Sunday, October 4, 2009
That is actually the name of the recipe: "Best and Easiest Home-Baked Bread," from Nick Malgieri's How to Bake. It's neither the best nor the easiest bread I've ever made, but it's pretty good and pretty easy, and it does come out of the oven with a fabulously crunchy crust.
The last bread I tried from this cookbook was an Italian ring bread, which was better in concept than in reality, but I was more impressed with this recipe--even though I do think it's gutsy to call one of your recipes "the best."
And it does involve some planning ahead, which kind of takes it out of the "easy" category, I think, although once you've committed yourself to making it, and set aside the requisite number of hours (24, more or less), it requires only short bursts of time and energy.
About 24 hours before you think you might want to eat the bread, you make a simple starter--water, a tiny amount of yeast, and flour. That bubbles away for a few hours (you can slow the activity down by putting it in the refrigerator if that fits your schedule better).
The starter is added to a sponge, made with more water, yeast, and flour--plus the starter--and that also bubbles away for a while. (It's easiest if you mix up the sponge just before you go to bed. In the morning, you can either make the dough immediately or refrigerate it until you're ready for it).
Never let bread be your master! It can almost always be refrigerated if you're not feeling breadish at that very moment.
The final dough stage just consists of the sponge, more flour, and salt.
It's a soft dough, so you may want to knead in a little more flour by hand. Well, of course, you can do it all by hand if you want to, but I'm loyal to my KitchenAid bread hook.
Although it has less than a teaspoon of yeast in it, the dough rises quickly: about an hour in a bowl and less than an hour after it's shaped. You can shape it however you want to, but I used a colander with a towel to help it keep its shape.
Even so, it flattened considerably as soon as I removed it from its colander-mold, so if I'd just done a free-form boule, I think it would have looked like a flatbread.
Jim got all excited when he saw how I'd slashed it because he thought it looked like a sand dollar. I told him I thought a sand dollar only had five lines.
I was afraid he was going to turn on the bread because he wasn't going to be able to find a picture of a sand dollar to compare it to, but he decided he liked it anyway.
The bread was exceptionally good with sour cherry preserves, which I had left over from my cake adventure of the week: Hungarian Jancsi Torta.
(It does look a little bit like a sand dollar).
BEST AND EASIEST HOME-BAKED BREAD
--from How to Bake, by Nick Malgieri
1 cup warm tap water
1/4 tsp. instant yeast
1 cup unbleached all-purpose or whole wheat flour
3/4 cup warm tap water
1/2 tsp. instant yeast
Risen starter, above
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
The sponge, above
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1. To make the starter, mix water, yeast, and flour in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Set aside to rise at room temperature and doubled and bubbly--from 2 to 8 hours.
2. For the sponge, mix water, yeast, and starter in a larger bowl until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until about triple in volume, 4 to 8 hours, or overnight.
3. For the dough, stir the sponge to deflate it. Stir in the smaller amount of flour and the salt in a mixing bowl. Using the dough hook, knead on low spead for about five minutes. Add the additional flour if the dough is too soft.
4. Turn the dough into an oiled bowl. Cover and let rise about an hour, until doubled. (You can also mix by hand or in a food processor).
5. Shape into a boule, and place, bottom side up, in a colander lined with a floured cotton towel. Sprinkle with cornmeal. Cover with plastic and let rise until doubled, 45 minutes to an hour.
6. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Put baking stone on middle rack. When the oven and dough are ready, carefully invert onto a baking pan lined with parchment. Quickly slash top of bread. Just before placing bread in oven, put about 1/2 cups of ice cubes into heated pan on bottom rack of oven. Put bread in oven and immediately reduce heat to 450 degrees.
7. Bake for about 20 minutes. Then put bread directly on baking stone and reduce heat to 350 degrees. Bake 20 to 30 minutes longer.
8. Remove bread from oven and cool on rack.