Posted by michael | Posted in Finger Food | Posted on 21-01-2011
What picnic is complete without a nice loaf of sweet, fragrant, French bread. Whether you’re simply having cheese and salami or a dry-aged ribeye, any meal is made better with a good loaf of bread. While bread French bread, unlike french crepes, is cheaply available from most supermarkets, there will always be a place in my heart for homemade bread. People have been baking bread for millennia and by making your own, you’re in a sense connecting with the past. Maybe you’re thinking, “Michael, I’d love to make my own bread, I just wish it wasn’t so damn hard!” Well guess what, it doesn’t have to be!
Making bread at home is a lot like exercising. Everyone says they want to do it more often, they buy the equipment, sign up for the classes, do research online… but in the end most will either be displeased with the results and give up or not even start in the first place. Indeed I myself am guilty of this habit. It seems every time I try to start, my arms end up sore, I get frustrated, and vow never to try it again. I’m sure exercising is pretty difficult too (or so I hear, I’ve never tried it).
Every recipe starts the same: yeast, water, salt, flour. After all, that’s what bread is! What comes next is the hard part. All the kneading and waiting and needing and waiting, then the baking and the checking and the cooling and the crying… In the end, what was maybe supposed to be a loaf of bread, comes out as a burnt Frisbee disc that even the dog won’t eat. While it’s easy to blame yourself for these shortcomings, you shouldn’t. The fact is, many bread recipes are far too simple for beginning bakers. This recipe, adapted from the terrific Essential New York Times Cookbook is a must try for anyone thinking about making bread at home. It walks you through every step of the way so there is no chance of failure.
1 1/8 tsp active dry yeast (or one packet instant)
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 cup cold water
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (not whole wheat)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar (optional)
1. Mix yeast , lukewarm water, and sugar in a bowl and let sit until foamy. Yeast feed on sugar which is why I add a little but it is not necessary per se.
2. Combine cold water and butter in a small saucepan and heat until butter is melted and water is warm (~95-110˚F is optimal for yeast).
3. Whisk together salt and flour in a large mixing bowl then create a depression in the middle for the foamy yeast mixture.
4. Pour yeast mixture into depression and incorporate into flour mixture. Keep stirring, adding the butter-water mixture in slowly. If dough doesn’t stick together, add a little water. If too sticky and thin, add some flour.
5. Lightly flour a surface on which to knead the dough. Transfer dough from bowl to surface and commence kneading quickly and gently with lightly floured fingers until it takes the shape of a ball. Avoid adding excessive flour at this stage. Butter a large mixing bowl (or the one you were using already if not too messy) and put the ball in it to rest. Cover with a cloth or paper towel and let stand in a warm place (if it’s cold, I like to run the oven for half a minute, then turn it off and leave in there) until it has doubled in size (30-60 min). Colder temperatures may require longer waits from here on out.
6. Return dough to floured surface and knead again. Reshape it into a ball and return it to the bowl. Let sit again until doubled in size.
7. Turn dough onto floured surface again. Without kneading, roll it into a loose ball shape and let sit for 5 minutes.
8. Turn ball seam side up and flatten into a rough rectangle. Fold 1/3 of the dough towards the center (hot dog style) and roll the dough up so you now have a long, doughy cylinder. Flour a baking sheet and place cylinder, seam side down on sheet. Tuck the ends under itself as well. Cover with clean cloth and return to warm place until doubled in bulk.
9. Preheat oven to 450˚F while the dough rises. Once the dough has risen, get a handful of ice cubes and have them ready in a cup or bowl. Also take your sharpest knife (or razor blade) and make 3, parallel, diagonal cuts across the top of the loaf and immediately transfer dough to oven, putting the ice cubes on the oven floor as well. The steam will help the bread cook and form that desirable, crunchy crust. Wait 5 minutes and add another handful of ice. Turn the sheet so the bread bakes evenly. After a total of 15 minutes has elapsed since baking, turn the oven down to 400 and bake for another 15-20 minutes. If at that time, the loaf isn’t properly golden, you may bake a little longer as necessary. Otherwise, remove from oven and let cool before cutting and serving.
I don’t have a food processor (a crime, I know) but the dough can easily be made in one if you have one. Just put the flour and salt in, pulse, add yeast, pulse, add butter-water, pulse again.