Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Butter my butt and call me bread...

First of all, I apologize that you cannot *smell* the pictures below... they simply do not do justice to the breads I baked this week. While I've had some hits and misses in the kitchen lately, the one thing that has been coming out consistently well is the bread. And that makes me very happy.

I think this may be what Heaven smells like...

The white loaf on the left is a version of no-knead bread that has been tweaked, and tweaked again. The recipe below is my version of Jenna's version of the New York Times' version of no-knead bread. If you are intimidated by kneading bread, or just hate the exercise, but still want good homemade bread, this is a great recipe to start with. As you can well imagine, I encourage you to try it and tweak it to your heart and stomach's content ;) 

1 1/2 cups hot water
1 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

In a measuring cup, add water and sugar and give a quick stir to dissolve. Add the yeast and allow to proof for 5-10 minutes. Once the yeast is frothy, pour into a large mixing bowl and add the flour in two or three batches. Sprinkle the salt over top and use a wooden spoon or your hands to mix; the dough will be sticky and shaggy. Cover with a tea towel and put in a warm, draft-free spot such as the oven (turned off, of course) or on top of the fridge for 8-12 hours. I like to spray a bit of oil or cooking spray on the top of the dough at this point to keep the outside from drying out during the long rise. Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured surface and fold over a few times to form a smooth ball. Spray the inside of a dutch oven or casserole dish liberally with oil/cooking spray, place the dough ball in and turn a few times to coat well. Place the lid on the dish and set aside again to rise for another hour or two. Towards the end of the second rise, preheat your oven to 450F, then simply pop the covered dutch oven/casserole in the oven for about 30 minutes. The total time may vary, depending on your oven, so I use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temp as it nears the 30 minute mark. Once the inside his 195-200F, it's done. Remove from the oven, remove it from the baking dish and allow to cool before slicing. 

The loaf on the right is a soft wheat bread recipe that I stumbled across at Mennonite Girls Can Cook and I am completely in love with. It is soft and chewy and fragrant and just so freakin' good!!! It stays soft for days after baking (I keep it on the counter in my handy dandy bread box) and it has served wonderfully as both my morning toast and evening snack this week. It can be made relatively quickly, unlike the above recipe, and if I start it when I get home in the evening, I can have fresh loaves cooling on the counter before I go to bed. The recipe states it makes three regular sized loaves, but I just divide the dough between tow loaf pans and get a good sized loaf (as seen above). It does require kneading, again unlike the above recipe, but yields such fantastic results, I don't let that stop me. In fact, kneading a big wad of dough for 10 minutes is surprisingly meditative, and not a bad workout for your arms. I despise starting it as I end up with gummy, gunked up hands (a situation that I positively loathe and will do most anything to avoid), but as more flour is slowly worked in, the dough becomes velvety and springy to the touch... it is interesting to see (and feel) the transformation. I've made this bread a few times now and feel I have the hang of it... I think it is now time to start tweaking it a bit and see what variations I can come up with :) 

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