Concussions and Artisan Bread
First article post. Always the most intimidating, I think. It’s supposed to be the attention-getter. I should post a fabulous dish I created or a new recipe I tested but I don’t. I’m still recuperating from a self-inflicted, accidental whack to the head that has kept me from working in the kitchen and from the rest of my life. Yesterday was a week after the “accident” and I did manage to stand all day in my own kitchen and made 5 loaves of vanilla bean pound cake. Now that made me happy…Three of them went to my neighbors and I ate one. (what? I was hungry and I have a concussion. That’s justifiable eating.) I have one left and I’ll probably end up gifting that one, too. I felt ambitious (or bored) and I made some artisan bread. You could call it artisan bread because I frickin’ hand kneaded that dough. Well actually there’s absolutely no kneading with this bread. I just mixed the ingredients together and left it alone. It’s a beautiful French-style country bread, beautifully light and airy, with a nice crust and a tender chewy interior. I also made it for my kind neighbors. They helped take care of me. I might as well share the recipe so that you can pretend that you’re an awesome bread baker when all you did was pretty much nothing. I got this recipe from a French master chef and I have put some tweeks into so that you can reproduce this successfully.
French Style Country Bread
2oz Fresh Yeast (23 grams Instant Yeast. I used Instant.)
2 TBS Brown sugar
1 cup of cold water
14 oz. flour (now you can use bread flour or all purpose flour or even rye flour.)
These first four ingredients is your “sponge” or “starter dough”. Mix these all together in a large bowl, either with your hands or with a bowl scraper. I like hands. They’re my favorite kitchen tool. The dough should come together in a semi-dry mass. It may seem like there isn’t enough liquid but continue to knead the dough until it comes together into a ball. It’s going to look floury and lumpy in some parts, but that’s okay. Take a large piece of plastic wrap and spray oil onto it and place it on top of your dough ball so that it doesn’t dry out and leave that bowl somewhere warm. Now, it doesn’t have to be WARM. You can leave this out at whatever room temperature it is in your kitchen. The warmer it is the faster the yeast will work. You want this to be double its size. It will take a couple of hours for this to happen depending on your room temperature.
(Now here’s a tip: If you don’t think you’re going to have time to work with this bread further, you can leave this out all day and work on it the next day. It will be fine. However, when I have tested the life of this starter, it doesn’t do too well past two days. I’d explain about feeding your starter dough but that’s a whole other lesson and I just want to teach you how to make this simple bread.)
Okay, Step Two. At this point I usually take the bowl with the starter dough in it and plop it on top of my scale and weigh out 1 pound of flour. Then I add about 1 tablespoon and a half of sea salt. The original recipe said 1 TBS but I’m telling you that adding a little more salt adds much more flavor to your finished bread. Stir these two ingredients together while they are still on top of the starter dough. Then add 2 cups of tepid water. I use my fingers to work the water and flour together into a stick mass before I squish down into the starter dough and massage all of it together. You’re going to have to use your hands to squeeze and squeeze the two parts together. It’s going to be VERY WET and LUMPY. It’s okay. Let this guy rest just like it is for an hour or two if you want. I like to do this for at least an hour.
Take a roasting pan and fill it 1/2 way up with water and put it at the bottom rack of your oven. Turn your oven to 450 degrees F. The roasting pan filled with water will help create the steam you need to help the bread rise a little bit more in the oven before it develops its crust. There are other tricks you can use to create steam in your home oven. You can ask me later….
Once your oven has reached temperature, you’re going to take a baking sheet, a half-sheet jelly roll pan, whatever is big enough, and spray it with cooking spray. Now, at this point you can either split the very wet looking dough into two and make two loaves. OR you can keep the whole thing intact and make a really nice large loaf. I don’t like to mess with it too much because I want to keep the airyness of the dough. You will notice when you take the dough out of the bowl that it looks bubbly and super wet. That’s okay. That’s goodness right there. You want the dough to be wet in order to produce the airy texture inside.
Gently transfer it to your baking sheet and kind of shape it into a loaf. You don’t have to and that’s the beauty of making your own artisan bread. I like to sprinkle flour on top because it gives it a rather nice rustic look but your don’t have to. But this guy into your hot oven and set your timer for 40 minutes. I don’t know how accurate your oven is so I’m telling you to check your bread at 40 minutes. It may not have gotten to its beautiful golden color. If it has too much color on it, over it with foil and rotate the pan a full 180 degrees. Set your timer again for 10 minutes. At that time use your thermometer and check it’s temperature on it’s bottom (don’t laugh at the pun just stick the probe into the center of the bread). If the temperature reads 180 to 200 degrees F, take it out and let it rest on a cooling rack. You must let it rest on a cooling rack or else your bread will get soggy while it sits on that hot baking sheet. Not good eats! And you have to let it rest before you cut into it because all that steam is still trapped in there and you want to give the bread a chance bake a little further and let the steam settle. Believe me it will be worth the wait.