Over at my main blog, Strings ‘n Things, I posted about some of my adventures in bread baking. I’ve recently discovered the ease, and fun, of “5-minute A Day Artisan Bread”. (You can find the basic recipe here, at Food.com) One of my dear readers asked me to share some of what I’ve been doing and I’m more than happy to do so. I will warn you right now, this will be a photo intensive post.
The beginning… yes, the bowl is dirty. That’s the leftover bits from the last batch and the recipe (and the book) encourage you not to wash out your bowl between batches. Those little bits of leftover dough will give the next batch more flavour, becoming almost like a sourdough starter. If you really want to, though, of course you can clean the bowl.
I don’t think it really matters what kind of yeast you use. This time, I used up the last of the active dry yeast; the last couple of batches were made with the instant yeast.
Mix it all up. With a wooden spoon. Until it all comes together. The dough will be quite wet.
Now, cover it. I used a dinner plate because it fits perfectly on that particular bowl but you can make this in an ice cream bucket with a lid or whatever large bowl you have. Just don’t cover it completely. You want to leave a bit of space for the gases given off by the working yeast to escape.
Leave it for at least two hours. It will rise and rise and then begin to fall down on itself. That’s what it’s supposed to do. After about 2 hours, the dough is ready to use, if you so choose. However, you can leave it in your fridge for up to two weeks.
When you’re ready to bake some bread, sprinkle the dough with some flour and grab a chunk about the size of a grapefruit. Cut it off with a serrated knife and, very gently, shape the dough into a ball, following the instructions in the recipe.
I then place the ball of dough onto a piece of parchment paper that I’ve placed on an upside down pizza pan. I don’t have a pizza peel, you see, and where the recipe says to sprinkle the peel with flour or cornmeal and later slide it into the oven, I don’t like the thought of flour or cornmeal escaping into my oven. With parchment paper, the dough can stay on the paper, slides easily into the oven, and there’s no powdery mess to clean up later.
Now, it’s time to prep the oven.
I managed to liberate a ceramic tile from our landlord’s stash in the garage. If you have a pizza stone or a bread stone, use it. If not, you can simply slide the whole pizza pan with the bread dough into the oven. As well, you need an old cake tin or some kind of container for water. (And yes, my oven is dirty. We actually use this oven… a lot!)
After your bread has risen for about 20 minutes (no need to cover it, just let it stand), turn on the oven and walk away for another 20 minutes. You want the oven to really get hot.
When everything is ready, generously flour the dough, get out your best serrated knife and slash the surface of the dough. This will allow the bread to rise upwards and gives it that lovely artisan look. And it’s fun! You can be creative with this.
Now, you’re ready to bake the loaf. Slide the dough and the parchment onto the ceramic tile (or whatever your using). Then, immediately pour about a cup of hot water into the cake pan. This will create steam which will help the dough to rise.
Close the oven door and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the loaf is nicely browned and sounds hollow when you tap it’s bottom. Once it’s done, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool on a baking rack for about an hour before slicing and enjoying it.
The resulting bread stays moist for quite a while… much longer than regular white bread. It has a lovely chewy texture. We love it fresh, simply sliced and served with balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dipping. It’s also fantastic toasted.
Now, go bake yourself some bread! It’s easy! It’s fun! It’s totally delicious!