Ladies and gentlemen, today I bring you the triumphant blog post that I’ve dreamed about. I successfully baked a loaf of pretty delicious, fully edible bread a few days ago. A loaf of bread that if you saw, you would immediately acknowledge as actually being bread.
Two things to know about this blog post: One, I’m currently home sick with what I think might be the pre-flu. I’m not ready to admit that it’s possible I might have the flu. So instead I am distracting myself by re-living the success of this bread via blog post. And two, Evan and I currently in the midst of The 2013 Food Lover’s Cleanse. It’s put together by Bon Appetit, and it’s awesome – it’s just two weeks of really focused healthy eating. I thought that I was simply feeling a little bit sick from eating too much kale on day 3 of The Cleanse, but I don’t think that one large kale salad should give me the aches for days, which is why I think it might be the pre-flu.* But kale aside, this kind of health eating is absolutely what I needed after the 2 month long holiday eating binge that I’d been on.
HOWEVER. The Cleanse does not include bread, much less eating entire loaves of bread in one sitting, as I am wont to do. But the bread blog world waits for no woman, and so I baked a loaf of bread anyway. But Evan and I shared 3 slices and then I put it in the freezer, in a super-human display of self control.
Here is the recipe and steps that I followed for this most recent, and I should remind you, successful, bread. Photo credits go to Evan, who was remarkably helpful and willing to take photos of every step of this process.
Easiest Home-Baked Bread
From the book, Bread, by Nick Malgieri
- 1/ 1/4 cups or 275 grams of of room temperature water
- 2 1/4 teaspoons or 7 grams of fine granulated activate dry or instant yeast
- 3 cups or 400 grams of bread flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons or 9 grams of fine sea salt
- Olive or vegetable oil for the bowl
- One heavy cookie sheet dusted with cornmeal of lined with parchment paper, plus a spray bottle filled with warm water.
The Official Directions:
- Whisk yeast into water. Wait 30 seconds, whisk again.
- Use a large rubber spatula to stir the flour into the yeast and water mixture a little at a time. Make sure everything is thoroughly mixed.
- Mix the dough until it starts to come together, for about 1 to 2 minutes. Let it rest for 15 minutes.
- Add the salt, and mix the dough at a higher speed until it is smooth and elastic, for 2 to 3 minutes longer.
- Scrape dough into an oiled bowl, and turn over so the top is oiled. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough ferment until it starts to puff, about 30 minutes.
- Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface, flour your hands and gently flatten the dough to a disk. Fold the two sides in to overlap in the middle, then roll the top toward your all the way to the end. Invert, flatten and repeat. Place the dough back in the bowl seam side down and cover. Let the dough ferment until fully doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes.
- To form the dough into a boule-shaped loaf, slide it from the bowl to a floured work surface, try not to deflate dough. Fold the edges of the dough all around its perimeter into the center. Round the loaf by pushing against the bottom of the dough with the sides of your hands, with your palms upward.
- Place the dough on the prepared pan and cover it with a flat-weave towel or oiled plastic wrap. Let it rest until it starts to puff again, about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Once the dough is proofed about 50%, flour your hands and press it to flatten it to about 1 1/2 inches thick. Use an exacto knife or single razor blade to cut 4 slashes in the form of a square around the dough, and a 1/8 inch deep slash across the diameter of the loaf. Spray generously with water, and place pan in oven.
- Wait 5 minutes, open the oven and spray loaf again with water, and reduce the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Bake the loaf until it well risen and golden brown and the internal temperature is 200 degrees, approximately 20 to 30 minutes.
- Cool loaf on a rack. Keep bread loosely covered at room temperature on the day its baked. Wrap and freeze for longer storage. Reheat at 350 degrees for 5 minutes before serving.
What I Actually Did:
I followed the directions pretty closely, I swear. I had to change a few things though because I decided to hand-knead it.
First I got out everything that I needed, because that is how my mom taught me to do it when would bake chocolate chip cookies when I was little. I loved to take everything out and line it up.
Then I carefully whisked my yeast into the water and accidentally took a 60 second pause, instead of 30 seconds, here, and panicked because I didn’t want to mess anything up. It turned out fine. No worries. I know precision is important in baking, but the exact seconds you wait while whisking yeast into water isn’t the most important part of the bread making process.
Then I carefully measured my flour.
Then I mixed the water and yeast in with the flour, a little bit at a time. It resulted in this:
Anyway, the next step was to mix the dough until it came together. Since I decided to do this by hand, instead of a stand mixer, this took about 10 minutes of kneading. At this point, the dough looked like this:
I let it rest for 15 minutes, then added the salt and kneaded again until it was smooth and elastic. This took a while, and Evan helped me knead – between the two of us, we probably kneaded for about a total of 15 to 20 minutes.
Salt and measuring spoons (full disclosure, I’m not positive if I actually measured the salt or not. I don’t remember if I did, or if I just took a pinch and put in the dough and went on my way. Most likely the latter.)
I have to say, after letting the dough rest for a little bit, kneading it became a lot easier, and it did become a lot smoother after a rest.
Then, to let the dough rise, I put it in a covered, oiled bowl on top of the stove, with the oven on a low temperature, so it was nice and warm. It was one of the many really helpful comments and tips I got from my first post, and I think it really helped! Here’s my dough sitting happily in its bowl, preparing itself to rise.
I know what you’re thinking. Yes, that is a fantastic circa-1960s floral motif pot in the background. Thanks Mom!
I also covered up the bowl with a few more towels after this picture, to give the yeast some privacy to do it’s thing.
Half an hour later….
IT HAPPENED! IT ROSE! ITS A YEASTY MIRACLE. Easter pun not intended. It happened naturally and I’m going to let it stay there. Anyway. Dough!
I took the dough back out and flattened and rolled it, like the description above. Then I put it back in the bowl, on top of the stove, to rest and rise for another 30 minutes.
Dough waiting patiently for me to leave it alone to rise:
Then, look how it grew! I felt like I had just met this dough, and it was already growing so big.
This is where things got a little complicated. After this rest, I tried to shape the dough into the loaf shape that the instructions described. It didn’t work quite right, and the dough didn’t form the sphere quite as readily as the instructions said it would. I started to panic a little bit. So I forced it, a little bit, and it was more of me rolling it into a ball like it was playdough and I was 7 again, and not exactly like the careful shaping with palms held upward like the instructions said to do. But, I think it worked out okay. I moved it to the prepared pan to rest for the final half hour.
Important note, here. I dusted the pan with cornmeal, because I didn’t have any parchment paper. From recent experience, I learned the wax paper is not the same thing as parchment paper. Try and put wax paper in the oven, and there is a very good chance that your kitchen will fill with smoke. But it’s okay, because you took your smoke detectors down while painting 3 months ago and never put them back up, so no worries. Then I closely read the information on the roll of wax paper (said no one ever) and realized that no where on that package did it say that it was okay to put it in the oven. So lesson learned. Also, someone remind me to buy some parchment paper. I’m wasting my cornmeal here and that could have some serious repercussions for the day I decide to make cornbread.
Anyway. So then I waited for the final half hour of resting and rising and the dough in the end looked like this:
Then I flattened it down and had Evan make the cuts in the dough for me, because he’s better at it.
Prepared for its journey to the oven!
And, finally, I present to you, the first successful loaf of bread of 2013, drum roll please:
Forgive the glamour shots, we were excited!
The bread was good – it was plain but full of bread-y goodness. It was dense and soft and spongy, with a good crust that was crisp but not too crisp. It was good fresh out of the oven, and I think it would make good toast or sandwich bread as well. Personally, I prefer a bread with a harder crust and more of an open crumb, but hopefully I can get there eventually. For now, I am celebrating this first successful bread!
*This is my opinion, and I am not a medical professional. I wouldn’t say I am a professional anything, really. Perhaps today I am a professional pre-flu haver.