It’s cold in St Louis. Oh yes. About 9 degrees cold. We had such a temperate summer, I should have expected we’d have a rough winter. While my hobby this summer was gardening, my fall vegetables failed completely with this cold weather that hit all of a sudden. Therefore, since it’s just too cold to do anything in public or outside, I needed another hobby indoors. So, why not bread baking? I just got a wild hair up my butt and decided that IT WAS ON.
Bread baking is terrifying in theory. There are so many jargony words like “bialy” or “gluten cloak” (I actually youtubed what the hell that was, because it sounds so mysterious and strange), and kneading seems like a very particular process that can be easily screwed up. With some trepidation, I found my first recipe that I thought I could tackle. And let me tell you– it was SHOCKINGLY easy. I’ve since learned that “no knead” bread is like a thing now, and it is pretty awesome.
As long as you’re hanging around your apartment, and thus have time to spare, you can make bread. It’s incredibly hands off, though it does take some time. This first attempt is boule, a traditional French bread. As long as you have yeast (cheap and at any grocery store–just store in your fridge– I have Fleischmann’s active dry yeast in a jar), you can do it. Thanks to Hummingbird High for this excellent recipe.
For the Dough:
(makes 4 loaves
– for me it made 3
- 3 cups (680 grams) lukewarm water (ideally around 100 (F) — it should feel warm to the touch, but not hot)
- 1 tablespoon (10 grams) active dry yeast
- 1 “heaping” tablespoon (20 grams) kosher salt
- 6 ½ cups (910 grams) all-purpose flour
- a handful of cornmeal for the bottom of the Dutch oven or baking surface of your choice
For the Boule(s):
- Combine the water, salt, and yeast in a mixing bowl or large tupperware. I like to put my container on top of a kitchen scale and tare it so I can easily add up the weights as I go. I did do this because I have a (cheap) kitchen scale, so why not use it?! However, I think it’ll be ok if you have good measuring cups.
- Add in the flour, and mix with a wooden spoon until the ingredients are evenly combined.
- If you’re using a tupperware, set the lid on top, but don’t seal it — you don’t want the cover to be airtight. If you’re using a bowl, loosely cover the top with plastic wrap.
- Let the dough sit for a minimum of two hours. Leaving it longer — even overnight — should be fine. At this point, you can either continue on to the next step, or refrigerate the dough and use it in the next two weeks. If you do refrigerate it, leave the top loose for a couple days before sealing it. (I made one loaf right away, then stored my dough over a week until I made my other two loafs.)
- When you’re ready to bake, take out a piece of dough about the size of a grapefruit. You’ll want to use some flour on your hands and the surface of the dough to keep it from sticking too much, but try to avoid incorporating the added flour into the dough. At this point, you want to keep as much gas in the bread as possible, so don’t punch it down or knead it. Instead you want to form what Hertzberg and François call a ‘gluten cloak.’ **Note: I couldn’t understand his instructions just reading them. This youtube video really helped clarify: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDBJkxoNpE8)** Holding the dough in both hands, you want to stretch out the top of the ball and pull the bottom together. The top and sides should be smooth and cohesive. The bottom will seem a little messy — that’s okay. It will flatten out and come together as the dough rests and bakes. If you’re using a cast-iron Dutch oven, any lightly floured surface will do. If you’re using a baking sheet, put the bread on it to rest — this way you can just move the whole tray to the oven when you’re ready to bake. And if you’re using a baking stone and have a pizza peel, make good use of it!
- Let the dough rest for about 40 minutes. About half-way through the rest, put the Dutch oven (or baking stone) in the oven and preheat to 450 (F). If you set the lid of the Dutch oven to the side or on the bottom rack you can allow it to preheat without having the extra step of to take it off before you can put in your dough. This might sound nitpicky, but the cast iron will be quite hot and heavy, so minimizing the number of steps is as much a matter of safety as convenience. Note that if you’re using a baking tray, the thermal mass is negligible, so you won’t gain anything by pre-heating with it in the oven.
- Just before you put the dough in the oven, dust the surface of the bread with flour. Using a bread-knife, make slashes about a half-inch into the top of the dough. Three parallel cuts will give a classic look, but you can experiment with other patterns. There might be some important technical reason for doing this, but as far as I’m concerned, its main purpose is to make your loaves look sexy. (Confession: I was really excited to play with my new proofing baskets, so the bread I used to illustrate this post look a little different than yours will.)
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the crust is a rich brown. If you’re using a Dutch oven, take the top off about 20 minutes in. This lets moisture escape so that the crust can crisp.
See how long you can let the bread cool before trying a slice. The bread continues to cook after you take it out of the oven, so cutting into it can harm the texture. In the book, Hertzberg and François suggest that letting it cool for about two hours is ideal.
(Ummmm…I ate it almost immediately….)
More baking adventures to come!