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.