There is nothing like the intoxicating aroma of freshly baking bread to elicit a strong nostalgic pull at the heart strings. You may remember walking home from school as a child, your nose speeding up your footsteps, to find your mother’s baked loaf awaiting you. Or the aroma might evoke the memory of a trip long ago where you tasted what you thought was the food of the gods, like the bread I remember from a trip to Nova Scotia more than 30 years ago, baked in a roadside hearth that I drove, sniffing my way around, until I found! The aroma of a fresh loaf of bread holds tremendous power in evoking memories.
Until I attended a cooking class given by the talented ladies of my garden club(in winter we like to cook!) a few years ago, I was afraid to try my hand at baking bread. I thought it would never turn out. I thought it was complicated. I thought it would be too time consuming. And I thought it would require a bread machine. I couldn’t be more wrong. Although this bread is yeast-based, it is soooo easy, the authors of the recipe dubbed it: Artisanal Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. I was skeptical, I was intrigued and then I was seduced.
You can also visit the web site for the bread and even view a video by clicking: www.artisanbreadinfive.com/ The authors, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, have an extensive website and a cookbook which goes into much detail on how they came up with this recipe and for many variations on the classic bread.
The beauty of this recipe is that it makes 4 loaves, and they are all artisanal. This sounds sophisticated but what it really means is that it is a recipe with a lot of wiggle room. Artisanal bread never turns out the same way twice. You can put your own stamp on it. It has many ways to scrumptious. Artisanal also means it is a free-form loaf of bread. Every loaf has the potential to produce a different conclusion, all delicious. The dough keeps in the fridge for 2 weeks so you can really make the additional loaves of bread over time from the same batch. A real time saver. If you want to bake several loaves at once, they can be frozen then warmed.
The leftovers, if they survive the dinner table, are delicious as toast, bruschetta or just plain with butter or jam. Carb-eschewing people have known to get weak in the knees, lose their resolve and rip into this loaf of bread. I usually serve it whole on a cutting board. It gets its wonderful crust from the steam baking technique which I will go into below.
Go ahead, let go of your bread-making inhibitions, and get up to your elbows in flour. You will be wondering how flour + water + yeast + salt = heaven and why you waited so long to make your own bread!
THE MASTER RECIPE: ARTISAN FREE-FORM LOAF OF BREAD(BOULE)
3 c lukewarm water
1 1/2 T granulated yeast(2 packets)
1 1/2 T Kosher salt
6 1/2 c unsifted, unbleached, all purpose flour (use scoop-and-sweep method to measure)
cornmeal for pizza peel
extra flour for working with
mixing bowl, pizza peel, baking stone, broiler tray
In a large bowl, measure out flour and salt. Dissolve yeast in warm water, dump over the flour. Using a wooden spoon, gently mix together until combined. No kneading will be necessary.
Cover with a clean dishtowel and let rise about 2 hours.On a pizza peel, spread a thin layer of cornmeal. Pluck off a grapefruit-size quantity of dough(mine is larger) and with floured hands, shape it into a round form. Place this on the prepared pizza peel, and allow the loaf to rest for about 40 minutes. During this time, start preheating your oven at 450F. Place a baking stone in the center of your oven with a broiler pan on the rack below. After 40 minutes, dust the top of your loaf with a bit of flour and using a serrated knife, cut a few slashes in the top of your loaf to allow the bread to expand during baking. It also makes a lovely “artisanal” pattern on your loaf. Get creative with slashing your pattern!
Slide your dough off the peel onto the hot stone. Pour a cup of tap water into the broiler rack. You will hear a loud sizzle sound and produce a cloud of steam. This will create the great crust of your loaf. Bake for 30 minutes until the crust is golden and the bread is firm to the touch.
Storing rest of dough: Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator in a lidded, not airtight container. With time the texture and flavor improves and tastes more and more like sourdough. Pluck off another handful to make another loaf when desired, following directions from the rising on the pizza peel section, above. Use the additional dough over the next 2 weeks of the original batch of dough being made.
Mix 1 T of finely chopped herbs of your choice into 3 T of softened unsalted butter. Place in a small serving ramekin, sprinkle some coarse sea salt on top and serve alongside your warm artisanal boule.
“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.” M. F. K. Fisher