Friday, January 28, 2011

Baking Bread

Some people are potato fiends. Mr Minx could probably eat pasta every day. But my carb of choice is bread - good bread. By that I mean flavorful bread with texture as unlike cotton wool as possible, preferably with a crackly-crisp crust, otherwise it's really not worth eating. This is why I get so upset when I'm given bread that doesn't stand up to the food that it's served with, including the bland starch that came with the rillettes at Chameleon Café and the charcuterie platters at Clementine. Both restaurants do so many things very well so why offer lackluster bread?

Years and years ago, I made my first and only attempt at baking bread. I had found a relatively-simple-seeming challah recipe which turned out a tough, if visually attractive, loaf. I swore off bread baking, leaving it to the professionals like Stone Mill, Bonaparte, and Atwater's.

And then I found Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I was a bit skeptical, but the recipes made sense and seemed too easy not to try. Five minutes per day is an exaggeration, of course; it actually takes much less time. Yes, I did say less time. Making a batch of wet dough takes fewer than 5 minutes of actual hands-on time because there is no kneading involved. Simply mix the wet dough, store it in the fridge, and pull off a blob to rise and bake whenever you feel like it.

I made my first batch on Saturday afternoon, tossing a packet of yeast, some barely-warm water, and flour into the Kitchen-Aid stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. After a few minutes, I had a ball of dough that I then dumped into a large Ziploc-brand resealable plastic container. After a couple of hours on the countertop, during which time the dough rose a bit, I put it in the fridge for later. On Sunday afternoon, I removed a blob of dough, floured it, and let it sit for 40 minutes while I preheated the oven with a bare cookie sheet and a shallow pan in it. When the oven was preheated, I put the dough onto the preheated cookie sheet, poured water into the other pan, and set the timer for 30 minutes.

Voila. A tiny boule, enough for two people to enjoy with dinner.

Although it doesn't look pretty, it tasted wonderful. The crust was properly crisp-crackly, the crumb was moist and firm with a pleasant springy chew, and it was perfect all on its own with a slathering of butter.

I am seriously pleased with myself, and will be experimenting with bread a lot more in the near future.


Beth said...

I love bread baking, although I'll admit I often use the bread machine. This book would be worth checking out.

Kristine said...

1000% agree. You can put absolutely delicious sandwich fillings together, but if the bread sucks, the sandwich sucks. Carbs are my downfall.

MCWolfe said...

I usually just read your blog - have never commented but I am an avid baker and couldn't resist posting. Do yourself a favor - next time bake the loaf in a cast iron dutch oven a la Jim Lahey. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees with the dutch oven in it then bake the dough for 30 minutes with the lid on. Take the lid off and bake for another 15-20 minutes. You will be astounded at the crispy crust that you get - as good as any artisan bakery bread you've ever had. You might need to experiment a bit with timing depending on your oven but give it a try. You'll never go back.

theminx said...

Hi MC,

I would love to try Lahey's technique, but there are problems: 1) I can't lift a cast iron dutch oven so I don't own one; 2) I can't afford a cast iron dutch oven, so I don't own one.

Honestly, using two non-stick cookie sheets - one in the oven as the "stone" and one as the peel - makes bread that tastes as good as any artisan bread I've eaten. I made a baguette yesterday and it was astonishingly good - crusty, nice air pockets inside - Panera wishes they made bread as good as mine.

theminx said...

I'm serious about the crust being good. You know, that hard, gum-stabbing crust that really great bread has. Mine had it.

MCWolfe said...

I'm just so darn happy you're baking, I can't contain myself, especially if you're having success. Isn't it amazing? Please forgive me for adding another piece of advice - try the Brioche recipe from Artisan Bread in 5, then, if you want to just die of bliss, make the sticky buns. They are simply not to be believed.

And my hubs, who cooks professionally, had to grudgingly admit that the brioche was every bit as good as the recipe he uses which takes 3 days and a whole lot of Frenchified effort.

Their second book, Healthy Bread in 5, has some recipes that will blow your mind as well.

Happy baking!

theminx said...

I plan to get to the brioche eventually, and I do love sticky buns! I want to try making rye bread too - somehow the bread I've been making reminds me of the rye we used to eat regularly when I was a kid, so it's possible that the version in ABin5 will take me back to my childhood.

I'm really not a baker at all, apart from brownies and cookies. The fact that making my own bread is now so easy (easier than cookies) is really amazing to me.

theminx said...

MC - made half a batch of brioche dough just now to play with tomorrow!