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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Simple Bread


Simple Bread

My loaf in the picture is a traditional kneaded bread - it is only southern in that it is my original recipe and I am southern. 

It is just 6 cups all purpose, unbleached flour, 1 and 3/4 tablespoons salt, 1 and a half cups water, dough starter and one packet of instant dry yeast... the only real trick is the the dough starter. 

Each time I make a loaf of bread, I pinch off a handful after it rises. I put the raw pinch of dough into a 12 ounce jar, fill it with cold water and put it int he fridge. It will keep for a couple of weeks. So, the water in the recipe is actually the contents of that jar (I count the dough starter as part of the water). 

I just tossed all of that together in my stand mixer an kneaded for 10 - 11 minutes. It can be done by hand, but the kneading time would be more like 16 minutes. It is a very firm, fairly dry, barely sticky dough - like pizza dough. Form it into a ball and dust it with flour. Let it rise in a bowl at around 80-85 degrees for two hours (cover the bowl with plastic so the dough doesn't for a a skin). Punch down the dough and let rise again for one hour.  Punch down the dough lightly and roll by hand into a smooth log. 

Then, you have to let it rise for one more hour in a mold. I made my mold out of cardboard and duct tape and wrapped it in tinfoil. It is basically just an open topped box, 16 inches long, 4 inches wide and 6 inches tall. Heavily dust a tea towel and lay it in the mold, put the dough on the towel and down into the mold, cover it with the loose ends of the towel and let rise - it will fill the mold and rise above the edges. 

Place a baking stone in a cold oven, then pre-heat to 425 - 450. Put a pie pan or can in the oven, where you can easily reach it from the front without burning yourself. Once the oven is heated and the dough is risen, turn it out of the towel onto a peel or baking sheet dusted with flour or cornmeal (if you don't have a pizza stone, you can use an upside down baking sheet - just turn the dough onto it and stick the whole thing into the oven). If you've done everything right, the dough should be dry enough not to stick to the towel. Just before putting it in the oven, make a few shallow slashes across the top, in whatever pattern you like, with a sharp knife or razor blade. Pour water into the pan or can int he oven to fill the oven with steam. Slide your loaf into the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes. 

It should be light/medium brown and sound hollow when you thump it once it is done. There are several steps to the recipe, and it does take practice (especially because each oven is different, as is the humidity in each house and each brand of flour is different). Some folks may need to use a bit more water. Each time you make it though, it will get better because the dough starter will develop stronger, richer flavors with each batch. I saw a baker on tv the other day, whose starter was over 35 years old and smelled like gorgonzola cheese!

Oops, I forgot to mention blooming the yeast. Take the dough starter from the fridge several hours before you plan to start your bread and shake it up, loosen the cap to let out any gas, and either sit it in a sink of hot water, by a stove or in a barely warm oven and let the temp come up to about body temp. Once warm, stir in a half teaspoon of sugar and the packet of dry active yeast. In 10 minutes or so, it will all be brown and foamy - that i when you ad it to the dry ingredients. Also, when you first make the dough starter, it will give off a lot of gas for the first few days, so don't fill the jar completely with water and leave the lid on loosely, push the dough under water once a day until it settles to the bottom.

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