Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How to bake bread at home

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Nothing makes my husband and two boys happier than a loaf of homemade bread on the kitchen counter.

When it comes to baking bread, I go through phases. I get into a rhythm and turn out a loaf every few days for a month. Baking bread for my family makes me happy.

Then I realize that my whole family is eating too much darn bread and starting to look a little puffy around the middle, and I stop cold turkey.

One good thing about baking bread at home is that homemade bread tastes great dipped into soup. Soup is made from vegetables. Therefore, when I bake bread my family eats more vegetables. (This is my attempt at rationalizing and justifying my desire to bake bread. Do you buy it?)

I have tried all the fashionable methods of baking bread and haven't been satisfied with any of them in their entirety. Jim Lahey's no-knead method makes a great loaf but creates way too many floury kitchen towels. The Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day method is convenient but I find the texture of the loaves too cottony for my taste. I kept a sourdough starter for almost 20 years, moved it cross-country three times, and made more than 100 loaves from it before it got contaminated with an unpleasant mold and I had to toss it.

So I've come up with my own method that takes elements from here and there and turns out what I think is the perfect loaf of bread: thick, crisp crust; chewy interior speckled with bubbles; a sour-ish flavor without fussing with sourdough.

The key to the best texture is a very wet dough. Wet. Almost as wet as muffin batter. Forget that thing about kneading bread dough until it's as smooth as a baby's bottom. That works for other kinds of bread but not for an artisan-style multigrain bread. And like Jim Lahey's bread, it should be baked in a cast iron or enamel covered Dutch oven - the cover traps moisture and keeps the loaf tender on the inside.

This recipe is very flexible and very forgiving. Look at the proportions and the method, not the exact measurements. If you don't have a stand mixer, you can do this by hand, but I warn you, you will be tired. And don't hesitate to ask questions - leave a comment below and I'll talk you through it.

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Homemade artisan multigrain bread
Use this method to make beautiful loaves of artisan-style bread, with a thick crust, chewy interior and sourdough-like flavor.
  • 1/2 tsp instant yeast
  • 1/4 tsp honey
  • 2 1/2 cups warm water (approximate)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp salt
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast, honey and 1/2 cup warm water. Stir with a spoon and let stand 5 minutes. The yeast will "bloom" and start to foam. As soon as you see the yeast activating, move on to the next step.Add the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, wheat germ, cornmeal (if using) and salt to the bowl. Fit the mixer with the dough hook and turn it to low. With the mixer running, start adding the warm water in a slow stream. Stop now and then to let the mixer distribute the water among the dry ingredients. Keep adding water until the dough comes together. It should be wet and should NOT pull away from the sides of the bowl completely - you're looking for the texture of thick muffin batter. The dough will require different amounts of water on different days - the weather affects this - so don't be afraid to use more if you need to. When all the ingredients are incorporated and the dough is clearly one single entity but still very wet, let the mixer run for 5 minutes. (This will start to develop the gluten.) After 5 minutes, stop the mixer, remove the dough hook, remove the bowl from the mixer, cover it with plastic wrap, and stick it in a warm place for 12 hours or overnight. The dough will rise a bit and get bubbly.After 12 hours or the next morning, scatter some all-purpose flour on your counter and spray a sheet of parchment paper with cooking spray. Using a spatula or dough scraper, carefully turn the dough out of the bowl onto the counter, trying to disturb its bubbly structure as little as possible. Sprinkle a little more flour on top and, using your hands, gather the ends of the dough toward the center of the pile, making a rough "ball" (in quotation marks because the dough will be very loose and will be more of a blob than a ball). With the "seam" side down, set the blob of dough onto the prepared parchment paper. Spray a piece of plastic wrap with cooking spray and loosely tent that over the dough. Leave the blob of dough on the counter for about 2 hours. It won't really rise, but it will expand a bit - that's fine.While the blob is resting, put a cast iron or heavy enameled covered Dutch oven into your oven and turn the heat to 450. Yes, you want to heat the pot with the oven.When the blob has finished resting and the oven is hot, carefully remove the pot from the oven and take off the lid. Carefully lift the parchment and plop the whole thing into the pot, paper and all. Cover the pot immediately and return it to the oven. Bake covered for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake the loaf uncovered another 20-25 minutes. Remove the loaf from the pot and cool on a rack or board at least 30 minutes before cutting.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 1 large round loaf


Sarah said...

Can't wait to try this recipe! I have the same taste in bread as you described, and I have been baking bread for over 7 years without finding that *perfect* texture.

Unknown said...

2 questions: First, if I choose to omit the 1/2 cup of cornmeal, do I need to replace it with a half cup of something else?
Second, do I warm the dutch oven for the entire 2 hours while the the "blob" is resting?

Thanks for sharing, can't wait to try it!

Erika Kerekes said...

@Natalie - hi! To your first question, no, not really, although uncooked rolled oats work well too. To the second question, it takes my oven about 45 minutes to get really hot with the pot inside, and I have a kicka$$ Viking, so it probably depends on your equipment. Just make sure it's good and hot (i.e. wait at least 10 minutes after the light goes on or goes off or however you know it's up to temperature).

Libbety said...

I just made a pot of soup so now I'll have to make your bread. Wow, what a beautiful piece of work.

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