One night, I posted on Twitter;
“Dinner: Homemade bread, toasted, with butter and a Paso Robles Zinfandel. Yep that’s it. Nothin’ wrong with that is there?”
A friend of mine quickly replied that it sounded good to her, and I suggested I show her and some other friends how easy it is to bake one’s own bread. It soon became known as the “Bread and Wine” Girl’s Night. Plans made, babysitters, husbands reserved, and cabs ordered.
The kernel of the idea actually began a couple of months ago when I started having a hankering to make bread. I kept coming across references to the book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day on food blogs and on Twitter. Then I found one of its authors, Zoe Francois on Twitter and checked out her bread blog. Soon I was sold on trying the method and bought the book.
My first experience with making the bread was almost a complete failure. I am at times an impatient cook, and decided to start making the dough without measuring my flour first.
“It looked like 6 1/2 cups in the flour crock.”
But it wasn’t; I was short about 3/4 of a cup of flour. In addition, the flour I did have was most likely bleached flour (I couldn’t remember). My loaves came out flat and under-cooked.
The next batch was better. I used King Arthur unbleached white flour which has more protein and the resulting loaves were much improved. Finally, I got the hang of it and was able to have freshly baked bread pretty much whenever I wanted. After that, I wanted to share my joy with the world. One of my goals with this blog has always been to show people how easy it can be to make great food at home and home made bread certainly fits the bill.
I’d also been wanting to teach cooking again, though in a much less formal setting than I’d done in the past. Meaning, I wanted a class where I could drink wine and gossip. Bread, wine, pizza, friends; what more could a girl want? I think the evening was a resounding success. The six of us enjoyed many bottles of wine, a couple loaves of bread, 2 pizzas and a Blueberry Lemon Curd Tart (recipe to come later). We’re already talking about what to make for the next Girl’s Night.
Thanks very much to my friend Tris for snapping photos while my hands were covered with flour!
Master Bread Recipe
Adapted From Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day
With Permission from Author Zoe Francois
Making the Dough
3 cups warm water
1 ½ Tbsp Granulated Yeast (1 ½ packages)
1 ½ Tbsp Kosher Salt
6 ½ cups unsifted, unbleached, all purpose white flour
Put the warm water in a large bowl or plastic food container with a lid (not air-tight).
Add the yeast and salt to the water.
Add in the flour, measuring with dry-measuring cups, using the “scoop and sweep” method. Don’t pack the flour into the cup. Mix the flour into the water with a wooden spoon. You can also do this in a large heavy duty stand mixer with dough hook attachment. Mix until the dough has come together and there are no dry patches or clumps of flour. The dough will be wet.
Cover and allow to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse or flatten on top (about 2 hours).
At this point you can use the dough, but it’s easier to handle when cold. Cover with lid and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. The dough should keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. The batch should yield 4 one pound loaves.
Baking the Bread
Sprinkle the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour. Grab a handful of dough (1 pound is about grapefruit sized) and cut it off from the batch.
With a little extra flour to keep it from sticking, hold the dough in your hands and stretch the dough around the sides and underneath to form a ball. This is called the “gluten cloak”.
Let the ball of dough rest, either on a baking sheet or pizza peel covered with cornmeal. The recipe suggests using a pizza peel to move the dough to a baking stone in the oven. I don’t have a peel or a stone so I’ve had to improvise. Most of the time I use a baking sheet with a Silpat Silicone Baking Mat on it and but I’ve also baked directly on an unglazed terracotta tile. Both came out good.
Let the dough rest for 40 minutes.
Twenty minutes before baking, turn on the oven to 450 degrees. Put your oven rack in the middle of the oven and baking stone on that, if you have one. Put an empty pan or broiler tray on the bottom rack or floor of the oven (this will hold water later).
Right before baking, dust the top of the loaf with flour and slash with a knife in a cross or tic tac toe pattern.
Put the loaf of bread in the oven and add 1 cup of water to the broiler pan (be careful!). This creates steam which will help the bread make a great crust.
Bake the loaf for about 30 minutes or until it is nicely browned.
There is so much more information in the book about the “hows and whys” of baking bread. I highly recommend you buy the book because I can’t possibly put all the details here. There is a link to the book on my Books and Gear Page.
Some lessons I learned after making a dozen loaves:
Use unbleached flour. Bleached flour gives a different consistency (more on this in the book). My first batch never quite rose the way it should have because of this.
I get about 3 loaves per batch because I like a bigger loaf. This means a slightly longer baking time.
The dough really will hold in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Over time it takes on a more “sourdough” type of flavor.
I haven’t bought a loaf of french bread since buying this book. It’s just too easy to make my own.
Tip: Don’t mistakenly put a loaf of bread into an oven that’s been super-heated for pizza. Trust me, it’s not pretty.
Herb Bread: The book says to mix herbs into the dough with the water mixture. One day I chopped up some fresh rosemary (about 1 Tbsp) and sprinkled it onto a handful of pre-made dough. I worked it into the dough with a little light kneading as I made the gluten cloak. This worked just fine and made wonderful, fragrant, Rosemary Bread.