Archive for the ‘Bread’ Category

Peasant bread is bread made from simple ingredients without any of the frills. There are no herbs, spices, additions, or special equipment needed to make this bread because – lets face it – peasants can’t afford anything. They survived on what they had and what was available to them. Peasant bread is typically made with whole wheat flour with additions of rye or other healthful flours to supply the necessary nutrients (like protein) peasants were not getting due to the lack of meat on their dinner tables.

But I’m not a peasant and I really couldn’t find whole wheat bread flour, so I’m going away from tradition (surprise, surprise) and delivering a product without the healthful qualities of whole wheat or rye flour and utilizing delicious, empty nutrient white flour. I’ll stick with tradition on one level and utilize no special equipment for this bread loaf with the exception of a pizza stone and pizza peel because I know the peasants had bricks a plenty in their ovens that they cooked on and had to use some device other than their hands to retrieve their food from the fiery depths.

Ingredients

  • 6 cups of Bread Flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp active dry yeast (2 packages)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp salt
  • 3 cups luke warm water (125 degrees or so)

1. Place the flour, yeast, and salt in a large mixing bowl.

2. Pour in the water and use a wooden spoon to combine the ingredients.  You’re eventually going to have to use your hands to finish mixing, but there is no need to knead this dough. Once combined, cover loosely with plastic wrap or a tea towel and allow to rise for 2 hours.

3. Drop the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough equally in half and form two loafs. You can make your loafs into any shape you want. Using a serrated knife or a razor blade, slash the bread several times. I like to make a tic tac toe board on my loafs, but every baker has their own preferences. Place the loafs on a parchment paper lined pizza peel (a big cutting board would work too) and allow to rise for another hour. While the dough is rising, place the pizza stone in a cold oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Place a metal sheet pan on the rack underneath the pizza stone. Pour four cups of water into the sheet pan.

Note: Parchment paper is special equipment I suppose, but a healthy layer of cornmeal with also prevent the dough from sticking to the pizza peel. Also, the metal sheet pan with the water is optional, but this will turn your oven into a steam oven and lead to a delicious crust that will form on the outside of your bread. Do you not have a pizza stone? You can use a cast iron skillet or a dutch oven too.

4.  If there is very little water left in the sheet pan, place another cup or two into the sheet pan. Cook the bread for 40 – 45 minutes until a thick, golden brown crust has formed. The bread should sound hollow when thumped.

5. Serve hot with dinner or allow to cool completely before freezing. Bread generally keeps for up to a month in the freezer.

Note: If you like, now is a good time to rub some butter on the outside of the crust before serving.

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I was jonesing for pizza today, but didn’t have any shredded cheese or red sauce. What I did have, however, was the basic ingredients needed to make focaccia. Below is my last minute, raid the pantry and refrigerator, focaccia made on a balmy spring afternoon.

Ingredients

  • 4 c bread flour
  • 1 1/2 c + 2 tbsp warm water (100 degrees)
  • 1/2 c yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 roma tomatoes, sliced thin
  • Parmesan cheese for sprinkling

1. Start with the paddle attachment on your stand mixer. Combine the yeast, sugar, and 1/2 c water in the bowl. Whisk together to combine and let stand for 10 minutes The mixture will become foamy.

2. Add 1 c flour to the mixture and beat together for 2 minute at medium speed. Then add another cup of flour, 1 1/2 tbsp salt, and 1/4 c olive oil to mixture and beat for 1 minute at medium-low speed until combine. Add the onion to the mixture and fold to incorporate.

3. Switch to the hook attachment on your mixer. Turn the mixer on low and add flour 1/2 cup at a time. Allow the flour to integrate into the mix fully before adding another 1/2 c. The dough should pull away completely from the sides. The end result will be a soft, slightly sticky dough. This should take around 10 minutes in total time. Cover with a towel and let sit for 30 minutes.

Note: The picture on the left shoes the shaggy, rough texture that will occur somewhere between your third and fourth half cups. The goal is to stop kneading the dough when the dough looks like the picture on the right.

4. Lay parchment paper on a heavy rimmed baking sheet. Place the dough on the paper and press out into a oval shape about 1/2 inch thick. Lightly oil some plastic wrap and lay on top of the pan. Leave to rise at room temperature for 2 hours.

5. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Take off the plastic wrap and insert your fingers (clean hands please) into the dough about 1 inch apart. Drizzle some olive oil over the dough.

6. Lay the tomatoes on top of the dough, sprinkle with 1 tsp kosher salt, and grate fresh parmesan on top.

7. Cook for 20 – 25 minutes until the top and bottom have browned, but before the cheese burns.

8. Take the focaccia out of the oven and place on a cooling rack. This ensures your crust will remain crispy. Cut into squares. Serve warm or cold with more freshly grated parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

I went to the store to buy a loaf of crusty bread to accompany a hearty chowder when I had a culinary stroke. Small loafs ranged from $4 to $6, with the most expensive (Brioche) in the $9 range. I began to wonder if the flour they were using had magical powers that would make me taller or better looking. Or perhaps their yeast came from the far away land of Narnia or packaged in the kitchens of Hogwarts. But no, their ingredients were the same that I had in my kitchen.

Bread making became wildly popular in the late 90s when bread machines flooded the market. Then people realized how difficult a bread machine was to maintain and operate with very small loafs as a result. Most machines were sent to kitchen purgatory where I guess they remain today. So why then has bread baking been abandoned in western culture? I figure if our ancestors can make bread with a wood fired stove and some basic ingredients, there’s no reason why we cannot do the same. So in honor of all our ancestors who baked bread daily without the use of any fancy kitchen equipment, I’m going to empower you today that if you have a cast iron pot and basic pantry ingredients in your house, you too can make an artisan bread loaf that you will be proud to serve with your next meal.

Ingredients

  • 3 c bread flour
  • 1 1/2 c + 2 tbsp water
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp dry active yeast

1. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and yeast. Add the water and stir until combined. The dough will look shaggy and rough, but this will even out as the proofing occurs.

2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. If you want, write the time you prepared the dough on the plastic to remind you how much time has passed. Let sit on your counter or in a warm room for 14 – 18 hours. Temperature is key here. 70 degrees will yield a comfortable temperature for the dough to work its magic.

3. When you see lots of little bubbles at the surface of the dough, it is ready to work with. Flour a  work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Fold the dough over onto itself once or twice and cover with plastic. Sprinkle the top with some more flour and let sit for 15 minutes.

4. Flour your hands and shape the dough into a ball. Lightly oil a mixing bowl and place the bread loaf, seam side down, into it. Dust the top with more flour and cover with another towel. Let the dough rise for another 2 hours.

5. 30 minutes before the dough is ready, put a dutch oven (or cast iron pan) into a cold oven and heat to 450 degrees.

6. When the dough is ready, remove the pot from the oven (please be careful) and set on the stove. Remove the towel from the top of the dough ball. Turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. It’s going to look like a mess and you may think that something went horribly wrong, but the cooking process will fix everything.

Note: This is artisan bread, it is meant to be imperfectly shaped, a little oval, uneven, etc. This adds to the uniqueness of each loaf. If you would like to add any scores, cuts, or design to the top, take a razor blade and really sharp paring knife and cut just the top of the loaf. Any cut will be become exaggerated when cooking.

7. Arrange your racks so that the dutch oven will sit in the center of your oven. Put the lid on the dutch oven and cook for 25 minutes. Then remove the lid and cook for up to 15 minutes until the top has reached the desired darkness.

8. Turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack and let cool for at least 1 1/2 hours.