Light Brioche Buns from NYT

Making a tavern-style hearty burger at home has always been one of my favorite quick dinners, and there was a time when the only buns that could stand up to a juicy 8-ounce patty were the brioche buns that Whole Foods now sells for $1.50 apiece.

But then, New York Times Cooking site came to the rescue.  So now, in keeping with my months-long commitment to home-baked breads, I can reproduce six of those hearty buns – with sesame seeds for added interest – for about the store-bought price of just one.

This recipe is adapted from the one on the NYT site.  My modifications are to make just 6 instead of the recommended 8, to add the sesame seeds, and to increase the baking time a couple of minutes because of the larger size.

Some of my friends are already baking these also, and have sworn off the store-bought bun forever, so why not try this……..

Hearty Sesame Brioche Buns

(adapted from NYT Cooking)

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INGREDIENTS:

3 cups Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1-1/2 tsp kosher salt

2-1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened

1 cup warm water

3 tbsp warm milk

2-1/2 tbsp sugar

2 tsp SAF instant yeast, or other active dry yeast

2 large eggs

Sesame seeds

PREPARATION:

In a glass measuring cup, combine the water, milk, sugar and yeast and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, beat one of the eggs.

In the large bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flours and salt, and add butter by rubbing in with your fingers until crumbly.  Add the yeast mixture and the beaten egg, and use the flat blade of your mixer to stir until a soft dough forms, then switch to dough hook and run mixer for 8 minutes on medium low to knead the dough.  Shape dough into a ball and cover with plastic, let rise until doubled 1-2 hours.  The full 2 hours realy makes a difference in texture, so be patient.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and divide dough into 6 pieces.  A kitchen scale comes in handy here, as you’ll have 30 ounces of dough and each bun should be 5 ounces.  Roll each piece into a ball and place with ample separation on your parchment-lined baking sheet.  cover with a cotton towel or napkin and let rise again 1–2 hours (prefereably 2).

Set a large shallow pan on bottom rack of oven and fill halfway with water.  Preheat oven to 400.  Beat remaining egg with 1 tbsp water.

Brush the risen buns with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds to taste.  Place rack in center of oven and bake for 17 minutes.  Enjoy the luscious aroma of baking bread in your oven, then remove and cool on a rack for about an hour.

This may sound like a lot of steps, but trust me – it’s very little hands-on time, and so much worth the effort.

VARIATION:

you can sbstitute 1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour + 1 T vital wheat gluten for 1 cup of the bread flour.  I’ve done this and like the wheatier taste.  Still very light texture.

 

 

 

 

Montreal-style Bagels

My effort at producing multigrain bagels two weeks ago was less successful than I’d hoped (I deleted that blog post) so my challenge last Wednesday, before Thanksgiving, was to perfect a chewy bagel that would rival those from the best bagel bakeries of my youth.

Once again I turned to a recipe from the NYT Cooking site for inspiration, and found a recipe for Montreal Bagels, chewy and with a hint of sweetness.  I was surprised to find the dough contained elements of a challah – sweetener and eggs – albeit in lesser proportion to the flour – and required only two very short rises before their boiling bath and baking.

I made several adjustments to the NYT recipe, making 9 large bagels versus 18 small ones, reducing the baking time to prevent burning of the undersides, using less honey in the dough  From start to finish, this took about 1-1/2 hours, and the verdict was unanimous – best bagels we’ve ever had.

 

MONTREAL-STYLE BAGELS

adapted from NYT Cooking site

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INGREDIENTS:

1-1/2 cups room temperature water

14 grams SAF Instant yeast (or 2 packets other instant yeast)

1 tsp sugar

2-1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 whole egg + 1 egg yolk

1/4 cup vegetable oil + a bit more for greasing bowl

2/3 cup honey divided

5-1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour (or other bread flour)

3 quarts water for boiling

sesame and/or poppy seeds for sprinkling on top

TOOLS:

Stand mixer with 5-quart bowl and dough hook

A separate large bowl

Heavy wooden spoon or spatula

2 rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment paper

5-quart pot

A bread board or similar work surface

Kitchen scale – very helpful if you have one to make the bagels equal size

Large slotted spoon

PREPARATION:

  1. In the large mixing bowl of stand mixer, combine the water, yeast, sugar and salt.  Stir in the egg and egg yolk, oil and 1/3 cup of the honey and mix well by hand.
  2. Add 5 cups of flour one cup at a time, stirring by hand, and then knead with the dough hook to form a soft, supple dough (about 8 minutes).  Add remaining 1/2 cup of flour a couple of minutes into the kneading.
  3. Lightly grease another large bowl with oil and use a spatula to turn the dough out into it.  Cover tightly with plastic and let rest 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, bring the 3 quarts water and remaining 1/3 cup honey to boil, then reduce and cover to keep simmering until you’re ready to use. Preheat oven to 450º.
  5. Punch down the dough and remove it to bread board.  The dough should weigh about 1300 grams.  Divide it into 9 equal pieces, about 145 grams each.
  6. Roll each piece into a ball, flatten slightly and poke a hole through the middle with your thumb.  Work the dough around the whole with your fingers to enlarge it and place the shaped dough on parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving room between.  Only 6 will fit on one sheet, place the remaining 3 on the other.  Let them rest about 15 minutes.
  7. Return pot of water to gentle boil and drop 3 bagels in.  They will float.  flip them over with a large slotted spoon and continue to boil for a little over a minute.  Remove with the slotted spoon, place them back on the parchment-lined baking sheets and immediately sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds.  Repeat this process for all nine.
  8. Bake first batch on center rack of oven for 20 minutes, to a deep golden brown -then repeat with second batch.  Remove to a cooling rack as soon as each batch is done.

These keep well in a plastic bag in your breadbox for 6 days, or can be sliced and frozen.

 

 

Loaf-Pan Challah

This is something I’ve been wanting to try ever since discovering Trader Joe’s gorgeous brioche loaves.  Why not bake challah in a loaf pan so the slices can be uniform – for sandwiches, for French toast, or just for the sake of consistency.

Last week I experimented with one loaf – half the usual recipe I use from Silver Palate – in an oversized Dansk Kobenstyle loaf pan.  The result told me that the traditional braiding would not work – as it rose in the pan for an hour, the ends plumped while the middle stayed lower – and while still delicious, the loaf resembled the silhouette of an oil tanker.

Today’s called for a rethink.  I made the full recipe, which usually produces one enormous loaf (a small braided loaf laid upon a larger one to simulate a 6-braid technique).  This time, I also divided the risen dough 1/3 – 2/3 for a smaller and a larger loaf done in two separate loaf pans – the big Dansk pan, and a smaller (8×4-1/2) from Williams-Sonoma.  And to ensure even rising within the pans, I did a very crude braid, keeping the dough-snakes thick, and working from the middle towards both ends.

After an hour rising in the pans, I got just result I’d hoped for (larger pan lined with parchment, since it is not non-stick and I’m not taking any chances here):

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After brushing with egg wash and sprinkling with poppy seeds, these baked at 350º for 30 minutes, side by side with room in-between.  I did rotate the pans after checking on them at the 20-minute point, just to ensure evenness.  And then, once I took the internal temperature and found only about 185º, I removed them from pans and baked another 7 minutes to reach 200º.  This also helped brown the previously unexposed areas of crust.

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The original Silver Palate recipe is in my blog-post The Comfort of Challah.  The only difference is in the set-up for baking in pans.  I’m tempted to freeze one for our French toast after Thanksgiving, but freshly baked stays fresh for a week, so no-need!

Tsibele Kuchen (Onion Rolls)

My Nana Pearl baked her onion rolls, which she called tsibele kuchen, just about every Friday to have with a roast chicken dinner.  She never measured or weighed, she just knew by handling and observing exactly how much of everything to use and how long each step would take.  When you can still remember how those looked and tasted more than 50 years later, you know they were something special, and the desire to replicate them becomes an imperative.

Over the past several weeks of my bread-baking frenzy, I’ve become addicted not just to the superiority of home-baked breads and rolls, but also to the tactile and olfactory experience of baking.  During this process, some of Nana Pearl’s instincts have been awakened in me, but still I weigh and measure to ensure uniformity of size and baking outcome.  Today I applied the taste memory of her tsibele kuchen to my experience of baking brioche buns and challah.  I also wanted these rolls to be onion-filled, not simply onion topped as hers were, and am feeling a little pleased about how these rolls turned out:

PEARL’S 21st CENTURY ONION ROLLS 

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INGREDIENTS:

1 cup lukewarm water

14 gram SAF instant yeast or one package other quick-rising yeast

4-1/4 cups Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour or other bread flour

2 large eggs

1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp canola oil

1 tbsp sugar

2 tsp kosher salt

1 medium sweet onion finely diced (about 3/4 cup)

1 egg white whisked with 1 tbsp water

poppy seeds

PREPARATION:

In large bowl of stand mixer, dissolve yeast in the lukewarm water and immediately add 4 cups flour, the 2 eggs lightly beaten, 1/4 cup of the oil, the sugar and salt.  Use paddle attachment to combine thoroughly, and then switch to dough hook and run on medium-low speed for 10 minutes, adding additional 1/4 cup of flour once a sticky dough begins to form.  Lightly grease another large (5 quart) bowl and turn the dough out into it.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise 1 to 1-1/2 hours until doubled.

Meanwhile, lightly sauté the onions in remaining canola oil until just softened and remove to a small bowl.

Preheat oven to 375º and place a shallow pan filled halfway with water on bottom rack.*

Divide into 6-8 equal pieces (I made 7) and roll each into a ball.  (Dough will weigh about 1 kilo (1,000 grams).  Flatten each ball into a disk about 5″ and place about 1 tbsp of the onions in center of each, leaving a little bit of the onion mixture to sprinkle on top.  As you’re working, the dough will continue to puff up a bit.  Flatten out the edges a little more and pull the edges over the onion fill to completely encase, cradling in your hands to form a spherical bun.

Place the buns on a sheet of parchment paper on a large baking sheet, press down gently to flatten a bit, brush all over the with egg wash, and sprinkle each with a bit of the remaining onions and some poppy seeds.  Let rest about 15 minutes, then bake on center rack of oven for 20 minutes until golden brown.  Allow to cool on a rack at least an hour.

*NOTE: the pan of water creates steam in the oven which helps the rolls rise again and gives the crust a light texture.  If you prefer not to do this, they will bake somewhat flatter and denser.

 

 

 

 

High-Rise Caramelized Onion Focaccia

 

HIGH RISE CARAMELIZED ONION FOCACCIA

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This was one of my first posts on bread about three years ago, when I determined to replicate the Iggy’s focaccia that Whole Foods sells for about $8 for a loaf-sized hunk.   It was a beautiful bread for sandwiches.  I first tried this easy, no-knead recipe in a 3″ deep roasting pan.  That was a pretty good first effort, producing the taste and texture I wanted, it was excellent as a bread alongside dinner, but not high enough to give me sandwich-sized slices.  Next effort was in a large loaf pan, and the result?   Focaccia for a pittance, minimal effort, maximal results.  This is topped with sautéed onions and rosemary, but you can simply add a bit of olive oil and salt if you prefer to leave out the topping.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups lukewarm water

7 grams SAF instant yeast, or other fast-rising yeast

4 cups Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour

2 tsp kosher salt

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

1 medium sweet onion halved and sliced thinly

Salt & pepper to taste

PREPARATION:

In large mixing bowl, stir the yeast in the water to dissolve. Stir in 2 cups flour and 2 tsp salt and stir briskly until smooth, about 2 minutes. With sturdy wooden spoon or silicone spatula, stir in remaining 2 cups flour for another 2 minutes, until dough pulls aways from sides of bowl and flour is incorporated. Dough will be fairly wet and tacky, but when it pulls away from sides of bowl and forms a loose ball, it has been stirred sufficiently.

Cover bowl with plastic and let rise in warm place for one hour.

Meanwhile, sauté the onion and rosemary in one tbsp olive oil, with salt & pepper to taste, until onion is just beginning to turn golden.

Preheat oven to 500.

Lightly brush bottom and sides of a large loaf pan, at least 9 x 5″  (I use a very large Dansk Kobenstyle) with a bit of olive oil, and line it with a parchment paper sling.  Pour the dough into the pan and with wet fingertips, gently press it out to the sides.  Spread the onion mixture over the dough, lightly sprinkle with a bit more sea salt, and gently poke all over with one finger to form shallow depressions. Cover and allow to rise another 30 minutes.

Place bread on center rack in preheated oven and reduce heat to 400. Bake 35 minutes until nicely browned, then remove the loaf in its sling, discard the parchment paper and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

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Can’t Stop Baking No-Knead Artisan Bread

 

fullsizeoutput_9e3Forgive me if I repeat myself, but I continue to be amazed at how simple it is for a home cook to turn out a bread like this.   Anyone who’s never tried bread baking for fear of failure or of time-consuming hands-on work should just set all that aside and jump on this bandwagon of no-knead artisan baking.

Do you have an oven?  Check.  Do you have a cast iron Dutch oven with 4-6 quart capacity?  Check.  Now all you need is a few readily available ingredients and a bit of planning for the 10 hours it will take your dough to work its magic before you touch it again a half hour before baking.

The quality of your flour and yeast is essential for success.  I’ve been baking bread on and off for over 25 years with various bread flours and with all-purpose flour enhanced with vital wheat gluten.  I have never worked with anything that comes close to Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour for outstanding results.

The package has your basic recipe, to which I’ve added the technique of using a parchment sling, the dusting of flour and the slashes across the top for that genuine artisan look.  And for this latest loaf, I tried something that worked to both amp up the leavening and a bit of sourdough taste – two tablespoons of plain yogurt mixed in with the warm water.  With or without the yogurt, when this bread comes out of your oven you’ll be patting yourself on the back and making excuses to do it again and again.

BASIC NO-KNEAD ARTISAN BREAD

(ADAPTED FROM BOB’S RED MILL)

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour, plus more for dusting later

2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp SAF instant yeast (or other high quality instant yeast)

2 tbsp plain yogurt (I used goat milk yogurt) plus enough lukewarm water to measure 1-1/2 cups; or simply 1-1/2 cups lukewarm water

PREPARATION:

Plan to start this either early in the morning so you can bake right before dinner, or late at night to be baked the next morning.  In a 5-quart mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, and yeast.  In a small bowl or 2-cup measuring cup, stir together the yogurt and lukewarm water.  If not using yogurt, just use 1-1/2 cups lukewarm water.

With a sturdy silicone spatula or wooden spoon, stir the liquid into dry ingredients until it all looks like a soft, ragged dough.  Make sure to get all the bits of dry flour that might cling to your bowl.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap – not touching the dough – and set it aside for 10 hours.  I stash mine in the microwave overnight to protect it from mischievous cats.

Meanwhile, go about whatever activities you normally do, including possibly sleep, and come back to this 10 hours later.  This is what you should see:

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Amazing, huh?  Yes, it’s alive.  Now, place your Dutch oven on the middle rack of your oven and turn the temperature to 450º.  Set a timer for 30 minutes.  Scrape your dough onto a generously floured work surface or bread board and, with floured hands, coax it into a round shape.  Rinse out your bowl, line it with a large sheet of parchment, and gently move your dough into the bowl.  Cover it loosely with plastic.

When your 30-minute timer goes off, sprinkle a bit of flour across the top of your dough, cut three vertical slashes across the top, take your screaming hot Dutch oven out with your best oven mitts, move it to a heat-proof surface, and lower your dough into it in its parchment sling.  Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.  This is where more magic happens, as the dough releases steam inside the pot, and rises again to become bread.  After 30 minutes, remove the lid and continue baking uncovered for another 12 minutes.

That’s it.  All you need now is the patience to let it cool on a rack for at least an hour before slicing.  I really want to hear from you after you’ve tried this for the first time.

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Caraway Rye the Way I Remember It

When I grew up in Boston’s Jewish enclaves of Dorchester and Mattapan, there was a bakery thriving about every 1/4 mile down the stretch of Blue Hill Avenue, the main thoroughfare that was also populated with dress shops, candy stores, delicatessens, butcher shops, and corner drug stores.

Although my mother was an accomplished baker, she restricted her repertoire to pastries – often made with raised dough – and so our semiweekly purchases at the bakery were entirely breads, bagels and rolls.  Her personal favorite and mine was the caraway rye, heavily seeded, and sometimes baked in a loaf pan which afforded us uniform slices for our corned beef or salami sandwiches, sometimes boule-shaped (a shape we simply called ’round’)  for slices we’d slather with sweet butter and sprinkle with kosher salt.

I’d often eat a slice of the hearty, chewy bread just by itself, going first for all the middle parts, leaving that crisp, crusty framework for the end.  And if the slice I got had that little paper sticker on it from the Bakers’ Union, all the better to have one last little thing to chew on.  I was a kid, that’s what we did.

Those bakeries, like most of the little shops of my youth, live only in memory now.    “When Pigs Fly” Bakery makes a toothsome rye in their extensive array of breads, sold at local supemarkets and in their few retail shops, but I find theirs a bit on the dry side, and shaped with slices too long and narrow to fashion a good sandwich.

After combing the internet for months and practicing the technique of no-knead Dutch oven bread, I think I’ve discovered a bread that unlocks the past for me.  This is a very slow-rising bread that should be started the day before you want to bake it – a full 18 hours to allow the flavor and texture to develop.  I started this dough at 1:30 yesterday afternoon and was ready to bake by 8am this morning, after preheating the oven for 30 minutes:

CARAWAY RYE THE WAY I REMEMBER IT

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makes 1 2-lb loaf

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup Hodgson Mill Whole Grain Rye Flour or Bob’s Red Mill Rye Flour

3  cups Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour

1/4 cup plain yogurt (not Greek) or kefir, OR 1/4 cup buttermilk

2 tbsp + 2 tsp caraway seeds

2 tbsp vital wheat gluten

2 tsp kosher salt

1-3/4 cups lukewarm water

2 tsp sugar

3/8 tsp SAF instant yeast, or other similar instant yeast

1 egg white mixed with 1 tsp water

PREPARATION:

Combine the flours, the yogurt or kefir or buttermilk, 2 tbsp of caraway seeds, the vital wheat gluten and salt in a 5-quart mixing bowl.  Combine lukewarm water sugar and yeast in small bowl and let sit about 5 minutes until foam begins to form.

Stir yeast mixture into flour mixture until well combined, and cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap.  Leave it alone for the next 18 hours.

When ready to bake, place a 5-6 quart Dutch oven on center rack of oven and preheat to 450º.  Meanwhile, transfer dough to a floured work surface and shape into a boule by turning and tucking ends under.  Place that on a large sheet of parchment, wash out your large mixing bowl, and move the shaped dough in its parchment sling into the bowl.  Brush lightly all over with your egg wash and sprinkle with remaining 2 tsp caraway seeds.  Cover with plastic and let rest 15 minutes while oven heats up.

Make three shallow slashes across the top of the loaf.  Remove hot Dutch oven to a heat-safe surface, carefully place the dough in its sling inside, cover and bake for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, remove lid and bake another 16 minutes until crust is deep golden brown and instant-read thermometer registers 200-205º in the center.  Remove to a rack to cool at least an hour before slicing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hearty Multigrain Multiseed Bread

Yes, bread baking can be addictive.  Having stocked up on my favorite Bob’s Red Mill flours and having baked both a Sesame Semolina loaf and an Artisan crusty loaf in the past three days, I was inspired to harken back to my favorite, most toothsome loaf first created before I started this blog in the winter of 2015.

This is another loaf that employs the magic of Dutch oven baking, and, because I love the texture and seedfullness of this loaf for sandwiches, I make it a very large boule – a full 2-1/2 lbs.  Yes, it can be halved with minor adjustment to the baking time, but it also freezes beautifully if you want to cut half and store it.

Hearty Multigrain Multiseed Bread

 

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INGREDIENTS:

 

1/2 cup Kashi 7 Whole Grain Pilaf

2 cups boiling water

1 tbsp SAF instant yeast or other quick-acting yeast

2 cups AP flour

1-2/3 cups whole wheat flour

2/3 cup semolina flour or rye flour

2 tbsp vital wheat gluten

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp olive oil

1-1/2 tsp + 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Seeds: mix together 2 tsp each sesame, poppy, flax and caraway and 1-1/2 tbsp sunflower

1 egg white lightly beaten

TOOLS:

Stand mixer with 5-quart bowl, paddle attachment, and dough hook

another 5-quart mixing bowl

7-quart cast iron Dutch oven

parchment paper

cooling rack

DIRECTIONS:

Place Kashi pilaf in stand mixer bowl and pour the boiling water over it.  let sit until lukewarm, about 18 minutes.  Meanwhile, in your other bowl combine all the flours, sugar, 1-1/2 tsp salt, and all but 1 tbsp of the seed mix.

Sprinkle 1 tbsp yeast over the cooled water/Kashi mix and add 1 cup of the flour mixture, stirring until smooth.  Using the paddle attachment on your mixture, gradually add the remaining flour on low speed to form your dough.  Cover with plastic wrap or cotton towel and let rest 15 minutes, then need with your dough hook at #2 speed for 10 minutes.

Lightly oil the 5 quart mixing bowl, add the dough, cover and let rise about one hour until doubled.  On a floured surface, punch the dough down and shape into a boule.  Place a large piece of parchment into your 5-quart bowl, move the boule onto the parchment-lined bowl, brush with the egg wash and sprinkle with the remaining tbsp reserved seeds mixed with 1/2 tsp kosher salt.  Cut three shallow slashes with a sharp knife across the top.  Cover again and let rest 30 minutes.

Place your Dutch oven in the center of your oven and preheat to 450.  After 30 minutes, very carefully move the loaf in its sling into your Dutch oven, place the lid back on, reduce oven temperature to 400 and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the lid and bake another 25 minutes until crust is a deep golden brown.  Internal dough temperature should be 200-205.

Set loaf on a rack to cool and enjoy after about an hour.

 

 

 

 

 

Dutch Oven Artisan Bread

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The pain in my right thumb was well worth the minimal effort that went into baking this latest loaf of Dutch oven bread.  After heating my Le Creuset Dutch oven for 30 minutes  during the final rise of my loaf, I gently placed the dough in its parchment sling into the oven and then reached for the lid – without my mitt.  Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

But the rest of the process in turning out this loaf was a breeze.  Simply put – combined 3 cups Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour with 1/2 tsp SAF yeast, 2 tsp kosher salt, and 1-1/2 cups lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl.  Stirred with a wooden spoon and covered with plastic wrap.  Went about my business for the next 10 hours.

Put my 6-quart Le Creuset Dutch oven with lid into the oven to preheat at 450.  Turned out the dough onto a generously floured sheet of parchment, floured my hands, and shaped it into a ball.  It flattened a bit as I released it and then covered it loosely with plastic wrap for another 30 minutes.

Final handling step – sprinkling some more flour over the top of the dough, moved it in its parchment sling into screaming hot Dutch oven, and lightly scored the top with a sharp knife.  Piut the lid back on – this time with my mitt – and baked, covered for 30 minutes.  then removed the lid and finished baking for 12 minutes.

Why buy when this is so easy and beautiful?  The key is placing your dough in a preheated Dutch oven where the steam that’s released creates this gorgeous final rise. The final 12 minutes give you a golden crisp crust.  Waiting a few minutes before slicing – can’t wait!

What I’ve learned about bread baking this winter

As I have mentioned, this endless record-breaking winter has had us encased in snow and ice – picture the White Wall guarded by the Knight’s Watch on Game of  Thrones.  This has awakened my cocooning instincts big-time, with freshly baked loaves out of the oven every two or three days.

I’ve learned a few things that have made this easier, more economical, and more successful:

  1. Use SAF Instant Yeast and buy it in at least the 1 lb package from Amazon.  This is what the professionals use.  It produces a quick rise, removes the need to proof the yeast separately from your dry ingredients – just add it to the flour – and it will keep fresh indefinitely in a tightly sealed ziploc bag in your freezer. Just spoon out what you need and put the rest back in the freezer.  Way more economical than those ridiculous 3-packet envelopes at the supermarket.  The 1 lb package goes for about $7.50.  And if you’re really into it, the 2 lb is about $11.  Check it out http://www.amazon.com/Saf-Instant-Yeast-Pound-Pouch/dp/B0001CXUHW
  2. You can use all-purpose flour in lieu of bread flour if you also keep a box of Vital Wheat Gluten on hand.  Definitely not for those observing a gluten-free diet, but 1 tsp per cup of AP flour is all you need to restore the texture and rise you’d get from bread flour.
  3. If you have a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer (or other brand), use it with the paddle attachment to gently stir your dough ingredients together, and then use the dough hook instead of your arm strength to do the kneading.
  4. Bake your big round loaves in a Dutch oven.  Honestly, this is the key to producing an artisan loaf without the fuss of water-spritzing or using a water-filled baking pan under your baking sheet.  30 minutes covered, 25 minutes uncovered, all at 400 degrees – has worked for me every time.  But if you use this method…
  5. …then buy a roll of parchment paper.  Put your shaped loaf on it before the final rise and transfer it in the parchment to your Dutch oven.  Otherwise, it will be impossible getting that loaf out cleanly and you’ll lose your bottom crust.  Trust me from a lesson learned the hard way.
  6. If you’re adventurous about trying multigrain breads, realize that whole wheat and whole grain flours need lots of encouragement to rise.  That calls for more of that Vital Wheat Gluten than you’d use with simply all-purpose white flour – 1-1/2 tsp per cup for that other flour.  And give it plenty of time to rise or your loaf will be puny and dense (another lesson learned)
  7. Pizza dough made with some semolina flour will produce a chewy rising crust that’s so much better than those limpid crusts that turn soggy under a mound of sauce, cheese, and toppings.  And no need for a pizza stone – I use a sturdy Wilton baking sheet with a rim on one side (for easy grabbing) and press the dough out into one giant somewhat rectangular crust.
  8. You can make the most gorgeous 6-braid challah by dividing challah dough into two portions, one almost twice as large as the other.  Then roll out your ‘snakes’ to be braided into two loaves and place the smaller one atop the larger for final rise and baking.  A bit of egg wash lightly brushed atop the larger loaf will help keep the top one from sliding askew, and you’ll get a loaf that looks like thisIMG_0254
  9. Seeds – sesame, poppy, caraway, flax, sunflower – they all taste great in your bread and look lovely on top.  Buy them in bulk at a health foods store or online source – never in those small spice jars.

Time to go check on that focaccia dough that’s rising. Right now it looks like thisIMG_0309 Hope this has been helpful.