Monday, February 13, 2012

So, Bread... part 1 of 2, maybe 3

I have twenty student papers to read and so I feel it is high time I blog about bread.

I bake a loaf of bread almost every week and I think I've finally gotten pretty good at it.  This is the bread I used to make pre- Em's dairy allergy - which is excellent bread unless you happen to be allergic to milk.  And this is the bread I used to make before I started making my current recipe - also very good - particularly if you want to make a huge batch of bread and hack bits of dough off throughout the week.  Click on the words "bread" if you want to make my former recipes.

Because THIS is my new bread, and I must say, if I do say so myself, it is spectacular.  How do I know it is spectacular?  Because my friend Mark practically begs me to make it for him; because my friend Laura asked over the weekend if I could give her a bread making tutorial; because I make a loaf here at home and it's practically vaporized within an hour of emerging from the oven.  So, it's not just me tooting my own horn...

Here's another view - fresh from the oven.  It's too bad I'm such a terrible photographer, because  these loaves are so much prettier in real life.  I seriously need to take a class and figure out some better lighting.

Ok, to begin: if you are going to bake yourself the bread pictured above, you need a few things:

this is one of them.  This is called the Sasafrass Superstone Bread Baker; it's name alone should make you want whip out your credit card.

However, it is $54 on Amazon and unless you have a husband who is willing to give it to you as a gift, you don't really need it, particularly if you happen to have one of these:

 A Dutch Oven is a beautiful thing.

This Dutch oven was given to me as a wedding gift
and is now about [redacted] years old.  It is in incredible shape and I use it for soup, bread baking, boiling potatoes, stew, braises, the list goes on.
Unfortunately, they cost a small fortune.  So don't buy one, because you can use ANY deep, oven proof pot as long as it has a lid.

Here's another hand-dandy little item I use all the time.  It's a dough scraper and you can buy a cheap plastic one at Target, which works very well - or you can order your flour from the King Arthur Flour website and get one for free (which is, obviously, how I got mine...)

Don't You?

You need a large bowl and a rubber, though sturdy, spatula.  I like this one:
And, finally, you need parchment paper and plastic wrap.  Parchment can be found in the grocery store not too far from the plastic wrap.  Parchment is essential for this bread.  You cannot do without it.  Sorry.  That's just the way it is.  However, it comes in handy for so many things.  I always line my cookie sheets with parchment when I make cookies - do this and you'll never again wreck your manicure chipping baked on chocolate off your favorite pan.

Ok, moving on.

Gather your ingredients:  

4 cups of flour.   I don't care if it's bread flour, or all purpose flour.  Either will do. 

1 TBLSP Olive or canola oil -

1 TBLSP Kosher or sea salt.  This is important - don't use table salt - it's too fine, and it doesn't add flavor the way kosher or sea salt does.  HOWEVER - I'm all about availability - if you started this recipe and you don't have kosher or sea salt - DO NOT run out for it.  Use table salt, but use ONLY 1tsp - that's right a teaspoon - this salt is so fine a teaspoon is all you need.

1/2 tsp of Yeast.  You might think this is not enough - but it is. You can get the little individual packets - although for this particular bread you don't need a whole packet - (is usually about 2 1/4 tsp).  You can buy a jar of yeast too - but keep that in the freezer and take it out when you need it - it will last longer that way.

1/4 cup of hot water: Turn on your tap and let the hot water run.  When it is hot, but not so hot that you can't hold your hand in the running water, it is just right.  

2 TBLSP Brown sugar - yeast loves to gobble up sugar, and brown sugar gives your bread nice flavor

Beer.  Go to your refrigerator and take out a beer.  (I will be posting a recipe for bread sans-beer - but this one ain't it)  It should be a fairly flavorful beer - a stout, or something with a lot of hop to it (see what I did there...? Hop to it?  Oh, never mind) It needs to be something tasty that you yourself would enjoy drinking. (Unless it's Lite beer.  Please don't use Lite beer.  I know some of you enjoy drinking it, - not naming names - Ginny - Plus, anything spelled incorrectly is not good.  That's a rule I think we should all live by.)

1 TBLSP cider vinegar.  Yep, that's right, vinegar.  Vinegar gives your bread that almost but not quite sour dough quality that will have your friends scratching their heads wondering why your bread always tastes so good while their bread is merely ok.  

Spray Oil: - you use this to spray the bowls as well as the top of your bread.

OK - you ready?  Here we go:

1. dump the flour and salt in a bowl.  Whisk it a bit to incorporate.

2. mix the brown sugar and hot water in a measuring cup.  Add the yeast.  Let it sit a bit and watch the yeast do its thing.
3. BEER.  Beer usually comes in 8 ounce bottles.  Use the whole thing.  Or, measure out 1 cup.  Dump it in the flour mixture.  Add the oil and the yeast/sugar mixture as well as the vinegar.

Using your rubber spatula, mix this all together.  If it seems too dry, add more water, 1/4 cup at a time.  The key is that this dough should be pretty wet.  Not so wet that it's watery, but wetter than you think it should be.

It's hard to see how wet this is - but the key is that it will stick to your hands when you pick it up.  However, you should be able to pick it up all at once.  If it's too wet it will just ooze out of your fingers in a very yucky way.

YOU DO NOT KNEAD THIS BREAD.  Just leave it there in the bowl.  You can spray the bowl a bit, as well as the top of your bread with some oil.  Cover the whole bowl with plastic wrap.

NOW, preheat your oven to 100 degrees.  When it reaches 100 set your timer for 10 minutes.  After ten, turn off the oven, and put your bread in it.

And here is the most important part of the whole thing: LEAVE YOUR BREAD IN THE OVEN OVER NIGHT.  Yep, I mean it.  Just let it sit there in your oven for as long as you can.  There's nothing in the dough that can spoil, in fact the longer it sits, the better it will taste.  I once left my bread sitting around for about 24 hours.  It grew faster than teenager - and I was able to divide it up and make 2 loaves.  It also tasted fantastic.  If you're not going to bake your bread after 24 hours, skip the whole oven heating thing and just stick your bread into the refrigerator.  In fact, if you are at all squeamish about letting your bread dough sit around in the fresh air, you can put it in your fridge over night.

If you don't have plastic wrap, you can cover the bread with a clean damp dish towel.
After your bread has hung out for as long and you feel like letting it hang out (and, indeed, it can be baked after only hanging out for an hour or two) - your dough should look like the picture above.  It will get kind of lumpy, and much larger.  Dump it out onto a floured surface and roll it around a bit, forming it into a nice loaf the shape of the thing you will be baking it in.  I shaped mine here in a loaf, but if I were going to bake it in the Dutch Oven, I'd have shaped it a ball. This is where your bread dough scraper will come in handy because the dough is still very wet.  The scraper will also help you get any bits of dough and flour left behind off your counter before it turns to cement.  

Get yourself a piece of parchment, spray it with a little oil and put your bread dough right in the center.  Spray it again with oil, and cover, again with plastic wrap.  Let it sit an hour or so.  Although if you are anxious or particularly hungry for bread and butter, you don't have to wait that long.  You can let it sit as you let your oven preheat.  Unless you have refrigerated the dough - in which case you really should let it come to room temperature before baking it.

After your bread has sat for an hour, preheat your oven to 350.

Speaking of preheating, when you go to preheat your oven, stick the Dutch Oven or your Sasafrass Superstone Bread Baker in the oven to preheat as well.  This is Very Important.  Preheating the bread baker helps your bread get all steamy and not dried out in the center.

When the oven slash your bread with a sharp knife, pick it up using the parchment and plonk the bread dough, parchment and all into your baker.  Put the lid on, shut the door to your oven and set your timer for 35 minutes.  It is totally fine if the parchment hangs out over the lid - it won't catch fire or anything.

Take the lid of the baker off after 35 minutes, put your bread loaf back in the oven without the lid and bake another ten minutes or more - make sure your bread is all goldeny and cracked and delicious looking.

See how the parchment looks just fine after baking with the bread in the oven?

And it's insides will look like this.

Now, go ahead.  You can do this - it is fantastic bread.  And, as I believe Marc Bittman said, even the worst home baked bread is better than the best store bought...

But yours won't be bad - I promise.

Next post I'll give you my recipe for beer free bread -

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Don't Tell The Kids...

But this

is my new favorite ingredient.  See what it says there, yes, it's "Milk Free" - but do you know what's in it?  

That's right, tofu.  

You know what it tastes like?  Not sour cream because its:
ok, that's hard to read, but it says, better than sour cream - 
And more importantly - NOT TOFU -  not one bit.  I'm sure you don 't believe me, but if you are going dairy free, as we have recently had to do - try this stuff!  It will blow your mind...

I believe that I mentioned in an earlier post how much we are all missing mashed potatoes and how I was not so thrilled at the prospect of mashing potatoes with this:

HOWEVER - if you mash your potatoes with some of the (gasp) margarine, along with about a 1/4 cup of chicken stock and a 1/4 cup of 

the mashed potatoes come out fluffy, creamy, and amazingly good.  I made my brand new dairy free mashed potatoes to go with the ribs I had cooked up in my slow cooker for about 6 hours and my family ate them and NO ONE knew they secretly harbored tofu.  And people weren't just eating them politely.  They were not moving the potatoes around on their plates to make it look like they had eaten them - NO, they scarfed the potatoes - even my teens scarfed the potatoes.

AND THEN, when I was trying to use up all the ribs - because I had made quite a few - I took all the meat off the bone, sauteed up some onions, carrots and a bit of frozen spinach, dumped the meat into the pan when the onions and carrots were softened and the spinach had cooked down, tossed the meat around, added a bit more barbecue sauce (I'm a fan of Stubbs jarred sauce when I don't have time to make it, which is more frequent than I'd like to admit) and once again, I threw in about a 1/4 cup of


I served my little pork rib mixture over rice and it was glorious.  

So far I have used Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream in muffins that called for yogurt, and in frosting instead of cream cheese, and on top of my chili because, though I like sour cream, THIS is BETTER THAN SOUR CREAM.  

Just don't tell the children, 'cause if they find out, they will never eat mashed potatoes again... and dammit!  I like my mashed potatoes!