grab dough off surface and sprinkle baking surface with lots more cornmeal. Plop dough on baking surface. Pour water in broiler pan and close oven door as quickly as you can. Bake for 30 - 35 minutes. Crust will be a deep brown, like this:

6. When timer goes off, turn off oven and open oven door. Leave bread like that for 10 more minutes and then remove it from baking surface, if you don't do this step, it might stick to the baking stone. And finally, let it cool thoroughly before cutting. If you want to tear it off, have it warm. Enjoy!


Korie said...

mmm bread. Every time you post a bread recipe I sit here and long for warm crusty bread....buuut then I remember the 4 pounds I put on this month and I think no! No bread for me!
You wicked temptress, you!


glamah16 said...

I have this book but have yet to make anything. Yes I am being more careful than ever food wis$e. I'm tryiny to shop more carefully and plan. And dont even mention the riots and shortages in Haiti and Egypt.The other day a homelss asked us for our food directly leaving a restaurant rather than money to get food, etc. It was telling about the state we are in.

Mae Travels said...

that "easy" bread still sounds like a major undertaking. I'm not the earth-mother type that you seem to be.

And I think anyone writing about food must be getting obsessed with the deteriorating world situation.

Luisa Perkins said...

Wow--gorgeous! Maybe I'll experiment with this using whole wheat flour.

Jen said...

One thing about this recipe, Lilac, are the loaves are very small, so maybe you could make it if you're having company or whatever. It really can just stay in a bowl in the fridge with a cloth napkin over it.

What do you think of the book, Coco? The recipe sure didn't work as I originally read it - the reason mine is so long here is that I adapted things based on what I've learned

Jen said...

Mae, I know it seems like it, but it's really not. If you're home anyway, once the dough is made and risen it's fresh bread on the table in about an hour and a half with only about 5 minutes of active time on your part.

Luisa, let me know how it turns out. In the next batch I'm going to do 1/3 whole wheat, and then go one to 2/3 - I've found it's better to get D and C on board with the original recipe and then keep tinkering so it's healthier.

Heather said...

Your stone is a lot cleaner than mine, but I haven't been baking any bread. I need to get on that.

Alex Elliot said...

Your Wed. posts always make me hungry! I would love to have some fresh bread right now.

anno said...

Yum! You are a wicked temptress. How many loaves does this make? (Just want to make sure it makes enough)

Ben said...

Even though I have been making my own bread for a while now, there is always something wrong with it. Yeast doesnt like me :(

Your bread looks awesome. I will try this recipe next time :)

Dru said...

mmm, it looks good.

Flower Child said...

The Washington Post did an article today on bread - and made it look easy. I think it involved a bit of rise time but the method they used with a Dutch oven looked cool.

Jen said...

Heather, my stone is new, therefore clean. It was a purchase I was finally able to legitimize as I'm entering this new major breadmaking stage. And this recipe is great.

Alex - this is so easy - go make some!

Jen said...

Anno - it makes four, small loaves. The loaves are dense, though, so again, I think it's about a loaf per family per day of a family about our sizes. (I'm not sure that last was a coherent sentence)...

Ben - yeast HATES me. That's why I love this recipe and the last one I put up - yeast seems to behave with both of them. Try 'em!

Jen said...

Dru, I hate posting this after reading your blog from the past couple of days!

Flower Child - this is the same bread, basically - I'll bet you it's the same article. It was the OTHER version that lasted 20 hours. This version was an adaptation of the 20=hour rise and then cooked in dutch oven.

Shan said...

That looks like some yummy bread! Mmmmm!

Momisodes said...

That looks amazing! I've never attempted this, but it looks like a big challenge (for me). Thank you for posting the recipe !

Anonymous said...

I bow down to anyone who has either:

1. An oven clean enough to display in their blog

2. The guts to show theirs anyway

I have neither.

But, mmmmm, this weekend I think I'm gonna have me some bread!

Jen said...

Shan - it's really good. And truly easier than I managed to make it look.

Sandy - it's really not that much of a challenge. I know it looks that way. I think I kinda blew it this week in my overly meticulous instructions.

D - I get to cheat because a. we remodeled our 1960s kitchen last year, and b. my oven is finally self-cleaning and we actually do it from time to time! Enjoy the bread - it rocks!

Goofball said...

that really looks very crusty

Maureen said...

Oh crap... I am so hungry for fresh baked bread now. I have never tried baking bread before, but I just may have to try this.

Looks great. I can just about smell it.... mmmmmm.

Blog Hoppin'

Liz Dwyer said...

Yum. I have a breadmaker but I haven't used it in ages. Yours looks exactly like it does at the grocery store. Now all it needs is a bowl of soup!

Darla said...

Glad I'm not the only one who is noticing the high price of food. We just lowered our food budget (and committed to it on our blog *gulp*).

~blog hopping.

Núria said...

Jen your bread looks like a beautiful sculpture!!! I'm thinking about making my own too but haven't step ahead yet :D

Food, grains, rice... this is getting so expensive now because wanting to be ecological and using them to do biocombustible we don't have enough for us (the world) to eat!!! Does this make sense?????

Paola Westbeek said...

Yum! That looks and sounds delicious! :)

I adore good bread- something I can't fathom ever having to give up!


Jen said...

I'm sorry I'm late on comments...

Goofball - it IS very crusty and chewy. Kind of the opposite of what I'll post this week.

Maureen - it really is easy. No kidding!

Liz, I gave up on my breadmaker because I found just making it from scratch was just as easy and SO good!

Jen said...

Darla, it's a hard time globally right now. Anyway, I'm trying to cut back by doing things like this.

Nuria, it's truly easy - with the complex things you make you could snap your fingers and have it on the table! And no, using crops for biofuel needs to be stopped when people are going without food. We need other transportation solutions.

Paola, thanks for stopping by! And yes, I can't fathom giving it up, either!