March 15, 2012

Bakin' Bread

Bakin' bread has been a goal of mine for quite some time. With the help of my Pa, and the practice of our cob pizza oven, I have gotten quite comfortable with the making & baking of pizza dough, but bread was a little more daunting. For Christmas I asked for a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and dubious though he was, Papa obliged. Since then I have been baking on a weekly basis, and there hasn't been a fail yet.

I've mainly stuck to the Master Recipe of Boule (free-form loaf), but I've played around with the flours (all-purpose, bread flour and wheat flour). I usually form the loaves into ovals or circles, but I have played around with making small rolls, and even once tried the Pain d'Epi (wheat stalk bread), but my "wheat stalk" pattern was not photo-worthy (it's harder to make than it looks).

The idea behind making bread in 5 minutes a day is that you make a master batch of dough and it sits in your fridge for up to 14 days. One can periodically cut off 1 lb portions and bake it up throughout the 2-week period. This works well for us because a 1 lb loaf is not very big, and in our 2-person household I've thrown out a lot of stale or moldy bread because we don't eat it fast enough. We generally manage to get through these small loaves before they go bad.

In order to make this work there are a few "tools" that make the process easier:

A 6-quart plastic (food-grade) tub with a lid (not air-tight) is very handy. I use this container to mix the dough and store it in the fridge. I bought two of these Cambro tubs at Amazon for $17. I use one for dough and the other houses my flour.

While not crucial, a pizza peel is very handy for transferring the dough into the oven. I let the dough rise on my peel for 40 minutes then slide it directly into the oven. The finely ground cornmeal you see below also helps in sliding the dough smoothly. This is a trick Pa taught me in transferring pizzas into the cob oven and it's saved a lot of pizza toppings from sliding off the dough and hitting the oven floor.

A baking stone and broiler pan are also important to achieving that perfect crust. The broiler pan contains a cup of water and turns that hot oven into a little steam room, and the baking stone helps to evenly distribute the heat.

While it certainly takes more than 5 minutes, it does take relatively little time to bake this bread, and it truly does seem to turn out fine every time.  The other great thing about this book is that in addition to all the bread recipes (including cinnamon rolls, bialys, bagels, pretzels, pizza, etc) there are recipes for dishes to accompany the bread.  For instance, there are pizza topping ideas for the pizza dough, kebab and fattoush recipes for the pita and even a recipe for preserves to go with the chocolate bread. While I haven't tried any of these extra recipes yet, their mere presence makes me quite excited for the possibilities.

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