Thursday, July 28, 2011

Baking vs Cooking

I like to think of myself as a pretty good cook.  However, my greatest kitchen frustration is baking, specifically baking bread.  It's been said that if cooking is an art then baking is a science.  I think I am understanding that more and more.  When I cook I view a recipe as a guide, I substitute ingredients freely and experiment with my own recipes.  I can't do that with baking.  If you don't follow the recipe exactly,  the results are less then optimal.  My result is usually a loaf that is extremely dense, doesn't taste bad but one piece will sit in your stomach like a brick.

So, all of you bakers out there, I admire your ability to be exact, and to pay attention to detail (ask my wife she'll tell you neither of those traits are among my strengths.  I will stick to cooking and the following baking for dummies method.

This is the only bread recipe that I have ever had success with.....I hope you like it, it is especially for us cooks that can't bake.

So here’s how to make the bread. You’ll need:

3 cups of lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Grab a very large mixing bowl, or a large container that you can cover. In it, mix the water, yeast, and salt. You don’t even have to heat up the water to a precise optimal temperature for the yeast. I’ve even used just regular tap water, and it’s worked well for me. Just let that sit together for a while (you don’t have to wait for the yeast to dissolve completely), then dump the flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon. You don’t need to knead this, and you’re not looking to make it come together into a dough ball. You just want everything mixed well, with no streaks of flour left, and you’re done.

Leave it in your container, covered (but not airtight, or it’ll pop), for a few hours. When it has risen and then deflated a bit, your dough is done. It’s ready to be used or stored in the refrigerator.

To bake the bread, just grab a chunk of dough (they recommend a chunk about the size of a grapefruit, but I’ve done larger chunks with no problem). Dust your hands with flour to help prevent sticking, and gently pull the sides of the dough toward the bottom, rotating the dough, until you get a roundish shape with a smooth surface. It should only take you about a minute or less to do this. The dough won’t be entirely in the bottom, where it may look bunched up, but don’t worry about it.

Put it on a pizza peel that’s been dusted with cornmeal to prevent sticking, and let it rest for at least 40 minutes. No need to cover it. If the dough has been refrigerated, it helps to let it rest a little more, until it’s no longer chilled.

Twenty minutes before you are ready to bake, put a pizza stone in the middle rack of your oven, and put a broiler pan in the bottom rack. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Dust some flour on the top of your loaf, and make your pretty slashes, about 1/4-inch deep. You can do a simple ‘x’ across it, a tic-tac-toe grid, or the stripes, er, scallop pattern.

After twenty minutes of preheating, it’s time to bake. (You can put the bread in after 20 minutes, even if your oven hasn’t reached 450 degrees yet.) Slide the loaf onto the baking stone, and then quickly (and CAREFULLY, lest you burn yourself like some hapless people I know) pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler pan. Then quickly shut the oven door to keep the steam inside.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until you get a nice brown crust. The crust will crackle and pop and make all sorts of happy noises as it sits on a wire rack to cool. It tastes best when you let it cool completely. Don’t worry if your beautiful crust seems to soften a bit. It will harden again, I promise.

And that’s all there is to it. It honestly took me more time to type this out than to make a loaf of bread. And although it still does involve some resting and rising time, the amount of time that you actually handle the dough is really only about five minutes.
The crust is nice and crisp and chewy, and the longer the dough sits, the more it develops a sourdough flavor. When you’re almost out of dough, you don’t even have to wash your container out. You can just go ahead and mix your next batch of dough in it, and the leftover remnants of bread help start it on its merry sourdough way.

so there you go!
Stay hungry my friends

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